Dealership ruined my engine...(?)

Hi everyone. I know this is somewhat of a lengthy post, but I wanted to be as detailed as possible. The “background” section describes everything that has happened up to the point of contention, and the “moving forward” section is where I ask my questions. I have a 2004 Hyundai Sonata (2.7L V6) that’s been in the Hyundai dealership’s service department twice in the past few weeks, and I believe they’ve ruined my engine. I am hoping I can get advice on what can be done and how I can move forward (or if there’s even a chance they didn’t do anything wrong).


The first time I took the car in was on 22 May. The recorded mileage on the invoice was 145,409. They changed the oil and oil filter, the cabin air filter, topped off the fluids, and replaced the windshield wipers (it was all part of a coupon deal). When I got the car back, their “Multi-Point Inspection Report” stated that the oil pan was leaking (it was actually the gasket, not the pan itself), and that they recommended an injection flush and a coolant flush. I’d heard/read good things about this service department, so I decided to go ahead with the recommended service. I dropped my car off on 02 June and requested that they complete the above repairs, in addition to replacing one of the O2 sensors that I believed was going bad. The recorded mileage on that second invoice was 145,556.

Later they called me and stated that, upon closer inspection, there was evidence that the valve cover gaskets and the crank seals needed to be replaced. They also added that, since they were going to be working on the engine anyway, I may as well go ahead and have the timing belt and water pump replaced. Now, although I was skeptical of all this (after all, they had just inspected my car and none of these issues had come up), I decided to go ahead and authorize the repairs. Again, I had heard/read good things about this place, so I was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I picked my car up on 03 June. On 17 June, I took the car out on the highway for the first time since the repairs. I drove about 60 miles on the highway when I suddenly heard a loud knocking noise coming from the engine, and a noticeable loss of power. Luckily I have AAA, so towing was taken care of. I had my car towed to the dealership on Friday, 19 June (that was the earliest they had a loaner car available). The mileage on my car when it was towed was 145,749.
Friday and Saturday went by with no word. I called Monday morning (22 June) and was told they would call me back, but they didn’t. I called again Tuesday morning, and the receptionist told me to come in because they had to “show me something”. When I arrived Tuesday afternoon (today), the “service advisor” and the mechanic who had worked on my car took me to the back and showed me an oil pan full of metal shavings. They told me they hadn’t opened up the engine yet, but that everything pointed towards “catastrophic engine failure”.

I asked them what they thought had happened, and why. I told them that I always keep up with maintenance – something that the service advisor agreed with. The mechanic said he wasn’t sure, and that the engine had seemed fine when he worked on it. However, they made sure to spend plenty of time telling me that none of the work they had done was possibly connected to the problems the engine was having. Simply stated, the best they could do was tell me they didn’t know what had happened.

After that, the service advisor gave me a quote for a new engine ($9376.22 + $1694.00 labor – ha!), and for a used engine ($1650.00 + $1936.00 labor). She said that because the used engine is from a junkyard and has an unknown history, there would be no warranty. Also, she said the used engine has about 140,000 miles on it. I asked about repairing my engine – either rebuilding or remanufacturing it. She said their “expert mechanic” would be the guy to talk to about that, but that he was out getting parts from a different store, so they would have to call me an hour or so later. Of course, they never called me.

Moving forward:

Prior to this latest incident, the engine was running fine. There were no strange noises, the engine performance was fine, no indication that the oil pressure was low… nothing. Additionally, the dealership had my car twice, and both times the services required that they drain the engine oil. If the problem had been an existing one, surely they would have noticed the metal shavings and alerted me of that fact. On the contrary, as stated above, the mechanic that worked on my car commented that everything seemed fine.

I reached out to a friend of mine who is a mechanic and described to him everything I’ve written above. The first thing he told me is that it sounds like someone ran the engine with no oil in it. This is exactly what I was thinking had happened. My theory is that, once the repairs were completed, the mechanic turned on the vehicle to verify his work, but had forgotten to replace the engine oil. Once he realized his mistake, I believe he simply filled the oil, closed everything back up, and called me to pick up my car. At that point, the damage would already have been done.

I have two main questions:

  1. What are the odds that the dealership did nothing wrong? At this point, given the history and the dealership’s actions, I am inclined to believe they are guilty. However, I am not unreasonable, and would be open to hearing other possible causes for the problems I am experiencing.

  2. What can I do about it at this point? Is there any way to prove the existence of foul play? If another mechanic looks at the car, would he be able to offer up any kind of evidence that the dealership’s mechanic is responsible for the latest problems? Or would this just be a case of my word against theirs?

Any advice or input into this matter would be greatly appreciated.

The only thing I have to offer is that it would be foolish to put over 10000.00 into a 2004 Sonata.

It sounds like you are on the right track. Document everything including dates, times, actions taken, phone calls made, and phone calls returned and not returned. It sound like the dealer is evading a problem of their making, oil supply not refilled. You should see plenty of advice and if you don’t, I will reply again.

The dealer was given your vehicle for service, good when it went in and bad later after some miles. A small claims court judge, in my opinion would reasonably agree with you.

What a sad story…I see no happy ending…At this point, the car is not worth repairing. Unless somebody confesses, you will never be able to prove any wrong-doing…At this point, I would try to get the best deal on a similar car off their used car lot and call it a day…A very expensive lesson learned…

It is really sad when someone who does all the regular stuff gets toasted. Is there a way to find out if there was oil in the engine after it failed? Did you get any warning lights?

Thanks everyone for your replies.

Volvo V70: I completely agree. I have no plans on purchasing that engine, especially with no warranty of any kind.

Wha Who: That’s what I’m hoping. I would rather not have to spend the time/money on going to court, but if it comes to that I’m trying to solidify my case as much as possible.

Caddyman: Do you think another mechanic looking at it would be able to provide some insight into any potential wrong-doing? As far as getting another vehicle, at this point that is not something I can afford. Despite how costly engine repairs tend to be, the rest of the vehicle is in great shape. I’m wondering if it would be worth it to just repair/remanufacture the engine (at a different shop, of course) for a few thousand, as opposed to spending more on a used vehicle that may have problems of its own. Any thoughts?

Barkydog: It is sad indeed. The irony is that I agreed to all of those repairs precisely because I wanted to make sure (as much as possible) that the vehicle would last much longer. They haven’t opened the engine yet, and have said they won’t do so unless I give them the go-ahead. My thinking is that if I take that route, it may be better to have another mechanic take it apart, so that he can document what he finds. There were no warning lights or any signs of a problem. I was driving on the highway and the engine just suddenly started knocking with a noticeable decrease in power.

Thanks again, everyone. I truly appreciate your inputs.

  1. The Hyundai is a 12y.o. car (model year 2016 today) with over 100,000 miles. Some of the oil-control gaskets were seeping a bit. IMO, that’s to be expected on an older vehicle. Again, IMO, recommending oil pan gasket replacement is borderline unethical here (unless it’s leaking so bad that it’s leaving oil spots where you park, and losing oil on the dipstick regularly…which you did not suggest it was).

As for the “we looked closer, and you need valve cover gaskets and rear main seal”; that’s either a DSM-IV-worthy level of OCD on the part of the dealer…or an attempt to make beaucoup bucks off of you (I suspect the latter).

  1. Given that you drove 60 miles, I do not think they gave you the car back w/o oil. I do think, however, that they fouled up the repair in a manner that allowed a large amount of oil to leak out in a short amount of time, and that the car was probably out of oil when the SHTF. (Did you perchance pull the dipstick while waiting on the tow?)

  2. Notwithstanding 2–and since we’ve already determined that their motto is “Profits first; customer somewhere down the line”–they have already gone into CYA mode, and you’ll NEVER get them to admit, or get any proof that they messed up. (Really, you should have had the vehicle taken somewhere else and a mechanic’s opinion of what caused the failure).

Basically, all older vehicles have SOME issue keeping oil inside the engine, at some point. The best option on an older vehicle (within certain sensible limits) is just to start paying close attention to the oil level, and top off as necessary. Of course, some shops would just LOVE to have you replace all the gaskets to make it as oil tight as the day it left the factory…but I think they really don’t have (most) customers’ best interests at heart. (Of course, if an owner is sufficiently OCD to mind it, and can afford to–then go ahead, replace everything! But they shouldn’t be steered in that direction, IMO.)


Thanks for your comment. I do agree that some seepage is normal, and I think they were, in part at least, trying to make some extra money off of me. I went ahead with the repairs because of the good reviews I had heard/read. Also, having read so many stories about people who constantly repair their vehicles so that they last “forever” (and save the owners bundles of money in the long run), I guess I acted somewhat foolishly, expecting to have the same result. I really like this car, despite its imperfections. It was an irrational decision.

As far as the oil, I don’t think they handed the car back to me without oil. In fact, I checked the dipstick before having the vehicle towed, and the oil level seemed okay. I think they started the engine without oil while the vehicle was still at the shop. My guess is running an engine that is completely without oil, even for a few seconds, is enough to do real damage. If so, then they could have shut off the engine, filled it up with oil, and called me to tell me the car was ready. That would explain (I think) why I was able to drive a few miles in the city without noticing any major problems, but everything fell apart on the highway. This is just a theory, I could be wrong of course.

If I could go back in time, I think I would have listened to my gut instinct and not approved the repairs. You know what they say about that pesky hindsight…

Also, you mentioned:“Really, you should have had the vehicle taken somewhere else and a mechanic’s opinion of what caused the failure”

This is still an option, as the dealership has not done anything beyond removing the valve cover and the oil pan. I could feasibly have it towed to a different mechanic, who could then give me his opinion. Do you think this would be a good course of action? Perhaps more importantly, do you think this would help as far as any claims against the dealership?


I think you did the right thing authorizing the repairs, cannot fault anyone for that, do not do anything you will regret, and do not regret anything you have done, I feel there is an issue undetermined at this point, that was not your fault…

What happened here could have happened to anybody. I’m assuming everything’s on the up and up of, which of course we can’t be sure of. But for sake of argument, let’s say what’s presented is what happened. They saw oil leaks and recommended an oil pan gasket replacement. Upon further inspection, they saw more oil leaks, one from the valve cover gasket, and one – presumably – from the front crank shaft gasket. So if those seals also need replacement, that would be a good part of the work needed to replace the timing belt and water pump. It makes sense to do that too, assuming those services were near their due date anyway. Doing all those jobs at once could result in some substantial savings over doing them one at a time. So far, so good.

Then something went haywire. No way to know what though. Maybe the engine was on its last legs anyway. Or maybe the engine got run without oil by the shop staff, or they forgot to fill it with oil before returning to the customer. Or maybe somehow the valves or pistons were damaged as a result of a botched timing belt replacement. But OP says there is always good words heard, good references, about how well these folks treat the customers and do their job. So the most likely alternative of the three is that the engine was near the end of its life, and it is coincidence this all happened at the same time.

Now for recommendations for future scenarios such as this, suggest that OP – when given a list of jobs recommended to be done on the OP’s car – before going ahead with them, post the list here. The experts who post on this site will ask some questions about why the tasks are needed, etc. Then the OP can ask those questions to the staff at the shop and decide whether to go ahead or not based on the response.

I’m always hesitant to point the finger at a shop due to the always present unknowns or details.
This incident does have a bit of a stench to it though and the shop does have a huge vested interest in denying any culpability if for the sake of discussion they did make an error.

Your theory about forgetting oil and starting an engine dry is not far-fetched. It happens quite often and if noticed by the customer the usual retort is the oil has been topped off and everything is fine now. That’s not necessarily true.

I’m afraid I have no answers other than there’s no way I’d spend 10 grand on an engine. If I had the engine in hand and disassembled it I could probably determine what caused it to die.
There’s the possibility of having someone in your area who is proficient with engines tear it down and they could likely sort it out.

Of course this would require engine removal, transportation to them, and a teardown fee. With the motor on the floor or hanging from a hoist someone should be able to get the air wrench wound up and have the old engine apart in an hour or so.
Tragic story; sorry I can’t be of more help.

^Well, there’s leaks and then there’s “leaks.” it’s not reasonable to expect each and every gasket on a 12 y.o. car to be perfectly oil-tight. Chasing perfection in a vehicle of that vintage usually is profit-driven if there’s no functional compromise (and I suspect OP would have told us if there was).

Again, adding on just about every other oil gasket once they had OP “on the hook” is pretty suspect, to me. And the recommended injector and coolant flushes are notorious “wallet flushes.” So, taking the recommended services as a WHOLE…either the engine was pretty severely beat, or they figured they could extract maximum money from OP this way.

@GeorgeSanJose , have you ever owned a 10-20 y.o. car as a daily driver? If so, did you fastidiously work over keeping the engine bay clean enough to eat off of–or did you do a certain level of “triage,” determine what warranted immediate attention, what could be deferred to the next scheduled maintenance, and what you could simply live with?

I don’t think the problem was the engine being run w/o oil under their watch, simply because, if we assume that, the failure mode doesn’t make any sense. It didn’t fail while operated “dry”; it didn’t behave overtly poorly when turned over to OP–but it failed about 150 miles after the fact!

I surmised an oil leak post-op, because there’s ways to FUBAR the repairs mentioned in a manner that would leak a lot of oil in a little amount of time. (In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the first thing the shop did, after getting the car back, was go ape-crazy with some degreaser under the hood). This way, the failur mode makes more sense: it drove just fine with oil in it; but as the oil leaked out over 100-ish miles, damage occurred.

When they said “as long as we’re working on the engine, we might as well do the timing belt”, that would have worried me that they are just looking for ways to pad their sales. Meanjoe might be right or they might have forgotten to put oil in for a while, who knows. It stinks at this point but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with them doing any more work on my car. At this point I think you should go somewhere else, put a decent used engine in if you can find one (there is no way you should talk about rebuilding this one-period), and then have them tear the old engine down to get an opinion of what happened. If you can get some evidence of lack of oil and some good pictures, I guess time to go to small claims court to try and recover some of the costs. That would include the cost of timing belt and coolant change, etc. that you got no benefit from. Thats what judges do though-sort out two different sides to the problem and make a decision on who is right.

You really have only two choices…Have a different, independent, shop install a used engine…Just Google “Japanese Engines” and enlighten yourself as to how big a market this is…

Or, sell your car as a parts car on craigslist and purchase the best used car you can afford.

No other option you may have makes any economic sense at this point…Expecting some sort of miricle to occur that makes all this go away is simply not a likely outcome…

I have not read all the posts but one possibility is the use of disks like this If these disks are used and all residue is not clean the fine particles left behind will destroy a engine in short order.

If the metal shavings they showed you were tiny specks, have them fill the oil and drive away and not go back there. You are probably getting punished for agreeing to let them do extra work. They may be thinking that you are an easy mark. Of course you have “leaks”, every car does that gets used for a while. Now they think you are a walking gold mine.

My thinking . . .

The dealer may have botched something during the timing belt replacement


I won’t speculate why the engine failed however, for what it will cost to rebuild your engine or one that is rebuildable you can replace the car with a 2007-2009 Sonata.

I can buy a complete 2004 Sonata for the price of a used engine, $1600.

No way I would just walk away and forget about it.
I’d show up and tell them to button it back up, a tow truck is on the way to take it down the road to (fill in the blank). Then see if they start backpedaling. If they do, see where it goes. If not, follow through and get a second opinion. I would easily spend another couple hundred getting to the bottom of it over just quitting. It may be nothing as severe as they claim. It may be they botched the timing belt… In the case of the latter, I would string them up by the short hairs in court if it came down to it.

I recall one of the few times I took a vehicle in for service in a moment of weakness. These guys had a litany of stuff they wanted to replace. I asked them if they had done a fuel pump diagnosis (first thing on the diag tree) nope, we need to replace all this stuff first. Then button it up, I’ll be right down to get it. Then the but, but, buts started and when that failed they claimed it was too late in the day to put it back together. I’m on my way, better get going then. When I got there, they wanted to keep it and do the fuel pump check- nope, limp it up on the hauler and I’m outta here…it was the fuel pump and I fixed it myself the next day.