Destroyed by the 30K service

I picked up my 2003 Subaru Outback from the dealership yesterday after its 30K scheduled maintenance. The car was running perfectly prior to the maintenance. Yesterday evening I was driving it on the highway and it started making a horrible loud grinding sound when I accelerated. And the car started filling with a burning smell. I had the car towed back to the dealership but I haven’t been able to talk to them yet since they are closed today. Any idea of what could have gone wrong and how I should approach the dealership??

There’s not enough info provided to even wild guess at this point.
Some additional information might help.

Any oil light flashing on?
In regards to the service, was a transmission fluid or gear oil change done? Is this noted on your receipt?
Was there any noticeable (even faint) “whining” sound before this grinding occurred?

No way to tell. It’s unlikely to be as a result of the service done, unless they goofed up the oil change (loose drain plug or filter causing sudden oil loss). If that’s the case, they are on the hook for a rebuilt engine. Any warning before the breakdown, like the oil or check engine light coming on?

The first thing that came to my mind was the differential oil being drained by mistake. The drain plug is similar to the engine oil drain and is located very close to it.
More than one Subaru transmission has been wiped out due to someone draining the differential oil by mistake. An experienced tech should know better but if a young lube tech or trainee did the service they could have easily gotten it crossed up.
What happens is they possibly catch the mistake, change the engine oil, and then forget that all or most of the trans oil has been drained.

Thanks for your comments. No warning lights came on. The engine did seem to be making a whining sound before the grinding started. The transmission fluid was changed at the service as well as the engine oil and differential fluid.

If the transmission is wrecked, how reliable is a rebuilt transmission or engine? Is it possible to make the car as reliable and sound as it was before this happened?

I’m assuming this vehicle has an automatic transmission so the differential oil is separate from the auto trans fluid.
A whining usually means a dry ring/pinion gear in the differential due to lack of oil.
While I can’t be definitive here without seeing the vehicle, offhand it sounds like they screwed up.

A new or PROPERLY rebuilt transmission is perfectly reliable and the car will be as good as before. The only issue is that if they made a mistake here then it’s going to be on them to foot the bill. All of it.
If this turns out to be a trashed transmission then I would not settle for anything less than a 30k miles transmission (may be near impossible to find) or a new unit from Subaru.
Why? Because you have an '03 car with a paltry 30k miles on it. It’s barely used.

It’s been my experience on these Subaru problems that once the differential goes the trans is normally not worth rebuilding as the cost of the parts and labor involved make it more cost effective to replace the unit. In some cases the transmission case will split and repair is not even a consideration; it’s scrap metal.

I would advise you to proceed slowly with this and keep us informed as to what you’re told about this situation. Ideally, you should have someone mechanically inclined go to the dealer with you and personally inspect the differential oil to verify that lack of oil caused the problem. Don’t be combative with the dealer just yet either.
Just trying to help you possibly head off any BS about “patching” the trans or something equally ridiculous.

Thanks again for your advice. I wish I were mechanically inclined or had someone who was to go with me but I’m on my own with this one. Your advice and information are very helpful and I’ll keep you posted on how things go with the dealer.

Whatever this problem is, my first thought is that the problem is tied to the service the car just received somehow. Be on your guard for explainations like, “something just happened to give out after you got it back”. Particularly if it has to do with any lack of fluids. Something serious has happened here I think and some expensive repairs may need to be done.

Hopefully I am wrong on this. I suspect there has been damage done to the transmission area due to a lack of fluid and they may even get it to run again and try to give it back to you. The damage is now been done and this may effect the service life of the transmission later on. If this is the case I would at least demand an extended warranty on the transmission from these folks.

It’s not possible that you were driving with the parking brake on, is it?

Aramemiya- At the dealerships I’ve worked at, once in a great, great while they’ve ruined a trans, engine, diff; whatever; by not refilling it w/fluid. They’ve never tried to wriggle out of their responsibility in these cases. But you’ve got to err on the safe side. Go to the dealer Mon. AM before service dept opens and ask to be present when they check out your car, preferably w/someone car-knowledgeble, as per ok4450. If

they don’t agree to this you yell “I FORBID you to touch my car!”(think I’m kidding?) Have a witness present. Call a tow truck w/your cell phone (lookup phone # now.); and SIT right on the hood of that damn thing till they get there to take to another garage. (Click “home” at bottom of this page, then on homepage click underneath “find a reccomended mechanic”- center right of homepage.)Bring along an extra set of

keys- if the car’s on the lot you can check the engine oil and transmission fluid dipstick levels- probably no differential dipstick. Do this early- hell, you could do it now! People always browse dealer lots on a Sunday.Anyways, they’ll check fluid levels and such w/you by their side or it ain’t gonna happen- whatever fluid they drain make them put in containers so its volume can be measured. You really could demand to

keep this stuff cause it’s your property. (Err on safe side, cause later you could have a third party analize fluid.) If, say, transmission is shot and they say, Gee wiz, why shouldn’t we give you a used trans, that’s what was in your car?, you say that there’s no way they can insure a used trans will be as good as the old. I would accept rebuilt w/warranty. Procede w/all deliberation making any of your

decisions. Look up the free legal advice phone #'s for your area, I’ve had success w/them. Don’t know what state you’re in but L-U Dept of consumer protection- the time I dealt w/them the lady was extremely concerned and caring. They won’t give “legal advice”, but will quote the law. Post back, this is nuts. (Wouldn’t it be great if your park brake had been on!)

Thank you for the advice on how to deal with the mechanic. This is very useful

Note, in addition to the grinding noise I could definitely feel the mechanical grinding (bumping) on the accelerator pedal. This, in particular, prompted me to pull over since it felt like the engine was really in trouble. I also noticed just prior to pulling over that the tachometer was not behaving properly - it didn’t spike when I quickly pushed the accelerator and seemed to be less responsive than normal.

Just one question and a final comment at this point. When this problem occurred and you pulled over was the engine apparently still running ok when the vehicle was not moving?

I would strongly advise that you take a few notes as to what they tell you is the problem and the reason(s) given for this problem. Do not do allow them to do anything to the car or alter anything until you post back here with what you’re told. Since you’re not mechanically inclined you need someone to verify the truthfulness of what they say. If they genuinely screwed up here they have a vested interest in trying to BS their way out of it.

One of my original questions was - did the engine appear to run fine AFTER you came to a complete stop on the side of the road? If so, this could point to a differential oil problem (or lack of oil) on an automatic transmission or lack of oil period on a manual transmission.
If the engine was making noise and barely running after you stopped then this might point to an engine oil problem (or lack of oil). Loose drain plug, double gasketed oil filter, loose oil filter, etc.

Thank you. The engine seemed to idle fine and did NOT appear to make strange noises during idling. It seemed to happen only when the transmission was engaged: again, at first a whirring sound and then after being on the interstate at +50 MPH, a grinding sound.

That all points to a transmission problem. Actually, on an automatic transmission the fluid SHOULD be changed about every 30k miles as was done here IMHO. The differential, or gear oil, should be fine until a 100k miles and changing it at 30k is not really necessary. It won’t hurt, but it’s not an absolute.

I’m guessing here that the differential is very low or out of oil. The problem starts with a very subtle whine that many people may overlook and eventually it becomes catastrophic; sometimes with grinding and gnashing or sometimes with a loud bang. Get an opinion from them and hold off on any repairs or authorizations to do anything until you verify what you’ve been told by posting back here.
There have been some really goofy things related to car owners in the past by various shops and mechanics that are almost beyond belief.
On the other hand, if they screwed up maybe they’ll just 'fess up and make it right without an argument.

I’m very curious to hear what they’ll say tomorrow. As you advise, I’ll hold off on authorizing repairs until I can post their response here. I hope they don’t make things difficult!