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Did the mechanic leave the radiator cap off?

Hello all…first time posting…I hope someone can help.

We own a 2007 Hyuandi Elantra sedan with about 59,500 miles on it. We have owned it for two years and have no problems and have followed regular maintenance (oil changes etc). We have a 60,000 mile original warranty on the Elantra (its used) and with the expiration coming up soon that I would take to a local 3rd party mechanic, to do a full inspection to determine if there was any warranty issues with the car that we should take into the Hyundai dealership for repairs.

I picked the car up from the mechanic on Wednesday March 3rd and the car received a clean bill of health. No issues or problems with the car came up. Unfortunately, I didn’t inspect any of the work or open the hood of the car.

My wife drives the car to work on Thursday 30 miles each way with no problem. However the following day, Friday March 5th, my wife is driving down the interstate to work when the car suddenly looses power, starts steaming and stalls out. Luckily as part of our Hyundai road side assistance program the car is automatically towed to a Hyundai dealership. There the Hyundai mechanics open up the hood and discover that the radiator cap sitting strangely next to the side of the radiator valve. They take a photo of the cap (which I have and can send to anyone who might be interested) sitting next to the valve before touching it and conclude that there is no damage to the cap and valve. They ask us if we had any service done recently and we tell them that the car was in the shop on Wednesday. Thus they tell us that in their opinion the cap was not put back on the radiator properly and as a result the damage is something not covered under the warranty. Furthermore they tell us that they will have to dissemble the engine to determine if there is any internal damage.

We call the mechanic back near our house and fill them in with the situation and they agree at their expense to tow it back to their shop.

The car is now sitting at the mechanics for the past 5 days and I finally got a call from the owner today. Pretty much they have ordered parts for the fix but I could tell during the conversation that they are very skeptical that their action caused the problem. They have asked me questions such as “Did the towing company play with the engine or did you notice fluid under the car or did your wife notice the heat guage on high, or did you fill up the car at a full service gas station?” (the answer to every questio is no of course)

With every question I feel a sense of dread that they are going to come up with a reason that the repair is not their fault. My question to the community is…

Is it logical to conclude that if they didn’t tighten the cap correctly the fluid could have leaked out over a few days without my wife noticing any smoke or fluid. I feel like the mechanic believes we should have noticed this very quickly.

How fast does it take a car to overheat? Would she have been driving for miles with the gauge on High or can an overheating happen suddenly?

If a cap is left off a radiator how many miles should she have gotten before it stalled out…Is it possible the car could have made 70 miles? The mechanic said it is a pressurized system and that their should have been viable smoke if the cap was off.

If the mechanic claims it’s not their fault and Hyundai will not cover the warranty and I out of luck? The mechanic definitely implied that he wouldn’t be surprised if the Hyundai Dealership lied because the money from warranty repairs is so low that it’s not worth their time. That seems to be a tall claim but does anyone else think that this could be true?

Thanks for your help…I feel like I’m stuck in mechanic-warranty hell.

None of us were there, but it certainly sounds plausible that your mechanic failed to replace the radiator cap after inspecting the car. In this case, I believe that, based on available evidence, the mechanic is responsible for whatever damage may have taken place. Under the circumstances, it is very unlikely that Hyundai will cover anything, simply because there is no evidence that there was a failure of any warranteed parts.

The only failures both appear to be human in nature–the failure of the mechanic to replace the cap and the failure of your wife to observe an overheating warning on the car’s dashboard. If the mechanic wants to do the honorable thing, he will cover the cost of whatever repairs may be necessary–and they may be extensive. However, if he wants to dig his heels in, he can claim–with some validity–that your wife failed to observe the car’s instrument panel, as a prudent driver should.

I tend to be obsessive about such things, but I do check my gauges every 20 minutes or so, and every few minutes, I do a quick scan to make sure that there are no warning lights illuminated. Even when a radiator cap is properly attached, it is possible for any car to overheat in the matter of just a few minutes due to a leaking hose, or a bad belt, or a defective cooling fan. It is also possible for an engine to self-destruct in…literally just a few seconds…after an oil pressure warning light shows up. As a result, a prudent driver will make frequent checks of the instrument panel of the car.

Hopefully the mechanic will do the honorable thing.
And, hopefully, both you and your wife have learned the hard way that it is necessary to pay close attention to the instrument panel of the car.

Good luck!

You don’t mention something that I know happens everytime a tow truck driver makes a decision that a tow is required, they open the hood and give it a look over. This is where and when the missing cap should have been noticed. Did the tow operator open the hood before he decided to tow the car? if not he made an error.

I would be very hard for me to believe a car died from sudden overheating and nobody opened the hood while the car was on the side of the road. What I think happened was the hood was opened and the cap was in place but when the car got to the Dealer a situation was manufactured to keep the repair out of warranty status.

Is there damage to the engine? It is possible the cap was off the whole time and just not noticed until the highway drive. Hopefully there is no major damage.

When you leave a radiator cap off like is being claimed, it takes a while for the coolant to be lost. There would have been puddles of coolant at work where she parks and a puddle at home. By the second day, the second drive to work, enough coolant should have been lost so at some point the car boiled over. The red “TEMP” light would have come on and steam would have been visible billowing out of the hood to fender joints. Had the car been pulled over and stopped at this point, major damage could have been avoided. But for whatever reason, the car was not pulled over and stopped until it went into the self-destruct mode.

A severely overheated engine can not be repaired. It must be replaced. I would try and find the best used engine that you can and negotiate the best deal you can with the negligent shop owner to install it…

Just to answer a couple of the questions:

No the tow truck driver did not open the hood of the car. He was instructed to just pick up the car and bring it back to the dealership. When it arrived there that was the first time to my knowledge that the hood was opened up and the found the cap to the side. They also told me they found coolant all over the engine. Again though no viable damage to the cap

We don’t have a reserved parking place at our apartment building so unfortunately we park in different areas and thus never come back to the same parking space. Thus we didn’t see any coolant underneath the car.

She apparently didn’t see any smoke coming out of the engine until she noticed the power loss. It seems like that even at that point it was pretty faint and kind of wisping out.

Thanks for the helpful comments…

There are STILL a lot of blank pages here…Has the repair shop who now has the vehicle tried to simply refill the cooling system, start it up and see what happens?? Perhaps you lucked out and the engine survived…Or have we gone past that point to the point where extensive damage has been verified…?

Nope there’s some damage. They took the engine apart yesterday and the mechanic shop said it could be repaired, but they will have to replace a cylinder, gasket and some hoses (maybe more I don’t remember). It sounds like the integrity of the engine is ok.