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Drain plug fell out!

My shop serviced my '97 Subaru Outback 2 weeks ago, and talked me into a new timing chain install. My wife was on the highway 2 days ago when the drainplug fell out. The car backfired (or exploded) and smoked and she pulled over. A lot of oil drained out where the car rested. Additionally, she reported so much smoke out ot the enging compartment that she was afraid it was on fire. Also, I looked in the garage and noted a half of a quart of oil on the floor. We towed it to the shop. They are apparently taking responsibility, but want to check out what, “if anything” is damaged. My question; isn’t this engine toast? What could possibly by salvagable?

If a lot of oil leaked out after the car was stopped, you might not have any engine damage due to lack of oil. But besides that, I would never have my car worked on in that shop again. You probably didn’t need a new timing chain. It would appear that they botched the job and I would make them pay for whatever repairs are necessary. Sounds like a dishonest and opportunistic shop.

The engine more than likely has some damage; with the only question being the degree of the damage. More oil and a new drain plug may even appear to quieten the engine down (IF it’s not that bad yet) but the question may be what is going to happen over the long haul.

Due to the description of backfired (exploded) the engine may be scrap metal at this point since this kind of thing coupled with oil draining out could be assumed to be a thrown connecting rod.
If there was any knocking before this explosion then my guess would be scrap metal.

Thanks for your input. Do you know if there is any diagnostic way to assess the damage if it’s not totally siezed up?

First of all, no Subaru Outback model in '97 had a timing chain, so if you were charged for replacement of a timing chain, then the shop is clearly run by charlatans. However, that vehicle does have a timing belt, and unless it was already replaced at least once, it was due for a timing belt replacement.

That being said, even if it was a timing belt, the shop is clearly responsible for the damage to your engine–which is likely toast at this point. With a lack of lubrication, I find it difficult to believe that any part of this engine is salvageable.

After you get them to make good on the engine replacement, be sure to AVOID this shop in the future. If they can’t even tighten the oil drain plug properly, I would not trust them with anything.

But, to return to the original point of my response, were you charged for a timing belt replacement or a timing chain replacement? If it is the latter, these guys are truly crooks, in addition to being…less than competent mechanics.

Under certain circumstances, you can lose nearly all your oil and still have no engine damage. This happened to me with a 6 cylinder Ford, which had its oil filter underneath the exhaust manifold. The shop had not tightened the filter sufficiently and on the highway it blew off spraying oil all over the hot exhaust, with smoke and flames smoke billowed out from under the hood. After I stopped the car I doused the flames with an old blanket I keep in the trunk, I phoned a nearby service station which came and picked up the car which was down to 1 quart of oil. Drove the car for a full year after without any problem. But I caught the problem just in time.

You may not be so lucky, so make sure the shop makes all the necesary repairs to your car.

There’s a difference between seized up or damaged. After a loss of oil a compression test and oil pressure test should be performed.
The former will give one an idea anyway of piston ring condition and the latter may give one an idea about any crank or cam bearing damage.

The latter is also not infallible. What can happen is that even a comparatively few seconds of no oil pressure can wipe out the overlay on the crank bearings and once this happens the bearings are on borrowed time even if the engine appears to run fine with no noises. (Depending on how quick someone caught it).
If you hear bad noises while the engine is being cranked over then you should worry.

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