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Engine froze two weeks after major maintenance - is the dealership responsible?

I have a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. I took it to the dealership on June 30, for a routine oil change and other maitenance that was due. Theydid a cooling system flush, and oil change, a power steering flush, and a brake system flush, along with a multipoint inspection, and replaced the belt and tensioner. On July 18 on my way to work in Houston traffic, the vehicle completely shut down with no warning signals. Shortly after the check engine light, the oil light came on. Until then, I had not noticed any warning lights. At this time I reached down to get a bottle of tea from the passenger front floor board and noticed a slightly oily pink brown liquid on the plastic floor mat. When it was towed to the dealership, they tore the engine apart and reported that the engine overheated, the valve seats came off, the valves hit the pistons splashing metal onto the cylinder walls and requiring an engine rebuild to the tune of almost $7,000. Is the dealership responsible for not having discovered whatever problem caused the engine to break down? Or causing it somehow during the maintenance on June 30? They feel it is not related.

I wonder what the temperature gauge was indicating in the 5 to 10 minutes prior to the “sudden” failure of the engine? And was there an unaccounted for puddle of pink liquid showing up at every place the Jeep was parked the final few days of its life? Maybe there was a strange sweet smell noticed when stopped in traffic?

Certainly, it is possible that the engine’s catastrophic failure gave no warning. But it is very unlikely. And the failure might have resulted from mechanic negligence, but again, it is rare that an engine fails suddenly with no warning.

It sounds like the break down may have been caused by overheating from loss of coolant in the coolant system. The leak could have been for a variety of reasons, many of which might not be picked up by routine maintenance. I can’t see how you can hold the dealer responsible. That it operated fine for a significant amount of time IMO, absolves them from responsibility. I have had dealers fail to replace oil filler covers, leave wheel bolts loose, hub caps loose and assorted other problems. The ones I caught quickly, they assumed responsibility, The mistakes that weren’t, I was on my own. I trust no one and check anything I feel comfortable with after a maintenance visit now. Think about another good independent in the future.

If you are willing to take up the ladder with a customer service rep. from the factory and be a pest, that could be an option. It has worked for me on a couple of occasions especially where I was a repeat customer of their products.

A leak in the heater (pink fluid) caused the engine to overheat.

Sorry, but this was a failure waiting to happen that the dealership could not prevent.

It’s impossible for me to say what the cause of overheating was but damage this severe did not occur instantly.
Other than the temperature gauge being pegged out there should have been obvious signs leading up to the engine failing; usually lack of power, rattling, A/C possibly shutting down, and so on.

A car can really fail at any time but if it fails after service it makes you go “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm,…”.
Was the car looked at by an independent mechanic after it failed this way or was that done by the same dealership?

I agree with CapriRacer’s theory.
Based on where the leakage occurred. it appears that the heater core sprang a leak.
The coolant loss from the leaking heater core led to overheating and subsequent engine damage, but that damage could likely have been attenuated by noticing the rising temperature gauge and shutting down the engine much sooner than was done.

The previous maintenance did not cause the heater core to leak. It may have leaked as a result of lack of prior maintenance (not changing the coolant/antifreeze when it should have been changed), or it could just be a quirk of that particular heater core.

On my '86 Taurus, the heater core sprang a leak after just 4 years, despite proper attention to the coolant. Some heater cores are more prone to failure than others, and perhaps the one in the OP’s Jeep falls into that category.

"Shortly after the check engine light, the oil light came on. Until then, I had not noticed any warning lights. "

Did anyone bother to check the dipstick? Engines do tend to run hot when there is no oil in them…

I’m in agreement with Caddyman about a potential lack of oil issue but it would help to have a few bits clarified.
“The valve seats came off” and “pistons splashing metal onto the cylinder walls” sounds a bit odd and one has to wonder if extreme overheating caused a valve seat (maybe plural) to drop out of the cylinder head; followed by removing the head of a valve and creating all kinds of metallic havoc.

Maybe severe overheating leading to valve stem binding and then engine destruction; who knows.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

July in Houston; neither one is pleasant. :wink:

I would just question the heater core leak being the cause not the effect of the overheating. I’ve had core leaks before and if it would have been large enough to lose that much coolant, the inside of the car would have steamed up and much more coolant would have been evident. More likely something else caused the overheating such as insufficient coolant, a bubble, stuck thermostat, hose, radiator leak, or maybe no oil caused the overheating in the first place. Maybe again the filter or oil drain plug was not tight causing the leak over two weeks. Who knows at this point without the OP verifying oil level, coolant level, temp guage etc. over the two week period. I would guess at this point a used engine would be the best option with someone doing an autopsy on the old one to determine cause of death.

Hum, another cooling system failure after a flush. Why am I not surprised.

The dealer owns this one. There are issues that should have been seen in a major service. A coolant leak inside could be due to the flush equipment causing damage to the heater coil. Regardless a major incident so close to the service makes this a dealer issue.

On July 18 on my way to work in Houston traffic

July + Houston = A/C on max

A/C on = radiator cooling fans ON

Traffic = low speed and minimal air flow through radiator

Has anyone checked to see if the fans are operational?

Also, A/C on = noise, which, possibly combined with radio or iPod, may have concealed warning sounds prior to engine failure?

I like @bing’s idea… heater core may have been a result, not cause of overheating.

Look at a used motor not new. Vehicle is 7+ years old. May need Indy not dealer to fix.

It’s July. Why would the heater have been on? In most cars I’ve worked on, if the heater isn’t on, coolant isn’t circulating through it because a valve upstream of the heater core is closed, so it can leak all it wants and it won’t cause a coolant loss in the engine cooling loop. This is why when the engine starts overheating, you can turn the heater on and keep the temp down while you get to the side of the road - because you have nice, cool coolant sitting in the heater loop to dump into the system that causes a quick temp. drop (and the heater acts as a small radiator).

Other than the Dealer saying it isn’t their fault what is their explanation for why it happened? They must have some idea or are they unwilling to speculate for fear you can hold them responsible for the damage? If you just get a stony stare when you ask them explain why it isn’t their fault, I would recommend you ask them to bring in the District Service Representative and let him (or her) tell you why the engine failed.

There are a lot of unanswered questions here. How much oil was in the engine? If it was low, where did it go? What was the fluid you found on the floor mat? Was it a combination of oil and coolant? Why was it there, did the heater core spring a leak and it is being replaced as part of the repairs? Did all of the valve seats fall out or just in one cylinder? Are their any codes in the ECU that might indicate what was happening to the engine just prior the failure?

One possible scenario, a bubble in the in the cooling system near one of the combustion chambers cause enough localized heating loosen the valve seat(s). A head gasket failure allowed enough combustion pressure into the cooling system to cause a leak in the cabin. Which might have come first would be anybody’s guess, but it could point to a problem with the coolant flush.

I have to respectfully disagree about the heater core scenario. Most modern era cars have coolant circulating through the core at all times and the temp is regulated by a blend door.

Even on cars that do use a coolant shut-off valve (heater valve) the core is still pressurized even if coolant is not circulating through it.

Unless the OP fills in the blanks we may never know what happened because at this point the vehicle is a ,figuratively speaking, heart attack victim who has expired without any of us knowing what caused the heart attack.

It also could be that the core is fine and any coolant on that side may have leaked in around a firewall seal due to an underhood leak which was spewing hot coolant everywhere.

Unfortunately, without examining the car, neither we nor you can determine for sure whether the dealership’s work led to the failure. We might not be able to come to a conclusive answer even if we could examine it. If the dealership finds evidence that they caused the problem, it is unlikely that they will share that information with you. My daughter’s car once overheated on the freeway a week after I replaced the coolant because I had tightened the bleed screw on top of the radiator only finger tight and had forgotten to finish tightening.

I agree with the posts that doubt that the whole problem was a failure in the heater core. Although water leaking from the heater core might drain out the evaporator water drain tube unnoticed, it is hard to imagine loosing all your coolant and overheating the car through the heater core without noticing steam and odor in the car.

Though I cannot answer your question, I urge you NOT to attempt to use this engine for anything other than a boat anchor. Do not try to rebuild it. Now is the time to look for a promising junk yard engine.

I’m with @keith and @MTraveler.

If they did a coolant flush and didn’t properly bleed the system, air in the system could cause serious problems.

What size was the engine?

Also, something from your original post needs clarification. Did the check engine and oil lights come on before or after the car suddenly shut down? It isn’t clear from your post, but these lights, as far as I know for a Jeep, would turn on after the engine shuts off if the key is in the on position anyway.

I also think that the dealership needs to explain what happened and in what order and what would have caused it. It should be very easy to explain and figure out. It may be to late to get an independent mechanic to look at it, but you need to raise a stink I think until a satisfactory explanation is given at a minimum.

I’ve fixed lots of cars and computers that have been damaged for lots of reasons, and after I figure out what needs fixed it’s always pretty obvious what happened. In particular, in your case, lots of things happened at least in roughly a two week period so that’s saying something.