Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Help! I Think I'm Getting Ripped Off!


I’m new here. I joined because I’m in desperate need of good advice. I think I’m getting completely scammed by my mechanic.

Here’s the story: car was blowing a ton of smoke and burning lots of oil- a quart plus each week with about 100 city miles. Took it to a mechanic who said a new engine was best way to go. He put in SeaFoam and told us to keep driving. A week later the engine light starts blinking. I immediately take it to a different mechanic because I’m afraid I’m burning out the catalytic converter or something. He too suggests an engine swap. He tells me he can get an engine with 80,000 miles on it (mine has 98,000) for $1500. Ok, I’ve looked on the internet and that seems right. Labor about another $1100. Fine. The car is in good shape and $2600 is better than a car payment.

Problem: tomorrow will be two weeks. Still no car. He has charged my credit card not only for the engine, which I authorized, for I guess for labor too. And, $300 over what we agreed. I stopped by there two days ago. I needed to look in my car for something and I wanted to find out what was going on. He followed me to my car while I looked through it. The glove box is out and there’s a huge gear inside the car.

He also showed me what he said was the new engine. It looked like it had just been pulled from a car. Spark plugs hanging down, greasy. Made me question where he ordered it from.

I feel like I’m being scammed. At the least, I think he’s lying to me about something. I even wonder if he’s just fixing my engine and selling it back to me.

I don’t know what to do at this point. Any suggestions?

Somebody is ripping you off, but it would help if you told us a little background on the vehicle. Need year, make, model, how long have you had it and anything you know about the maintenance schedule, especially oil change history and who does the oil changes.

Engines have VINs so you should be able to tell if its the same engine or not. Really you should have someone go with you that knows a little bit about the process and take a good look. If the engine was swapped, it would have come out of a junk car so it could be dirty. He also may have to change out the computer which might account for the glove box. It would not be unusual for them to put parts inside the car to store them. As far as pre-charging the card, not a good practice but if the guy is less than solvent, that might explain it. I never go low bid anymore after going through a seven week transmission overhaul that only lasted a year. The good thing is though that you can contest the charge on the charge card if the work isn’t done correctly but good luck with that, they aren’t mechanics.

All you could do now is have it towed somewhere else but no one likes to pick up the pieces on a half done job. Plus the guy can hit you for any labor done and the cost of the engine if he already bought it. Bottom line is you’re stuck a little.

Yeah, I guess I am a little stuck.

The car is a 2002 V6 Toyota Camry Solara SLE coupe with 98,000 miles. Maintenance has been spotty last several years. It’s been blowing smoke and burning oil quite a while now.

I know I could have had work done for a little less, but I went here because they’ve been around a long time and always have lots of cars on the lot. They’re in a very crowded Chicago neighborhood.

I don’t think the guy I’ve been dealing with is the owner. I think tomorrow I’ll try to talk to him.

Is there documentation on a used engine? This guy promised me an engine with 80,000 miles, nearly 20,000 less than I now have. Now I wonder what he’s putting in there. I want to see some paperwork.


Were any tests run on your original engine? Like a compression test? Did the “mechanic” even open the hood before he suggested installing a used engine? As far as the replacement goes, there will be an invoice from the salvage yard that sold your mechanic the engine. This invoice, along with the price, should list the VIN of the donor car and the mileage reading when the engine was pulled…Some “quality” yards will take pictures and include them with the engines they sell… Others are not so fussy…Then there is the Midnight Auto Salvage places where it’s cash up front, no paperwork provided…

I think all used engine have 70,000 to 80,000 miles on them, that sounds pleasing. At least that is what people have been reporting when shopping for a used engine. At 13 years old, greater than 150,000 miles would be expected. If the salvage yard reported the engine had 150,000 miles on it whould you buy it?

Sometimes I find the VIN on the salvage yard inventory tag and check the history for that VIN.

BTW when removing the engine the wiring harness stays on the engine until after it is removed. The first step is to remove the glove box, disconnect the wiring harness from the computer and pass the wiring through the fire wall.

Cool. Thanks. I left the car with him. I don’t think there were any tests done. He said what every other mechanic said: it’s the rings. Thing is, if they pulled the head and sent them out to be machined, it would pretty expensive. I was willing to pay a bit to get this done right. Maybe it will be, but I’m starting to feel very uneasy.

I’d relax. A good shop should have two weeks backlog to keep everyone busy, so if he just got the engine and is starting to do the swap, sounds fine.

We will all say a prayer for you Fire 'cause you are going to need it…

On the financial side, you can dispute the bill if the work is not finished by the time your credit card statement is due for payment. That may provide you with more leverage. I assume you don’t have a written estimate, so as to challenge the over-payment?

I tend to agree with Caddyman about bringing religion into this… :wink:

Sorry I can’t be of more help but used engines are always a coin flip in my opinion even if they have comparatively low miles on them.

If there’s any question about the engine’s heritage ask to see the receipts showing they obtained another engine.
If there was a core charge that should also be verifiable with paperwork; including any shipping charges for the core return if applicable.
The serial number on the engine can also be traced back to determine which car it actually came out of.

An honest shop should answer any questions you have without getting upset but one thing I find distasteful is billing you for the full amount + 300 before the work has been satisfactorily done.
A deposit on the motor I could see but with the rest due upon completion of the job.

I think being charged before repairs are done is not anything I have encountered. I might confront the guy about being charged befor repairs are completed, and say If I am not happy with this car in a week I am going to contest the charges, then pay in full when the work is satisfactorily completed.

The mechanic said he was going to get an engine with 80,000 miles on it so obviously he wasnt getting a "new" engine. A used engine will look used, dirt,grease and oil on it.It seems to me you should be able to get a used engine for less than $1,000. Salvage yards usually check the engines out to make sure they are in decent mechanical condition before they sell them.They usually give a warranty on the used engines they sell.They dont sell the crap engines because they dont want to get a reputation for selling junk. My daughter had a used engine installed in her car 2 years ago and its still running great.She paid $475 for the engine and $700 to have it installed.I guess the price varies depending on where you live.
Give the guy a chance to put the engine in and get it running,then if you have any compliants deal with them then.Until then relax and be patient.

Are you sure your card has been charged? They may have put a reserve on your card, which is usually higher than the estimate, just in case.

The labor all depends on the engine type and layout

Obviously, changing out a 4 banger in a RWD truck is easier versus changing out a transverse V6 in a car

I’m surprised the rings are supposedly shot on this V6 engine. Those Toyota 1MZ-FE engines don’t have a bad reputation

If this continues without the return of your car. You can call your credit card company and have them revoke the charge. The shop will then have to return the money to the credit card company. Make sure you know the status of the car first. It may just be as @Insightful suggests, that there is a back log of work.

Do you know someone you can trust who really understands cars? A relative, a friend, a son or daughter? If so, you may want to ask them to join you in a visit to the shop and ask them to help you outline the situation. Often with jobs this large misunderstandings develop between the customer, especially since there’s so much natural anxiety going in, and the mechanic, not all of whom are the greatest communicators. Someone who knows cars might be able to outline the situation for you in a manner that makes sense. Or disclose a true scam going on.

And bring your camera.

My suspicion is that you’ll find the former to be true rather than the latter. I hope I’m right. If I’m wrong and there truly is a scam going on, your friend/relative (along with the photos) can assist you in putting together a proper description to present to a lawyer or small claims court to pursue restitution.

I’m not a great communicator with customers

That’s a job for the shop foreman, service advisor, receptionist, etc.

some of the older german models didn t come with sarcasm/honesty filter :slight_smile:


Just returned from mechanic. They’re putting engine in now. Yes, there is considerable markup on the $1500 80,000 mile engine. He doesn’t want me to see the invoice from LKQ (I think that’s where they got it).

I spent about 20-25 minutes looking at the old engine and the new engine. There was sludge in the old engine and metal shavings in oil pan. Oil in exhaust pipe. I’m hoping the catalytic converter is still good.

It comes with a 12 month, 12,000 mile warranty and free oil changes every two months for 12 months.

I feel somewhat better. Still probably paying too much, but it’s within the ballpark of what other places said without having seen the car. It’s $1550 engine, $1050 labor, $275 tax. A lot yes, but I guess better than a new car.

Thanks for your help. Still open to your thoughts. I may be picking it up today.