Help! Should a shop take responsiblity for engine damage?

I recently had the timing belt service performed on my 2002 Volkswagen Passat wagon. It had the 2.8 liter, dual overhead cam v6 with 180,000 miles. I babied this car the entire time I’ve owned it (2nd owner and bought with 35,000 miles on it). I did the 100,000 mile service myself when i was a broke grad student. i’m fairly technically savvy, performing both front axl replacements, all the service including; timing belt, plugs, wires, valve cover etc… so i know the car. i’ve been out of grad school and working professionally now for some time and luckily can afford to pay for the service now. i took the car to a reputable shop that i found on the internet for the timing belt service and a general tune-up. I paid $2000 dollars for the service which took them about 10 days and included; timing belt, water pump, cam tensioner seals, valve covers, spark plugs and wires and an oil and filter change. I got the car back put a aprox. 200 miles on it and noticed an oil leak on the right side under the engine. took it back and they discovered a “defective” valve cover gasket. I took it back it had lost a couple of quarts oil and they proceeded to fix the “defective cover”. 10 days later i pick the car up on a friday and drive to tahlequah oklahoma (i live in tulsa so this is about 75 miles) caravaning with my wife, our daughters and a 2010 subaru outback for an afternoon kayak trip on the illinois river. we park the volkswagen at one public access point down river and i load up with the girls to put in up river at another public access point. we kayak all day, miss the take out point and take out further down river, forcing me to hike 1.5 miles back to the volkwagen to retrieve it. i get there crank it and it’s the “crashof metal” under the hood. it never moved again. needless to say i had to get a ride back to the subaru, this took hours. we finally got home, called the mechanic on monday and they agreed to tow it back and check it out. the next day they tell me they suspect a wrist pin (how could you even diagnose this) in the number 3 piston…but with the car running at such low rpms when this happen that would be near impossible. plus how could you even see that without removing the heads etc… 2 weeks go by and i haven’t heard a word. i finally call them and they tell me it’s not the wrist pin or the timing but a thrown rod on the number 5 cylinder…wait, wait, wait you said you scoped the number 5 and the problem was there…what’s going on. anyway…i digress. they conclude all of this from a scope down the cylinder and refuse to take any responsibility for the issue with the car. now i’m stuck with towing it off their property and most likely a new engine. i feel like any of the problems i’ve discussed here could be related to timing but they say that the timing marks on the belt are all in place. any advice here would be greatly appreciated.

If the engine was turning freely you should have checked the alignment of the timing marks prior to sending it to their shop. If the engine was somehow seized how did they determine the timing marks were still correctly aligned? It’s possible they realigned the timing marks after getting it back. Although it’s likely the problem was an error in the timing belt installation, failed to tighten something, damaged belt during installation, etc.)without proof of their negligence, I wouldn’t expect them to cover any damage. Only other option I see now is pulling the head yourself and see if it was actually a collision of the pistons and valves, if so trying again to get them to do something about it. If they still wouldn’t do anything you could talk with a lawyer to see if you had a case against them, if not, about all you can do is not use this shop again and spread the word to discourage others from using it.

To me, this once again demonstrates the futility of doing major repair work on a high-mileage 12 year old car…It also points out the sorry state of the automotive repair industry…Many shops will take on jobs they have no business doing…Back in the day 20-30 years ago, a used engine pulled from a wrecked car would solve the problem…But today, most of the time, that option gets sideways with problem after problem, endless check engine lights, skyrocketing costs…I hate to say this but you are in the market for a new car…

You had it serviced, it ran for more than a few miles and broke in a rather unique way. If the timing belt was set wrong, way more than one cylinder would have failed. You would have heard a symphony of metal-to metal noises all the way to Tahlequah IF you made it that far. A thrown rod may be due to oil starvation but you should have heard the bearing knock before it broke. Sometimes $h1t happens to good people. It sounds like a fluke failure on a high mileage car. Sorry but it appears as though you rolled snake eyes on the VW dice table. I don’t think the shop can be faulted. Sell the car to a junkyard.

I would suggest another shop for diagnosis but even then if the original shop is wrong its small claims court to get this rectified. Best of luck.

That was one expensive service, sorry it did not work out. I personally would have ignored it and driven on at 200k miles.

First, I think $2,000 was too much to pay for the work you had done. That alone has me suspect the shop is dishonest. All that work should have cost, at most, $1,200.

Second, Volkswagen isn’t known for reliability, so I find it completely plausible that the new malfunction might not be related to the work done.

Having the car towed to another shop for a second opinion is going to cost you, in towing fees diagnostic fees, and to fix whatever is wrong, but if you can afford it, it might be worth it to confirm or dispel your suspicions.

Is it possible an oil leak remained? And low engine oil was the cause of the major engine failure? Given what you say, that’d be my guess. Since you already had an oil leak problem due to this servicing, you’d have been wise in retrospect to constantly check the oil level until you knew for sure no leak remained and the oil level was totally stable.

If this routine maintenance/repair is what caused the oil leak, which later ruined the engine, about the only thing I can say is that you have my sympathy. You’d think a standard service like that could be done by pros without causing such a bad problem; but the fact is timing belt jobs have to be done precisely as spec’d by the shop manual, and any error in the process can prove to be very unforgiving.

Of course it’s entirely possible the engine damage had nothing to do with the servicing. No way to tell, esp via the internet. You could ask another mechanic not associated with this shop to do a post-mortem, see what he can determine.

I had an experience somewhat similar involving a VW Rabbit years ago, and that was what caused me to seek out the local high school auto shop maintenance class night-school so I could learn to do my own auto service. My early 90’s Corolla w/200K has never been in any auto shop at all, other than for California-required emissions testing.

A shop that kept a car for 10 days to replace a timing belt doesn’t have any idea of what they are doing. They may have over or under tightened the tensioner causing it to fail. You need a mechanic willing to diagnose what caused the engine failure and willing to document it in writing and pics. Good luck finding one. You also may spend more money only to find out that the work they did din’t cause the failure or worse yet that it can’t be proven.

I’m not aware of how you could diagnose a wrist pin without opening the engine… he said that he suspected it was a wrist pin. Scoping a cylinder would still be a maybe, and a thrown rod could only really be diagnosed by dropping the pan…unless there’s a hole where it went thru the block…like the one at my shop…a hole the size of my thumb…and i’ve seen bigger.

Either way I can’t be too hard on the shop. They did a timing belt job and installed a bad gasket. They fixed the gasket. Maybe that gasket was defective also and on your trip you ran so low on oil that you caused the damage and didn’t hear the engine banging from a lack of oil. Then when you started it everything let loose.
And yes even at low RPM’s .

Maybe the broken rod/ wristpin was ready to let go anyway.

I do feel for the OP, but unless someone finds real proof!!!

I’m also wondering about the 10 days for each job. We shouldn’t make too much of this. Maybe the shop is that backed up with work.

@eorgeSanJose; is right, this is one job that has to be done exact…anything inside the engine is that way.
I did my mom’s PT Cruiser a few years ago with my brother helping. We had everything back together, motor mounts and all, and only had a few things topside to bolt down. I was going to finish the next day. As I layed there trying to fall asleep I couldn’t help but think of the job we had just done. Sudedenly I remembered an idler pully bolt that I don’t remember tightening. I called my brother the next morning and he claimed he had tightened it.
It bothered me so much I unbolted the mount and tore the whole thing down just to be sure.


So what was the oil level like at the time this incident happened?

There are too many missing details for me to fault the shop at this point.

About those 10 days . . .

I work in a small shop, with maybe 5 or 6 working mechanics. Yet we’re responsible for hundreds of vehicles. Several vehicles show up every day

We’re backed up so bad, sometimes a vehicle sits for weeks before we can even get around to it

We have a local shop that have 6 bays staffed. They are backed up that there are at least 25 cars sitting around waiting for repairs. Then there must be 4 times that many that have appointments to come in and get work done on a spacific day and time.
So to me 10 days is no big deal. It doesn’t mean that the car was on the rack all ten days.

I also feel that if the OP had a leaky valve cover that he lost 2 quarts in 200 miles, that after the repair he should have been concerned enough to check the oil and for leaks on the first 25 miles of the trip. Maybe the mechanic forgot to top off the oil after fixing the gasket. Yes, that would be the mechanic’s fault…dumb move. But maybe if the oil was checked by the OP on the way he would have found it still leaked.
That motor had to be rapping like heck toward the end of the trip if it ran out of oil like suspect.
Maybe the OP is like my wife who plays her audio books so loud you couldn’t hear the drivers door dragging right next to her.

Look at it this way. If I took a car in because I had a leaky tire and the tire shop fixed the leak, I’d still be taking a glance at that tire every time I walked to the car for the next week…maybe more.

Even the repairs I do on my own vehicles…I keep an eye on for awhile.


Here’s what I think happened. You took your 13 year old VW Passat with 180K miles on the clock to a repair shop. They charged you too much money for the service. You picked up the vehicle and then had problems with it. They fixed that problem then you had problems with it yet again. The shop found that the engine was toast and this is not at all unusual for a high mileage VW. I can’t see where the shop caused the engine to self destruct. You need to buy another vehicle and move on with your life. The odds of having the shop pay for your VW is about as good as gambling on the lottery. I just don’t see it ever happening.

It took my guy(one person) 4 weeks to complete a valve job (one week in other shop), which also included motor removal/reinstall, and doing the majority of work listed by this poster and some other various items. 10 days was likely a backed up shop just like my guy. His rates I think he gets major work a lot.

@db4690, Congrats to your shop. You all must be doing something right to have a backlog of work. The message of quality work at a decent price spreads far and wide.

I’m sorry, but I started reading and got totally distracted by your stories of hikes, kayaking, and success. I found ferreting your car problem out of your life stories too exhausting to proceed. Congratulations, you’re now a success.

Allow me to suggest that you remember when your write to be concise and stick to the subject.

Regarding the car, I think you’ve moved beyond a garage’s help to a lawyer’s help. I recommend you call one.

A reference to a leaking valve cover gasket is made and was repaired. That does not mean that V/C gasket was the sole source of any oil consumption.
Given the 2 quarts consumed in 200 miles one would hope that the oil level would have been checked after that was discovered and sometime during the 10 days and trip to the Illinois River.
That is why I asked previously about checking the oil level.

A wristpin, connecting rod, etc would not be damaged by any of the work that was done.

As to delays, that’s quite common and in honesty it’s a good thing. No work backlog means things are caught up and flat rate mechanics are standing around twiddling their thumbs and getting more pxxxxx off by the minute. There goes morale and giving a whit or even loading the box and bailing out.

A valve job was mentioned in another post. Around here if a cylinder head, engine block, etc is taken to the auto machine shop it will be 1 to 2 weeks before it’s done. The world never revolves around that one particular part or vehicle no matter how badly someone needs it done yesterday.

As to the price being overly high, I would imagine if that bill was broken down into the various segments one would find that it’s within line.

@oldtimer_11: “A shop that kept a car for 10 days to replace a timing belt doesn’t have any idea of what they are doing.”

That’s quite a conclusion you’ve jumped to. I’ve used really good shops that were that backed up. That’s what happens when a shop gets a reputation for being really good; they get more business than they can handle.

On the plus side, the OP apparently didn’t get involved in a drunken brawl, drowning, or inadvertent shooting on the Illinois River…


The original job was a timing belt and a tune-up. A reputable shop would have scheduled it in and out in one day.