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I think the shop ruined my engine?

Long, sad story. In short, I have to replace the engine in my 2002 Altima, I think because an independent shop ruined it and I’m trying to decide if I can get my money back from them. Car had 90K miles and had never given me a minutes trouble. Did 3-5K oil changes and all scheduled maintenance. Have replaced one battery and one thermostat plus a couple of hoses, otherwise car has been fantastic. No problems, great pick-up, consistent mileage, etc.

Had oil changed on Friday. Over the weekend, check engine light came on occasionally and car seemed to stumble a bit on start up then after 30 seconds or so was fine.

About a week later, car wouldn’t start one Saturday. Not a battery sound - sounded like it was almost turning over but wouldn’t quite catch. Called a local shop which was the only thing open. They came out and got it started and took it in to check it out.

Called me later to say that they had replaced the battery (which I don’t think was the problem) and it needed spark plugs and a fuel injection cleaning. I approved the service to the tune of $500.

The next week the same thing happened. Managed to get it in there again, and they say a coil had gone bad. They replaced the coil and charged me $400.

Next week, same thing. They said it was a warranty replacement on the coil and charged me nothing.

A week later it overheated and I had to have it towed in ($100). They said that a hose clamp at the bottom of the radiator had rusted through and come lose. Charged me nothing.

A week later, same starting problem and check engine light. Took it back, call me crazy, and they said the throttle body was all gunked up and needed to be cleaned. Then they said that didn’t work, the throttle body had to be replaced. Then they had to take the car to the dealership to be “reflashed” on the computer. Said they were having trouble getting the idle right but finally got it OK. They took it out for a test drive and the catalytic converter blew. This time the total damage was $1800.

One week later, ten minutes after leaving work, the car overheated again. After managing to get into a parking lot, I had it towed to the dealer that evening.

Called the dealer the next morning to tell them all that had gone on, told them the station name, and they said “oh, boy, they’re notorious.”

Dealer called me later that day to say that the head gasket was blown and the engine was destroyed. It will cost $4000 to replace the engine.

I think those yokels at the first shop had no idea what they were doing and managed to destroy my car. And now that I have read a little about the catalytic converter and realize it is under the front passenger seat, I remember that sometime after they started their weekly work on the car I heard an occasional thumping under the passenger seat.

I feel justified in asking for the return of a very large portion of the $2700 I have paid them. How do I back it up? I think they were guessing at what to do and everytime they touched it they screwed something else up.

Sure would appreciate any advice on how to handle it. $6700 is too much to spend on this car, but I have to have it.

I just want to say I empathize with you in this situation. Car ownership is a scary thing without a mechanic you can completely trust.

The problem in getting money back is proving that any of the “repairs” were unnecessary (or caused the head gasket to blow - the overheating likely did that), especially since you don’t have any of the old parts (or do you?). I would certainly talk to that old shop, but I have a feeling you won’t get far with them and then taking them to small claims court will be an uphill battle.

Someone else here might be able to give you better legal advice. As for the engine, I’d look into a used engine if the $4000 is for a brand new one. Again, others might offer a different opinion on that. Good luck, I hope your car troubles end soon.

All these things could have been caused by the head gasket. Nothing can be proven. The bad reputation won’t matter at all to a judge or anybody similar. It isn’t a good situation, but there is reasonable doubt that they caused the problem.

You’re in a pretty bad situation here and I’m not too sure what the answer is.
Those things you mention (spark plugs, coil, fuel injection cleaning, gunked or bad throttle body, etc.) have nothing to do with a car not starting. Someone was just throwing wild guesses out there and since you’re not mechanically inclined you had to rely on BS.

I don’t see a converter problem as being related to anything they did and a converter will not “blow”, although it may rattle or become clogged.
The overheating would be caused by low coolant, bad thermostat, inoperative fans, OR possibly a clogged converter. The latter is usually noticeable by the car seeming to run sluggish.

If you continued to operate an overheating car instead of stopping then and there this could fall on your shoulders.
Here is one thing that sounds VERY suspicious to me. They claimed a lower radiator hose clamp “rusted through and came loose”? I have an impossible time buying that on an '02 Nissan with only 90k miles on it.
JMHO here, but if these guys did the thermostat my feeling is they drained the system by loosening the lower hose, replaced the T-stat, and then forgot to tighten that clamp. The claimed rust is just an excuse to cover their tails.
Loose clamp means loss of coolant which means overheated engine and blown head gasket; or worse.

My gut feeling is the original shop screwed it up. As to what can be done about it that’s a bit iffy. They will not likely give you this money back so you may have to force the issue and have the dealer write a summary for you pointing out the scenario I mentioned. It’s possible if you filed a small claim they could settle some or all of this rather than go to court.
JMHO anyway and hope it help.

“a hose clamp at the bottom of the radiator had rusted through and come lose”

Extremely unbelievable…I agree that they probably forgot to tighten the clamp, it came loose, lost coolant, overheated.

“Charged me nothing”

Because they didn’t want to arouse any angst or suspicion. Not many shops will refill your radiator with $9-$12 a gallon coolant and give you a new hose clamp free of charge unless they are scared that you might get angry at them.

If nothing else, never take any car into that shop again…goes without saying.

Ditto. If the car were mine I’d be down there taking a look at the allegedly replaced clamp to see if it’s a new one.
Gambling money says it’s not. A pic of the “new” clamp could come in handy later if push comes to shove but I suppose the first shop could cover themselves by saying they replaced the “rusted clamp” with a good used one they had lying around.

OP, here is something to keep in mind for the future. Anytime you have a car problem check in here with us first. There’s a large number of mechanically inclined people here who are happy to assist you; as much as possible anyhow.
And you should always ask for the old parts that were replaced. A reputable shop should always hang onto the old parts for a week or so before discarding them.
A shop that fixes your car one day and then tells you that day or the next that they dumped the old parts already should be viewed with a bit of distrust.

Thanks so much to all of you for your comments. I’ll definitely try to check back here before anything else! Re the thermostat, that was changed by another shop a year or two ago - These guys wouldn’t have had any reason to fool with the radiator while doing the sparkplugs and coil, would they?

I think I’ll try to brazen it out and investigate a chargeback on my credit card to try to get them to return some of the money. I can at least compare what they charged me for parts to what the parts actually cost. The computer reflash, for instance, they charged me $204 for, but the Nissan place says they charged the shop $95. I’m pretty much resigned to not getting great results, but will give it a shot. Don’t think they should get away with that much incompetence. I don’t think they set out to cheat me, just think they didn’t know what they were doing and kept trying different stuff. Several times during all of this when I thought it was perhaps past their ability I asked if I shouldn’t take the car on over to the dealer. They said, no, they had someone who used to be a Nissan service manager and they could for sure do as good as job as Nissan.

I know there are fantastic mechanics out there working on their own, but if you don’t know cars and aren’t lucky enough to know of one of those guys, you’re pretty much at anyone’s mercy.

Thanks again!

I’d suggest a visit with an attorney. I suspect you have a case for a full refund plus a new engine…to be installed by the dealer.

See, now you have created a problem with the advice being given. It would have helped things if you had told us right off the bat that the thermostat had been done a year or so before by yet another shop instead of letting us assume otherwise based on your first post.

I retract my comments about the shop being at fault. Changing the coil and spark plugs have zero to do with a lower radiator hose and clamp.
MAYBE what happened is that the shop who put the T-stat in a year or so before left the clamp loose and a slight coolant drip over time caused overheating when the coolant level got too low.

No shop should charge you the exact price they paid for the parts. A markup is normal and completely justified. That would be like asking Wal Mart to sell you a DVD player at cost. It ain’t gonna happen, nor should it.

They’ll mark the reflash up because someone at the shop had to spend some valuable time (spelled M-O-N-E-Y) going over there to get this done.

After the latest info I don’t see that the last shop did anything wrong.
And I could ask the same question I posed before - when the car was overheating did you shut it off right then and there or continue on for 5 minutes or longer? If the latter, this is on you.