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It's not water damage

We need help! My fiance and I were driving on I-90, him in his car and me behind him in mine, when his oil light came on and started flashing. 5 minutes later his car died and he rolled the car over to the shoulder and stopped. I pushed his car with mine back to my apartment, and the next day we had the car towed to a Volkswagen service station to be fixed.

About 2 days later, they called him and told him it was his starter, and that it had to be replaced for $468. He said okay, great, fix it. Two days later they called and told him it was NOT the starter, he had something stuck in his engine and they would have to take it out to remove the object for a new total of $760. He said okay, great, fix it. We’re on a pretty tight budget, so he called back to ask if he could pay $600 up front, and then $160 the following week and they told him then that they could probably cut the cost down to $600.

Another few days later, they called him back and told him the car was dead. I believe they said there was water in the third engine block and he needed a new engine. Then they told him he should call his insurance company and get the money for the car because the engine would cost more than the car is worth. (We looked up the Blue Book value and it looks like it’s $1300 for a car in okay condition.)

We called the insurance company and got all the paper work started. When we went out to Volkswagen to get the stuff out of the car, we couldn’t recognize it at first because the front bumper and grill are no longer on the car. The insurance company called back shortly after that and said they would not pay for the car because it was not water damage. They said to be sure they would have to temporarily “lift” the engine out to look to see if there was water damage (I THINK that’s what they said) and that that process would cost us $600 if we were wrong and there was no water damage.

Volkswagen called back yesterday and said we need to get the car off of their lot. We asked if they would “lift” the engine and stand by their claim that the car is dead due to water damage, and they said they never said it was definitely water damage - it just might be water damage. They also said they would definitely not “lift” out the engine to check what might be wrong - they won’t do it.

So now we have a dead car with no front bumper or grill - and we have no idea what’s wrong with the car and we need to get it off their lot.

PLEASE HELP!!! ANY advice would be greatly appreciated.

btw - the car is a 2001 Volkswagen Passat 4 cyl Front Wheel Drive Automatic 140,00 miles

NO, you’re correct, it’s not water damage. Water damage happens when the car is partially submerged in deep water. This is not what happened to your fiance’s Passat.

The oil pressure warning light came on and started flashing. That means “SHUT OFF THE ENGINE NOW.” This was not done. Your fiance continued to drive at highway speed for an additional five minutes.

Result: Destroyed engine due to lack of oil pressure.

Yes, five minutes is more than enough.

Next, either the place you towed the car has no idea what they’re doing or you’ve completely misunderstood what they’re telling you (him). Something is getting lost in translation.

How could the starter possibly be the problem? The starter has nothing to do with the oil pressure warning light, and a faulty starter won’t cause the engine to stop running.

“Something stuck in the engine?” If someone told me that I’d immediately insist they stop working and I’d have the car towed elsewhere.

What’s their explanation for the missing parts?

You now have a dead car. That’s true. It’s dead because the driver did not stop immediately when the warning light came on and started flashing.

I doubt you’re going to get much sympathy, or any money, from the insurance company. You need a new engine. Or a used engine. Or a new car.

Mcparadise has summed it up very well.

Unfortunately, the driver of the VW was not aware of one of the cardinal rules of vehicle operation, namely–when an oil pressure light starts glowing on your dashboard, you are supposed to shut the engine down immediately, or at least as soon as you can safely maneuver the vehicle to the shoulder of the road. A quick read of the portion of the Owner’s Manual dealing with warning lights and gauges will confirm this information.

As was said, the real problem here is undoubtedly the fact that the engine was not shut down immediately. In 5 minutes, a lack of oil pressure will destroy bearings, score cylinder walls, and perhaps result in other expensive problems as well. The resulting engine damage is likely so severe that the engine is only good as a boat anchor at this point.

The miscommunication regarding the starter probably resulted from telling the service writer something along the lines of…“my engine stalled and I can’t restart it”. Instead, the statement to the service writer should have been something like…“The engine apparently lost oil pressure. Please check for the extent of engine damage and report back to me”. Because of miscommunication, the mechanics were probably trying to start a seized engine, and of course, the starter would be unable to turn a seized engine.

Anyway, what is wrong with the car should not be a mystery, and is clearly internal damage of a severe nature. The OP’s fiance would be well advised to have the car towed to a mechanic of his own choosing, and he should explore the possibility of having a used engine installed. This will not be cheap, but it is cheaper than the second option of repairing a very damaged engine. The only other option is to junk the car, unfortunately.

The real shame of this situation is that the damage could have been greatly mitigated by reading the Owner’s Manual and by doing what it recommends in this type of situation. Hindsight is 20-20, as the old saying tells us, but at least he will know what to do if he is ever faced with this situation again.

Thanks very much for that - I didn’t know that the oil pressure light flashing meant “SHUT OFF THE ENGINE NOW” - that’s good to know.

As far as miscommunication, we told Volkswagen what happened (that the oil light came on and the car died on the highway), and they responded as described above. The reason I posted here is that nothing they’ve said makes any sense. I don’t know anything about cars, but I didn’t understand why they were fixing the starter when the oil light came on…

Anyway - thank you for the response - your explanation makes sense, so at lease we can work off of that now.

Thanks for both of the responses… we learned something and we know what to do next time!

Now we just have to figure out what to do with the car…


The oil light on flashing or steady, means turn the engine off now and coast to a stop.
There are probably several other important points about operating a car that you don’t know. You can cure that ignorance by taking an hour or so and reading your owner’s manual.

The VW shop did you no favors by suggesting you buy a starter. Either they are crooks or morons since the starter has nothing to do with an oil light.

I don’t know anything about cars, but I didn’t understand why they were fixing the starter when the oil light came on…

Because, when the car was run without oil pressure, the engine seized (meaning it got so hot from friction that the piston rings literally welded (melted) themselves to the cylinder walls.)

Because of the above paragraph, when the VW techs went to start the car, the engine didn’t turn over, as it was welded in place. This caused the techs to jump to the conclusion of “no crank = bad starter.”

I would think this was a bad move by the VW techs…not to verify the condition of the old starter before they began “throwing parts” at the problem. Were I you, I’d innocently ask, “What actions did you take to isolate the problem to the starter before you recommended replacement? Did you attempt to turn the engine over by hand?”

And, I would also NOT pay for the starter replacement.

Forgot to add…if you and fiancee want to, you could have someone apply a LOT of torque to the crankshaft and hope (pray) that the engine breaks free, but there’s likely to be so much internal damage that this is kinda “grasping at straws.”

(And a question for the techies out there…were this a manual, would the failure mode be a) Front-wheel lockup at highway speed to a stop, or b) Some weaker part of the powertrain snaps (by design or not) inducing a “defacto-neutral” coast-down?)

Nothing to add to what others have said except avoid VW dealerships for repairs. My local one has lied to my face, and surveys show VW dealers in general at the bottom of the heap in terms of customer satisfaction for service. You need a good independent mechanic.

It would have been a VERY rapid slowing down of the vehicle as the bearings seized. If you have partials (teeth, that is) you’d probably be looking in the defroster vents for them. The weakest point in the transmission of power from the engine to the pavement is really the tires ON the pavement. Remember that the next time you’re debating whether your tires are in need of replacement.

Assuming you’ve accurately depicted the scenerio, the guys at this shop would have to get a lot smarter just to be idiots. They probably suggested a new starter because the engine would not turn over. That shows zero troubleshooting.

Something stuck in the engine? Say what? That shows zero brains and no access to a borescope. Any barely competant shadetree would simply remove the plugs and see if the crankshaft could be manually turned. Failure to be able to combined with known oil starvation equals…all together now kids…seizure! You could actually turn it with the plugs in, too, but hey, I’m in a generous mood tonight. I’ll make the picture easy to visualize. I’ll remove comprssion from the equation.

They probably started their disassembly in preparation for removing the engine, thinking they had you on the hook so you’d go for whatever they told you.

In summary, and honest shop would have verified no oil, checked to see if the crank could be turned manually, and given you the bad news along with your options.