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Mechanic blew up my wife's car...who is to blame?

What went wrong and who should pay for it?

What type of explosives did he use? Some details please.

So my wifes Jetta was running hot and I took it into the local shop. They said I needed a new water pump/thermostat. They also said that, because I was at 80k miles, it would be a good idea to replace the timing belt while they are in there because they had to take a lot apart anyway to get to the water pump. I gave them the go ahead. Well, they took everything apart, replaced the Waterpump, thermostat and timing belt. They put everything back together, started the engine, and the engine blew up. The first guy I talked to had no explanation as to why this happened…the second guy I talked to said the “tensioner” just exploded…the third guy I talked to (in person) showed me the part that the timing belt wraps around (it was broken into 3 pieces). He said he’d never seen anything like it in 40 years in the business and that part breaking caused the problem. I am not buying the spontanious cumbestion theory. Most mechanics I have asked say they made a mistake and I should sue. Thoughts? Comment?

It depends on what happened. I mean, when I get a vehicle in for repair my intent is not to blow it up. So unless negligence can be proved in what the mechanic did, sometimes cars blow up while at the repair shop. It’s happened to me a couple times.


If the engine was destroyed on the first start up after these repairs, then yes, they should replace the engine for you at no charge. If the tensioner they installed was a faulty part, it is still their problem. If they elected not to install a new tensioner, it is their fault unless you declined the extra cost of a new tensioner. If you declined a new tensioner, it is at least partially your fault. See if you can reason with them before you go spending money on a lawyer. Be calm and collected.

I just find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that I drove my car into this place needing a new waterpump…and I had to have it towed out with a busted engine. The timing belt was working fine when I brought it in and only said to replace it because they recommended based on milage. They put evrything back together and the tensioner/timing belt snaps bending valves and scoring the inside of at least one cylinder. The new place I towed it to says I need a new engine. A $900 bill turns into a $5000 bill and my family is now a one car family cause I cant see putting down $5000 to put a new engine in a car worth $6500.

What year is this Jetta?


I understand what you are saying about the tensioner. My understanding is that a timing belt replacement comes as a kit that usually includes many things including a new tensioner. They did not replace the tensioner…they never even mentioned it. I only know what one is because of the research I am doing now. As far as when the engine actually blew, I dont know. The first guy I talked to said it happened in the shop a few seconds after they initially started it. The second guy said it happened when they took it on a road test. Because of the conflicting stories, I had it towed to another shop. They say it probably happened on a road test because of the extent of the damage.

'01 1.8L Wolfsberg edition

It doesn’t really matter if it was their fault or not, they were the last people to touch the car and it was damaged while it was in their custody. When you left the car with them they were legally responsible for returning it in at least the same condition, if not better.

It’s possible they made an error, in which case it’s their fault.

It’s possible that they installed a new tensioner that was internally faulty, in which case it’s not their fault morally, but they are still legally responsible. They can sue the tensioner supplier if they want.

It’s possible that they used the old tensioner and it was 5 minutes from failure and there was no way they could have known and it was just bad luck. Again, not morally at fault but legally responsible. (And, since the engine is destroyed, there’s really no way now to determine which of these three possibilities applies.)

Even if they saw that the old tensioner was in danger of failing, and recommended that it should be changed and your wife refused, I still think they are legally responsible. What they should have done in that case is refused to touch the job, if your wife was unwilling to pay for all the parts they thought were needed to to it right. (They are experts, you and your wife are not.) By accepting the job, they are responsible for the outcome.

This is an easy win in small claims court. I doubt if they will take it that far.

Depending on the design of the engine, a timing belt failure can be quite catastrophic. It was good of them to recommend it. If they changed the water pump only and a month later the timing belt failed, you would be justifiably upset that they didn’t recommend replacing it.

You’re not out $5000, they are.

They probably have insurance to cover unfortunate incidents like this. You may have to threaten to sue, but probably won’t have to actually do it. Ask about their insurance coverage.

I looked up the timing belt replacement procedure for your engine. And nowhere does it instruct that the tensioner be replaced. However, the procedure requires that the tensioner screw be turned so pin or drill bit can be inserted into holes in the tensioner to hold it in place when changing the timing belt. Then this pin or drill bit is removed after the belt is replaced. I can see if this pin/drill bit isn’t removed, it can apply a force to a small area of the tensioner to cause it to break. It looks like they forgot to do this and that’s what caused the tensioner to break into pieces.


If this is a real legitimate shop (not a guy working out of his garage) they have insurance and this will be a claim. If they deny liability you will have to sue. Your case is very solid. The car flew apart while they were testing it after a major repair.

When you do a timing belt job it is up to the mechanic to assess the condition of the tensioner. If they said it should be replaced and you refused, then it would be on you. In this case they didn’t mention the tensioner and therefore it was their decision to replace it or leave the old one in there. They never turned the car over to you repaired. They were testing it when it blew, it is on them as they were in custody of your car for the purpose of repairing it. During that time, they are responsible for your car.

The shop’s mistake. The shop is liable for damages to you, in this case a replacement with an equivalent motor or complete repair of the current motor. Get estimates of the damages and present them to the owner of the shop. If they don’t pay a reasonable negotiated settlement then you have grounds to sue for damages.

What do you mean by “it blew up?” Do you mean it overheated? Do you mean there was an actual explosion?

It sounds like your mechanic was throwing parts at the problem instead of diagnosing the problem.

Perhaps the timing was incorrectly set.

Those were my thoughts exactly when they called me to give me the bad news. The kid from the shop that called me was like “it just blew up man, i don’t know what to tell you”. Anyway, all the details are below.

The tensioners are known to be weak in the early 2000’s VW 1.8T with many failing well before there time.

No easy way of telling what happened here.

Not sure what to say except good luck with it all.

The second guy is probably telling the truth. Usually an engine that snaps a timing belt will not “blow up” if it does it at idle, which would have been the case if this had happened “a few seconds after they started it.” But an engine that’s not at idle, as in, on a test drive, that suffers a broken T-belt will (assuming it’s an interference engine, which I believe yours is) “blow up” in pretty much the exact way you describe.

I agree with the rest: They owe you an engine.

Back in the day of mostly non interference engines it was exceptible to replace only the timing belt if on inspection everything else looked good. But with interference engines every thing that the belt contacts, water pump, idler bearing, tensioner IMHO should at least be recommended by the Tech for replacement. In some cases even cam seals may be recommended for replacement if oil leakage could damage belt.

There is no margin for error when replacing a Timing belt, so I would not just trust any tech, or the shop with the low ball price to perform this the job.