Mechanic Messed Up Oil Change - mentioned check oil light; sludge; keeping car 1 more day

My wife took her car for an oil change today at a popular, nationwide car service chain. She was going to pick it up after work. They called and said they need to keep it overnight, they did something wrong, they mentioned check engine light and sludge in the engine and the word “sticky”. That is all she can remember. Any ideas on what they could have messed up? About all I can think is they put the wrong fluid back in… I am concerned that if they turned the car on (check engine light) and circulated the wrong fluid they could have damaged the pistons, rings, cylinder walls or whatever. My wife lives in another city - I’m thinking of telling her not to accept the car back, and to require the vendor to have it towed to the dealership and pay for a full inspection at the dealer. The car is only 3 years old, still worth over $20K - don’t want an engine back that has sustained damage that might not show up for years. Any thoughts?

More information needed. Car year and model, some engines are prone to sludging, even with regular maintenance. 2017? seems early for problem.

No way to even guess without actually knowing what the problem is . The fact that they notified they had made a mistake is a good sign . After you get the details then the mechanics that post here can make informed recommendations.

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This is not due to the oil change place . . .

that is due to actions . . . or lack thereof . . . on the part of the driver

Driving habits and maintenance habits, in other words

Sure, the oil change place does the oil change, but they don’t control when you actually bring the car in

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Whatever went wrong… Make sure you get it IN WRITING WITH an explanation what they did to fix it.

The “nationwide chain” staff may well have done something wrong, but they are definitely not the ones who are responsible for sludge in the engine. At this point, we don’t have enough information to determine what might have gone wrong during servicing, so we really need the OP to post back with more detailed info.

This is a wild donkey guess since in information is vague at best…

Here’s what I’d guess happened.

The car was brought into the bay, oil was drained. At this point I am going to guess that NO oil was put into the engine, not the wrong oil, NO oil. The tech started the car up and pulled it out of the bay with the oil light glowing and the tech looking out the back window. At this point the engine started making bad noises, the tech notices the glowing read oil light and proclaims “dookey” or a far worse word and shuts off the engine. The car is pushed back in, filled with oil and re-started. “Double dookey” or far worse is exclaimed because that bad noise is… STILL THERE. They are now trying to figure out if they can fix it and how,

At this point the shop called you and made up the sludge story:

So, you should advise her to have a frank discussion with the shop about what they did, the condition of her car and exactly what the shop will do about it. They should have insurance for this.


I agree that this is a likely scenario.
There may–or may not–also be evidence of oil sludge, but as Mustangman hinted, that claim could be a red herring. If there is actual evidence of oil sludging, that would be the result of “extended” oil change intervals and/or excessive short-trip driving.

However, all we can do is to speculate at this point, and we need the OP to report back on the “discussion” that he has with the folks at that service center.


If they were just changing the oil , they screwed something whether they dumped oil into the tranny or tranny fluid into the oil who knows. They dont go looking for sludge unless there is a major problem to begin with and they would not know that without either pulling the valve covers or sticking a camera in there. They are going to try and screw you on this so document EVERYTHING .

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Let’s not kid ourselves here. The probability of finding any significant amount of oil sludge buildup on a 3-year old car which has received even “sort-of-ok” maintenance is slim to none. The probability that a quick-lube place is going to look inside your engine for signs of sludge buildup is even slimmer. I would be very interested to know what really happened, but I can guarantee you it has nothing to do with oil sludge buildup.

Some engines are more predisposed to oil sludging than others, however the root cause is usually owner neglect. When people run the same oil for years, or let the oil level become way too low, that stuff starts to build up. That is why I often see oil sludge in the engines of economy cars at the “you pull it” junkyard–people buy a cheap car and they are too cheap to change the oil, and then when the engine is ruined, off to the junkyard it goes.

So, odds are more trans are in better shape then motors for junk cars?

That, of course, depends on the specific model you’re looking for parts from. If it’s something like a Kia Rio or Chevrolet Aveo, where the overwhelming majority of these cars go to the junkyard due to a broken timing belt, then yes a used transmission will probably work fine. Especially if you pull the pan, and the small amount of remaining fluid still looks good, and there are no large metal pieces in there.

If you’re looking for a transmission for something like a Nissan Cube or Nissan Versa, where the overwhelming majority of these cars go to the junkyard due to a failing transmission, then no, a junkyard transmission would be a poor bet.

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I quite disagree with you

If they drain the engine oil, and almost nothing comes out, but they do see some sticky sludge through the engine oil drain plug hole . . .

I’ve worked on a few vehicles where it was quite evident there was a lot of sludge, just from removing the drain plug

And there are such things as borescopes and human eyeballs. Borescopes are cheap these days. You don’t even need a dedicated one. You can buy one that uses an an on your smart phone. I’ve seen them in use. the resolution is good, and the probe is typicall small enough to get in the hole when you remove the drain plug

You don’t have to remove the pan to know the engine has sludge and is in bad shape

I completely disagree with you

We don’t know what op’s definition of good maintenance is . . .

If he were to describe it, many of us might very well say that’s the worst kind of driving and promotes sludge buildup

3 years is plenty of time


Agreed with db4690 of course.

I also tend to suspect this problem may be more related to “forgot to add the oil” than anything else and they’re trying to buy time to figure a way out of being blamed for any problem.

I’ve mentioned it before but a Subaru came in once with a totally wiped engine. The car was 2 years old with 25k miles on it. When the drain plug was removed from the oil pan, not one drop or chunk of anything came out of that hole. The oil pan was full; but full of congealed tar, not motor oil.

With the pan off and on the floor I stuck a 3 foot screwdriver into that mess and the tool never even fell over. I pointed it out to the service manager from his office and his first reaction was to not believe me at all. He had to actually walk out there to see it for himself. So yes, sludge can happen PDQ.


I think they (OK - it is Firestone!) implied that whatever they did could cause sludge in the engine if they don’t fix it.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. Additional information - it is Firestone in Chatsworth, Ca. My wife now says that Firestone has been in touch with the local Kia dealership and had Kia send them information on the car. (Wife bought the car new in late 2016. Car has about 50K miles on it. She changes the oil frequently. ) I guess Firestone is closed today so I will be calling them Monday. But the fact that they had to get the dealership involved does not sound good. Now I am wondering if they put coolant in the oil resouvoir - because that would really mess things up!

That was very relevant information you just provided . . . and it potentially changes the course of the discussion

Why didn’t you provide all of it in your first post(s) . . .

Potential for sludge and sludge right at this moment aren’t the same thing,

I might ask this. By “Check oil light” do you mean a low oil level light or do you mean a red “no oil pressure; it’s gonna blow up” light? Huge difference and the latter would be of much concern.

Check Engine.

I believe that the car’s Powertrain Warranty should still be in effect. Although a screw-up by the Firestone Fools will not be covered by Kia’s warranty, you should be able to hold Firestone’s feet to the fire in order to make you whole with a vehicle that has not very many miles on the odometer.

Hopefully, she observes the elapsed time factor, as well as the odometer mileage factor when it comes to oil changes. That being said, I am of the opinion that having the car serviced by the dealership during the warranty period is preferable to going elsewhere. I don’t know about other dealerships, but mine charges less than all of the quicky oil change places and chain operations like Firestone, and they charge no more than the good independent mechanics in my area.