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Might I have a legal case against a mechanic?

Hi,

I was wondering if anyone might know if this sounds like I have a case against my mechanic. Here is the whole story: On our way home from vacation our car starts pouring oil out the bottom. We get is to the nearest mechanic. They check the car and tell us the crank shaft seal had blown out. They tell us in order to replace it is going to be a 6 hour job and cost us over $700. At this point we are 10 hours from home with our two small children. Almost 10 hours later we are told when they replaced the crank shaft seal and when they started the car it immediately blew out again. They told us it might be a more serious problem like something internal in the crankshaft or engine and that they had to check inside to make sure it was alright, so anyways we were stuck where we were another night at least. The next day they replace the crank shaft seal again this time they add an adhesive to the seal and it stays on, they claimed the problem was fix. While my husband was paying the technician taking his payment mentions they changed the oil because there was metal flakes in the oil. We leave and thank goodness make it home safe. We don’t drive the car much mainly to work and back less than 5 miles a day 5 days a week.Well about 2 weeks later my husband notices the car smoking and checks the car and see it leaking oil again albeit slower than it was before. We call the shop that had “fixed” it before and told them it was leaking again. They told us to take it to a mechanic we trust in our state because they didn’t have locations nearby. We took it to the dealer and got a second opinion with another non-dealer mechanic and they both say it is a bearing in the crankshaft that is broken and that is why our seal keeps blowing out. They say either we replace the crankshaft or drop a rebuilt engine in it. This is gonna cost us over $2,500. We contact the other shop and ask them what they are going to do to return our money because they failed to find the problem and fix it correctly. We were not asking them to pay the repair simply return our $700+ dollars they charged us. We were even willing to let them keep something of a fee for looking at the car. They are not willing to work with us so now we are contemplating legal action. We were told from both of the mechanics back home that they failed to properly check the car that they should have checked to see in the crankshaft was moving. They said that the metal in the oil should have been a red flag to them and that when they replaced the seal the first time and it blew on them they should have known something more was going on. Not only that but they claim they should have never let us drive the car back home like that and that it was unsafe. Do you think we have a small claims case? We cannot afford a lawyer, how would we go about getting legal advice? Oh we drive an 07 PT Cruiser.

Thanks in advance for any advice or info.

I’d say forget it. They are ten hours away and in a different state. The cheapest would be small claims but that would require at least two trips there and then having to collect if you won. Not worth it for $700.

Would you have rather they said the engine was shot and had an engine put in for a week delay and $3000? At least they got you home and the engine was shot anyway so no further damage was done. Unless it was a new car, you wouldn’t likely put a new crankshaft in. Sometimes you just take your hit and move on.

You have a real small case and you can’t recover enough money to make it worthwhile. Even if a judge agrees with you right away, you’re dealing with the waste of time and effort. If you think unsuccessful repair work is a pain, you’ll think there isn’t enough Motrin in the world for the back pain you’re gonna have. Enjoy the relative party that you’re having now. $700 is chump change to the judge.

If I were the mechanic, here’s how I would explain the situation:

"A couple with 2 small children rolled into the shop leaking oil. They are on their way home - another 10 hours to go. The front seal had blown out, so I replace it. That one blew out, too. They’ve told me they only wanted to do enough to make it home, so I used some adhesive to hold the seal in better - and it worked.

I knew there could be additional problems with the engine, like a spun bearing - but not only was that going to be much more expensive, it was also going to take some time to do correctly - and they wanted to get home. So I changed the oil and hoped they could make it home - and they did.

Your honor, I gave them good service considering the circumstance. If they were in my area, I would work out a deal to replace the bearing at a reduced cost just to be fair, but it would be unfair not to be paid for my services."

With that story, the judge would likely split the cost. Is it worth $350 to file a lawsuit?
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“The operation was a success, but the patient died on the operating table.”

I’d consider this a sunk cost and move on. 700 miles / $700 = $1/ mile. Just consider that your “wear & tear” cost of transportation for the trip home and start saving for a replacement engine/vehicle, or the repair, whichever you choose. I know this is a bummer but it happens. Best of luck.

There is AAA which has a “premium” option to pay for long range towing, to get your car home for a proper repair. To get yourself home you rent a car and get the kids home. That puts less pressure on the out of town shop and they can do a proper repair. Or, if you opt for the long distance tow, you and the car are both home and you can have a shop you trust repair the car.

At this point the shops close to “home” now have a significant advantage. Because they know the repair made on the road didn’t hold up it makes their diagnosis task much easier. The out of town shop told you it was very possible a more significant problem, and that turned out to be correct.

What if the shop had insisted on taking no chances and replacing the crankshaft at a cost of $2,500, requiring you to spend 3 more days waiting? What would you say when a local shop told you that only 1 in 20 crankshafts are damaged in that situation? Would you then feel cheated for being charged for more work than you really needed?

It seems to me that the shop that made the $700 repair to the crankshaft seal did the best they could under the situation. The car did get you home. Had the shop replaced the engine, you would, no doubt, have had to rent a car, drive home, then drive back to pick up your car and drive home again. That would be 30 hours of your time.
I had a problem on the road years ago. I was making the 350 mile trip home from graduate school. I left about 5:00 p.m. and decided to drive the distance. I got about 125 miles into the trip and began having car problems. I decided that the only thing I could do was stop for the night. I pulled into a mom and pop motel that had a vacancy sign. When I inquired about a room, the owner said he had one room left, but it had a problem, so I might not want the room. When I asked about the problem, he said that the television wasn’t working in the room, but if I took the room, he would only charge me $4. I took the room. The room was very clean, had a comfortable bed and nice thick towels. The next morning, I figured that the only place to go was the Pontiac dealer since the car was a Pontiac. I drove to the shop and explained the problem to the service manager. He put a technician on the car and the man worked for an hour. When I went to pay the bill, the bill was $5. I protested that the charge was too low. The service manager came up and told me that the car wasn’t right, but it would, in his opinion, make the trip. He told me the work that I needed to get done when I got home. I tried to make the shop take more money, but the answer was, “I don’t charge full price for a car that leaves my shop that isn’t exactly right”. I did make it home and really felt fortunate to have been out $9 for a night’s lodging and an emergency car repair.

My guess is that when they told you they found metal shavings in the oil they were trying to tell you that while they got you running again you still had more serious internal damage.

I don’t think you have a case. If I had been there when they talked to you I might change my opinion, but it doesn’t sound like they actually did anything crooked, albiet perhaps they should have been more clear with their explanation.

By the way, how many miles are on the PT Cruiser? Has the maintenance been kept up?

I don’t think you have a case here. The shop was able to patch you up enough so that you could return home. Sometimes that’s the best you can hope for with major engine damage.

No case at all and your engine was likely damaged goods before they even touched it.
You state the engine was pouring oil out the bottom and you took it to the nearest mechanic. Left unsaid is how you got the vehicle there.

The only problem I can see is possibly lack of a clear explanation and the fact they even put a seal in it to begin with. Based on a dislodged seal (possibly caused by never servicing the PCV valve) and if the engine was very low or out of oil then I would have never put a seal in it except with a clear understanding it may be a stop-gap measure at best to buy some time.

Yes I understand what you most of you are saying but one, we never told them just to fix the car enough for us to get home we told them to fix the car. Had they said it was a major problem we would have taken a flight home while they repaired it then flown back to pick it up and driven it home. We have connections and could have gotten flown home for free in an emergency such as this. They told us they checked the car and it wasn’t anything major just that they had failed to put an adhesive on the seal the first time and that some cars require that. Had they said look, there is a more serious problem going on do you want us to fix it or put a bandaid on it then we could have made the decision but they made the decision for us. Here we are thinking our car is fixed and it isn’t. The shop was very nice and I know that they were trying to get us home but to be dishonest about the problem or to not take the time to properly diagnose the problem is not what we paid them for.

I do see how it would be more of a pain in the rear to try to collect the money back since we are out of state. I think was make us the most upset is that they didn’t tell us something else was wrong and told us they had fixed the problem. $700 is an expensive bandaid, one that we didn’t have the option to avoid since they didn’t provide us with the option.

the same mountain bike- The car had 69000 miles, and we have replaced everything before it has caused major problems or gotten really bad. Everything in that car is brand new except the engine. Now with the newer engine it will be basically brand new. We brought the car used it was a fleet car before that and had more that half the miles it has on it now. Now we have been told it could be that since it was a fleet car it had been abused and not maintain properly before we bought it which could be why we are having such major problems with relatively low mileage. The mechanic now denies there was shavings in the oil. He claims he did all the work on the car even the oil change and there was no shavings so why did his associate say that it did? My husband isn’t an idiot he knows enough about cars, he took 4 years of automotive in hs. He understands enough about cars that he would understand what they are telling him. I even know enough about cars to understand what they said. Broken bearing in the crankshaft may be Greek to some but it isn’t to us. It causes the crankshaft to move too much and dislodges the seal. They said there was no movement while the other two mechanics said it is obvious there is. I do feel they withheld information from us because they wanted to get us out of there. I don’t think they did so with malicious intentions. That being said it doesn’t give them the right to make decisions like that for people and not give them their options. Instead now it costing 2,500 it is costing that PLUS the 700 we already paid. What would have happened had the seal dislodged while we were on the interstate and some major accident had happened. If I was a mechanic to cover my a** I would make sure people knew the risks they were taking and make them sign off on it. They left themselves open to some major lawsuits by not telling us what was really up with the car had we had problems driving on the interstate. Luckily for them and us this didn’t happen.

ok4450-We drove the car over to the shop it lost about a quart of oil in about 10 minutes but the shop was down the street so we didn’t do any additional damage driving it down the street. None of the lights that indicate a problem where on in the car ie. no oil light or engine light. The temperature gauge never went over the halfway mark to indicate it was going to over heat.

Without knowing the specifics of the bill I am basing my opinion on assumptions that give both sides in this situation the benefit of the doubt regarding honest intentions, fairness of the price and adequacy of the work. From that position it seems that the greatest problem is that chasm of unfamiliarity of the mechanics involved by the customer which is greatly compounded by the desperateness of the situation. And to further complicate my personal view of the mechanical situation I recall some years ago when a cam seal was leaking and I replaced the seal with a dealer supplied OE part along with a new timing belt. The seal popped out on the test drive and so I bought a new belt and seal and was unhappy with the lack of rigidity of the seal and crossed referenced to a hard shell seal which I installed with a pipe sealer and on a long test drive all was well. That problem cost me a half days work plus the cost of the second belt and seal. I consider myself lucky that the seal failed on the test drive and not on the customer’s drive home. And on this thread I wonder if the seal causing the problem was an OE soft shell seal that might be prone to failure. when replaced. I wish that the shop would offer a significant amount as a good will gesture. Like all professions good mechanics usually give it their best shot and more often than not the customer is happy. But not always.

Rod Knox- I agree with you. I know being a mechanic isn’t always easy and a good one is worth their weight in gold. I do feel that they felt a sense of urgency and maybe didn’t make the best decisions because of that. They did too much assuming instead of letting us figure out what was best for our situation. At first they seemed like they would work with us on some sort of refund and we have been very polite and understanding with them. We have never gotten loud or obnoxious with them we understand that they didn’t cause the problem only that they either really did fail to find the problem or knew it was there and chose not to tell us. Like I said before, we were and are still willing to accept a partial refund and being someone in customer service I feel that is not only reasonable but the best way to show they do have good customer service. I know that working on the PT is a pain in the behind. To get to one little thing you have to remove a lot of other things and it isn’t easy or fast. Therefore I am not oppose to paying them for some of the time they spent and even the parts they used. I guess the reason we even thought about a lawsuit is because they are totally blowing us off now when they seemed so willing to come to a compromise before. Even a partial refund would make this huge expense a little cheaper. We just finished paying the car off and since we have put so much money into the car already it doesn’t make sense not to drop a rebuilt engine in for a few thousand instead of getting into a whole new car note or trading it in. We looked into trading it in and they wanted to give us 2000 in trade in value. I laughed in their face, the dealer manager even admitted the car was in excellent condition aside from it’s current problem. I was like yea that is because we have replaced everything in that car already (aside from the engine) and we take good car of the body. They would drop a rebuilt engine and sell it for at least 4 times as much as they wanted to give us. We are getting our rebuilt engine with only 17000 miles for $1,200. I told my husband that we are just gonna drop it, he is very upset and stressed about the whole thing but he has really kept his cool.

Nothing is more frustrating than to make a repair and find that the repair doesn’t hold due to another problem. I am certain that it was frustrating to the mechanic as well as to you. However, these things happen. Look how often doctors misdiagnose cases. Accept the loss and move on.

Such situations can be very troubling and I don’t have enough insight to venture a guess as to whether there is any culpability on either side. Sometimes life just deals us a bad hand. I am proud that such problems for me were few over the years and my E.Scrooge management style always left me financially able to soften the blow for customers who found themselves in a financial tight over some issue that involved me. Honestly, in a situation such as yours I would offer to buy the PT Cruiser at a price that would take the bad taste out of everyone’s mouth. I once had a young mechanic who trashed an interference engine and I bought the car without admitting to the customer why I wanted it and let the young man do the work on his own time to repair it with me paying for parts and machine work. But as I said, luckily we had few such problems. My personal recommendation would be to drop a note written in a matter of fact tone to the shop owner expressing your understanding that problems are just part of life but let him know you feel he should share in the cost of this one. Good luck.

Look, we are not lawyers here, at least none that I know of. So far no one has claimed to be one. The first mechanic did not cause the problem. That is going to make wining the case much harder. You will need to prove that you accurately and clearly communicated to the first mechanic that you wanted the car fixed no matter the cost or time. Since you were on a trip, I don’t think the first mechanic got that message.

You have a case for charging you for not correctly diagnosing and fixing the problem. If you had insurance even AAA, you could get help collecting for the incorrect repair. The first mechanic did cause the problem by being a knucklehead. How Many Blown SEALS DO YOU FIX WITH ADHESIVE OR DUCT TAPE.

Just a couple comments. If the engine you are putting in has 17K on it, it is a used engine and not a rebuilt engine. You might be setting yourself up for more disappointment by putting in a used engine. It sounds like you have put a lot of money into this vehicle. I would not be so sure you are done at this point and will have a new car with the new engine. I think you may continue to have problems and you might want to strongly think about just trading once the engine is in.

While the first mechanic may not have diagnosed the cause of the oil seals failing, he may not have been fully aware of the history of the car. Also just putting a seal in did not cause any additonal damage than what was already there.

I’ve had to eat repairs before and although it is irritating, continuing to hang onto it and not get on with your life is counter-productive.

This thread is starting to sound a lot like the one that the mechanic was holding the car for ransom. A lot of gnashing of teeth and talking to lawyers and everyone else and ending up worse than when they started.

TC910, drop in the used engine, drive it 20 miles and if all is well, sell it / trade it, it’s time to move on…