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My $8000.00 oil change, or: "Where can I get transmission fluid tested?"

Pull up a chair , get a cup of coffee …and bear with this saga of woe…for which I need advise
We took our 2014 Forester for an oil change at a nearby local tire franchise.
Convenient. cheap. Till now.
We show up at the time noted “Sorry, we stripped ‘a plug’, it will be another hour or so.” We wait; we drive home. The next morning, we detect a slight hesitation when cold, we ease off the gas pedal, drive slow for about 10 minutes, it’s fine. Over a week, the hesitation continues, only upon start up, for about 10+ minutes or so.
We bring it back to the tire franchise. Manager sends a young tech to test drive it; nothing happens, because we have been driving it, so it is warm. They state "nothing we do during an oil change causes what you are saying."
Life happens: Hurricane Irma hits, then a pre-planned flight home to visit family… a month passes- it is getting worse.
We take it to the Subaru Authorized Service Center; they find nothing, do a throttle service for $293, as a possible resolution, but the next day - it happens again, After 45 days, the hesitation is now a bucking.
We take it back to Subaru; it takes them 4 days, but they finally figure it out:
a stripped transmission ;plug and sign of transmission fluid leak. They say this transmission is a Sealed System, and any breaching of it is dangerous, especially if, as they suspect, the technician who seems to have mistaken the transmission plug for the nearby oil pan drain plug AND when he realized his mistake, must have tried to replace the fluid with something other than transmission fluid.
They showed us - and had us smell- their proper transmission fluid, vs, the sample they drained out of ours. Theirs: pretty translucent aqua colored and strong but not offensive smell. The sample: murky dark, viscous looking and vile, ‘nose corrosive’ smelling. Note: our Forester has ~45,000 miles. I have no idea what transmission fluid that has been used for 45000 miles would look or smell like, I could only go by what Subaru told us.
They said to replace it would be $8,500. We NEEDED that car, so we sadly said we would pay for the repair, then go back to this big company and ask them to reimburse us (right?)
We went back to the Tire Franchise manager; he was defensive, said we had no proof because so much time had lapsed, some other place could have done it (legally, I suppose we cannot prove that negative, but …).
We asked him to get their insurance company involved; over a week passed and he did nothing (he did offer “if you had brought it to me, I could have a had a friend of mine fix it for you.”…hmmm.)
We called the parent corporation, Manager of Customer Service He immediately passed us on to their third party "Claims Service Management"
We just got a letter stating they tested the fluid, that it WAS transmission fluid, so they are denying the claim. They ended with threatening verbiage about how Fraudulent claims are punishable by law AND, that the Statute of Limitations for this issue ENDED 3 weeks after it occurred!! ie: 2 MONTHS before we even knew there was any damage!!

We talked to a Consumer Protection lawyer; he said it would probably cost more than what we’ve already paid out to hire him to take them to court.
We will now go to Small Claims Court to at least get back $5000 (minus the $500 filing fee, and any subpoenas we have to issue) of the $8,950. that our “oil change” (inc car rental, throttle service, etc) cost us out of pocket.

So, we figure first we have to prove whether it was the wrong fluid

  1. where do we go to get this fluid tested? (Subaru kept the old transmission exactly as they removed it, in the same box the new transmission came in) … I live in Southeast Florida if that helps

  2. If it IS actual transmission fluid, we still know that this leak over 2 months caused serious damage to the transmission, so …any suggestions?
    Should we just give up… and never again get an oil change at a non-authorized service center, even if we have to drive 1 1/2+ hours round trip to do so,


All I can suggest is to have all the documentation in order for small claims court and have a good breakfast that morning. Hopefully you’ll get a judge that’s been screwed by that franchise.


Blackstone labs does oil and trans fluid testing so you might want to just give them a call or email to see what they would be able to determine. I suspect two issues though. Either they put the wrong fluid in or didn’t put any in. I’m not sure what the testing would say except wear particles in the fluid. Just google blackstone labs.

Their state of limitations may have ended 3 weeks later but the one that matters is the one provided for under state law in your state. In most cases that is 2 years from the time of the event.

The fluid should not be dark. It could be dark due to the leak whch can cause the level to drop and which in turn can cause slippage in the transmission.
A transmission down a measly quart or two can suffer damage.

For what it’s worth, incorrectly identifying the engine oil and transmission drain plugs on a Subaru is not a rare thing to happen; especially with those people not terribly familiar with Subarus. At one time Subaru even issued a service bulletin on this very matter.

As a former Subaru dealer tech I can state that I’ve seen a pretty fair number of botched oil changes leading to tales of woe like this.

Yes, they will balk and make idle threats about fraudulent claims. That’s completely normal. What would do? Sue them in small claims court. Odds are the judge will be on your side.
If you do take them to court I will advise you to do this. Jot a short, simple set of notes down and lay your position out as simply as possible. One thing judges do NOT want to hear is a long winded tale so keep it short and simple and put the onus on the other side. Good luck.


Will do- and thank you.

OK4450: thank you for all your info.
I saw the proximity of the two plugs…and considering that Subaru Service Bulletin, that reinforces the fact -in hindsight- that we should have gone to the dealership 2 towns over for service…not the tire place across the street.
As for the comment about keeping it short and sweet- I’ll let my quiet spoken, tactful and terse husband do the talking! (though I assume we should still try to get the fluid tested…)

Thanks Bing…checking their website now

Bing …FYI: this tire place does not do ANY transmission work. The chances of them having actual transmission fluid on hand is virtually nil, though I suppose the delay of an hour+ after the car was supposed to be ready might have given them time to buy some elsewhere, I suppose.
A lot of negative proof till we get the sample tested ourselves.

Again I dona’t know if they would be able to tell if its trans fluid versus oil or what type of trans fluid. They mainly check for the condition of the oil and any metals in it. About $25.

Bing: interesting that you said they cannot differenriatewhat kind of fluid it is,since this Claims Management company stated they tested it and it WAS tran fluid. Different test or different testing company?

My husband thinks if we do test it and it does somehow prove IT IS tran fluid, we have NO case.
I say : Aug 31: car fine; Sep 1, oil change/stripped plug ; Sep 2 hesitation begins.
Thus; Have a case based on leaked fluid causing traumatic damage to tranny.
He researched that the Forester should have 12.9 quarts of tran fluid.
Approx 10 oz was removed by Subaru to show us (that was the same sample given to their Claims adjuster). We do not know if any more leaked in the removal/replacement of the transmission.
If not, I hope we can ask Subaru if they can measure what fluid is left in the transmission

Judging by your Subaru model year, it it likely CVT, not a classic automatic transmission, so it has to have a CVT fluid, not "regular’ transmission fluid.
These have quite different properties and should not be ever mixed.
I’m not sure what Subaru uses for CVT fluid, but for example Mazda’s OEM fluid is blue in color and they will void warranty if they find a “regular” red fluid in transmission.

Greendrag0n…the new fluid Subaru showed us was indeed a light blue-translucent.
The sample they took out of our dying transmission was viscous dark.

2014? How many oil changes since new? Or how many service techs have had chance to touch drain plugs? And only Subaru service center NOW notices trans plug looks stripped? Trans may have been leaking for several yrs.

I see your point…we can’t afford a high powered lawyer to prove all these negatives, and “he said, she said”…the latter most importantly their telling us “it’s not ready, we stripped a plug”.But $8,950 is not chump change to us, and we know the hesitation started the very next day.

…Denise Sears

The statute of limitations is satisfied on first claim. You indicate that you brought it back a week after they damaged it. So even if the statute of limitations was only 3 weeks (and @ok4450 is right - they don’t get to set that, your state does) you still fell within it. Once the claim is made, assuming it’s legitimate, they’re responsible even if they try to run out the clock past 3 weeks.


We have no proof of the date we brought it back; it was not left there nor signed in.
At that point, we had a Cat 5 hurricane to prepare for, had no idea what was causing the problem (bad gas?, etc).
We simply spoke to the manager (no name?) who sent a tech to test drive (no name) , who said ‘not due to oil change’/did not put it on the lift, etc.
All 'he said/she said’
Getting more depressed…you’d all make great defense attorneys…
Florida Statute of Limitations is 4 years FWIW.
Most likely hear from testing labs tomorrow; hopefully they can do a definitive test.

Did a search for used 2014 forester trans. Found a 8k mile unit for 999. About 1/2 dozen with 10-15k miles for $500.

Short story: CVT already replaced.
Long Story: We drove the car into Subaru when the hesitation turned to almost violent bucking. The car was frightening to drive at that point.
We didn’t trust any other place (our last trustworthy independent mechanic died 2 years ago …only chains with lots of young technicians near us, or independent rip offs with equally low cost discount ads as lures, no different from the Tire place in attitude and experience.).
When Subaru found the problem, we weren’t about to tell them to hold onto the car while we research 2nd hand transmissions, have it shipped to us, then tow the car to a mechanic we didn’t know,
We naively thought once we brought the situation to the Tire Franchise, we’d get reimbursed.
We had a lot going on in our lives the past 3 months;
the last thing we needed was this major issue- and unimaginably large hit to our wallets.
In retrospect, I am sure there’s all kinds of things we could have done better, but never having this kind of thing happen, not knowing what the problem was…none of this was easily preventable, thus we did not think to document everything for a potential lawsuit

I’m sure you have better things to do than this, but if you have a spare few minutes, stop by your local Autozone, Pep Boys, or whatever major auto parts store is nearby and buy a quart of Valvoline CVT transmission fluid, where on the bottle it states that it is compatible with CVT transmissions. Pour a little bit into a glass bowl and see if it looks/smells/feels like the fluid that came out of your transmission.

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Write your summary, like you did to start this thread, edit it, print it out. Mail it to the “Claims Service Management” people, certified mail, return receipt requested, along with a letter requesting you be reimbursed in full for the things you listed here and the things you referred to like rental cars, etc. I think the Statute of Limitation for injury to personal property is 4 years in Florida, but you should Google that and refer to it in your letter.

Send them copies of any receipts you have, not original anything.

In your letter sum up everything and give them a number you demand. No rounding, nothing. Tell them your offer is good for 3 weeks (or what you decide is fair), and that after that you will retain legal counsel and sue for that plus attorney fees, and you intend to file and pursue complaints with the Florida Dep’t of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Fla. Atty General.

I’ve been an attorney for 40+ years and I’ve filed and tried cases in Small Claims Court, as well as acted as a Judge there. Get organized, do some homework, and document everything, and go after them.