CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Righteous Indignation?

I bought new tires last week and had the tire guys change my oil. This led to a slow oil leak and the discovery (6 days after) that my drain plug was missing and I had NO oil. Only after pouring oil on my boyfriend’s driveway did I discover the problem and replace the drain plug. All seems OK now. My boyfriend (who is from NY) thinks I should storm in and demand a full refund (including for the tires) in excess of $500. I am from the midwest and reasonable – can I blame these people or do drain plugs just fall out (2001 Subaru Legacy L sedan with approx. 120k miles)? If I can blame them, what is a reasonable request?

It is entirely reasonable to demand a refund of the cost of the oil change. However, if you accept that refund, you may actually be releasing them from financial responsibility for damage to the engine from having run it with a low oil level.

Before you go back to them, I would suggest having a competent mechanic do a compression test and a leak-down test on the engine. While that is far from conclusive (and the only way to determine engine damage for sure is to tear it down and examine the main bearings), it would at least give you some indication of whether their goof led to engine damage.

And, if you go back to demand a refund for the oil change, do not embarrass yourself by demanding a refund for the tires. The oil change screw-up has nothing to do with the tires, except for the fairly obvious fact that you should only use a tire store for tires, not for oil changes or repairs.

How long did you run the car with little or no oil? Was the oil light on at any time that you were driving it?

You’re not entitled to a refund on the tires at all due to a drain plug issue and the plugs do not fall out on their own. It was either left loose or was loose due to damaged threads from overtightening; either then or previously.

The bigger issue is undetected engine damage and the fact that it “seems OK” now means nothing.
Any time an engine has been run without oil pressure some damage will occur. The only question is the degree of damage and how much further the engine will go without problems. It may go a month, year, or even 5 years but it’s damaged goods and the only way of knowing is by removing the oil pan for a bearing inspection.

When it comes to Subarus the center main bearing should be the first one inspected.

what made you check the oil 6 days later? Can’t imagine the oil light didn’t come on during that time and,if not, why wasn’t there a pool of oil under the car prior to your adding it.

I suspected a small oil link for a few days as I noticed, e.g., reflection in the water near where I parked but did not have my car in any single place long enough to see how big the problem was. Then, ultimately, my oil pressure light came on. I immediately pulled over and added a quart of oil (it was empty but after I poured it in there was a grapefruit sized stop underneath the oil pan) that I had in my trunk. I drove about another 10 miles until the oil pressure light came on again and then drove only a few more blocks to my boyfriend’s driveway. At that point we thought I was just having a leak but after trying to add more oil (it was empty again). That’s when all the oil came straight out the other end. Hence, my best guess is that the drain plug was working its way loose over several days and that I may have ultimately lost it entirely during that 10 mile trip.

Its bad that your light came on and you added just a quart and then continued to drive. One quart low will not cause the light to come on,so you knowingly drove with you oil level low. Did you check your oil after you added the single quart?

Many people say that conditions forced them to drive with low oil levels and with the light on,you did it without any conditions forcing you to,damage is on you.

In case I was unclear about this – after I added the 1 quart, the light went off but I get what you are saying.

That ment you had time to get it off the road,not continue on with your tasks. You don’t just say 'whatever" when that oil light comes on,if its on because you lost you oil you find out why you lost your oil. You operate a vehicle with unexplained massive oil loss on a emergency basis only (and then only with a full crankcase once again) you just don’t throw a quart in and get on your way. Well I guess you can but don’t expect others to pay for it.

I would say it is most likely that your actions after the light came on severely compromised any possible chance of you getting anything from the oil change place. Since laws vary from state to state, you would need to contact a local legal expert for an answer.

Personally I would accept the possibility that my actions could have caused damage to my car, Inform the place that changed the oil (they may want to recheck their procedures to reduce the chance of a future like problem and maybe they may offer to pay for or share the expense for any repairs that may become apparent.

There is a good chance that you may not have significant damage.

Good luck

Good Luck