Should Mechanic Refund My Money?

I own a 2003 Mazda 6. It’s a 5-speed manual. Purchased it new, and I have 61,000 miles on it. Low mileage.

In May, at approximately 55,000 miles, I had it in for a tune-up (new plugs and plug wires), oil change, and new brakes all the way around.

Then, in September, at approximately 58,000 miles, I began hearing a rattling noise. This seemed to begin after I had bottomed the car out when pulling out from a roadside vista back onto the main road. Vista parking was dirt, the road was pavement; to pull back onto the road, there was a high place and then a drop down to the pavement. I misjudged the dropoff.

I had family from out of state with me, and we had a trip planned, so I decided to ignore it and go on. No Check Engine Light.

I continued to drive it, having become accustomed to the rattling and since the car was working. Plus I’m lazy! Never checked the oil. Throughout the lifetime of this car, when I have checked it, the oil has never gone down, AT ALL. And since there was no Check Engine Light, no problem…Right? Wrong! :frowning:

Finally, one day I lost power and the Check Engine Light came on. I checked the oil, and there was no oil on the dipstick. BAD NEWS!

So I had the car towed, and they called to tell me it was the timing chain. They were a bit vague, and they took a lot longer to get back with me than usual. (I have used this garage for the last 5 years.) In fact, they told me, “We’re having to research this issue. We’ve never seen this before.” I thought that was EXTREMELY unusual.

After a few days, they finally called back and said they would have to take the cover off, reclock the cam, and reassemble. So they did, to the tune of $630.

What I am wondering is whether I should insist that they pay for the repair. I say this because:

a) They were the last ones to change the oil and should have filled it up.
b) The car had NEVER, in 10 years and nearly 60,000 miles, used ANY oil whatsoever.
c) After 4000 miles, there was no oil on the dipstick and finally the timing chain slipped.
d) They said nothing about WHY they thought there was insufficient oil to suspend the chain glides, and would answer no questions as to why. Just, “Well, there was not enough oil.”
d) The part about, “We’ve got to research this,” along with all the delays, seems very fishy to me. Professional, certified technicians and they need 5 days to diagnose what to do about this simple issue?

Thanks, everyone!


You admit that the car started making a bad sound that you ignored after YOU bottomed it out, and you think the garage is somehow responsible? Sorry to sound rude, but is this some kind of joke?

I’m with @NYBo. YOU never check your oil. YOU bottomed out the car, followed by a rattling and YOU didn’t get it checked out. So YOU then ran the car into the ground. And you want to blame some shop that changed the oil 4,000 miles ago?

This is all on you 100%

I have to agree with NYBo, and will add that–even if oil consumption had previously been negligible, it is possible for oil consumption to quickly increase, due to mechanical issues including something as simple as a stuck/gummed-up PCV valve or as serious as an engine suffering from internal sludging.

If the garage had not filled the crankcase in May when the oil was changed, there is no way that you could have driven for 4 days–not to mention 4 months–in that condition. More likely is that there is a leak (which may or may not be related to bottoming-out the car and not checking it promptly for damage), or that there is a mechanical issue (such as the aforementioned PCV valve), or that the engine is sludged internally, as a result of low usage (~6k miles per year) linked with (possibly) inadequate oil changes.

With the type of driving that you do, you should be changing your oil every 3-4 months, and with the age of the car, you should be checking the oil level at least every couple of weeks. Do you do those things?

Has the PCV valve ever been changed?

Timing chain problems are almost always the result of inadequate lubrication, and the reason for inadequate lubrication is either internal sludging or running the engine for an extended period of time with a very low oil level.

I must agree, @cigroller and @NYBo

+1 to all of the above comments.

Sorry, this entire incident is all on you for a number of reasons.

If you think the shop was being a bit evasive it’s because they could possibly see your finger pointing at them as the culprit no matter what.

This is a no-brainer! OP bears full responsibility for the events that happened and the resultant damage to his car!

I used to adminster warranty claims for outboard motors and lawn mowers. We always had to determine if there was neglect, misuse, damage due to acts of God, or other causes.

The warrantees covered only defects in materials & workmanship or inability of the equipment to perform its intended duties.

Thanks folks!

I admit it. I was an idiot, and I reaped the fruits of my idiocy. As my father taught me when I was young, “Keep things clean and well lubricated, and they will last you forever. And always check your oil!”

And thanks for explaining some things to me. I will definitely be, and have been, checking my oil more often. Happily, it is now 3000 miles since the incident and the oil is clean and in operating range.


Every single owner’s manual states that the owner must check the oil at regular intervals

If that had been done, your wallet might be a lot fatter right now

As for the shop spending time doing some research . . . I see no problem with this. It’s better than just blindly stumbling along. They were probably logging onto the Mazda technical website to look for bulletins or information on the problem. And they might have logged onto to talk to other shops and technicians. There’s a wealth of information out there, and they probably wanted to make sure they didn’t miss anything


How often does the oil get changed?

What kind of driving?

Short trips to the corner grocery store, and the oil never warms up?

Did they check the pan for leaks? Have you given a look under the car? You were really lucky the car is still running. Most peoples cars don’t survive running out of oil.

Replying to earlier questions:

OIL CHANGE FREQUENCY: On average twice per year, every 3000 miles.

DRIVING HABITS: 2-5 miles per trip.

PCV VALVE: Not changed, to my knowledge.

ENGINE SLUDGE: How could I tell about this? Is there something that should be checked?

I’M A LUCKY GUY: I’m really amazed that the engine did not seize. And they were probably checking to make sure they didn’t miss anything, as someone suggested. Like, “Remember, when you have a situation like this, you need to check the _________, et cetera.” They’re a great shop.

MILEAGE CHANGED: One thing I have noticed, and am still verifying, is that the MPG has gone down. In case you have noticed from my posts, I like to ignore things. I always got 25 MPG, over the lifetime of the car. Now I am getting 18.5 MPG.

TIRE PRESSURE FACTOR?: I have done yet another stupid thing: I also was not checking tire pressure, and when I had it in Big O Tires the other day for new struts on the front, they checked the pressure and found it was really low. So I will now rule that out as a factor. I have a ScanGauge on it—which I just did calibrate for mileage when this started—so I now know trip MPG, daily MPG, highest RPM, tank MPG, et cetera. Last tank of gas was average 18.5 MPG.

MILEAGE QUESTION: What could be the matter? The engine sludge? I ran Lucas gas treatment through it. It’s not using oil, and the oil looks clean. Although all the Mazda vehicles I have ever driven seemed to have a lot of valve train noise, it seems to me that the engine is noisier.

THANK YOU: Thank you for hanging in there with me, with all my wanting to blame others, and teaching me some things. You guys are great.

GUESS WHAT? I think I will change my screen name to IDIOT-MAN. (No comment, okay?) :slight_smile:

From afar, it is very difficult to know what exactly is going on inside your engine, but, if you are typically driving only 2-5 miles each time that you drive the car, then changing the oil twice a year is not nearly enough. Under those circumstances (which clearly define the term, “Severe Service”), you should be changing your oil every 3 months–regardless of how few miles you have accumulated.

In addition to building up sludge in your engine, this type of driving pattern will tend to rot your exhaust system out prematurely, and to cause your battery to have a shortened life. But, the “big ticket” item that is affected by that type of Severe Service is your engine, so I would urge you to switch to a 4 times per year oil change interval.

My guess is that the engine has a significant sludge problem at this point, but only your mechanic will know for sure. At the very least, have him remove a valve cover and check for evidence of oil sludging, and then report back to us.

I don’t understand your statement about tire pressure ? You ruled out low tire pressure as a cause of low gas mileage? That is opposite of what happens. Even 5 psi too low can affect mpg. How low was it ? If it was 20’s or less that would be the first thing I would suspect. Have you calced the mileage since they corrected it ?

VDCDRIVER: Thank you. I will request that he take a look under the valve cover as you suggest. It’s time for an oil change, so I’ll take it in tomorrow and report back. What does VDCDriver mean? Volvo Diesel or something?

MRMARTIN6: The tire pressure was down in the 20s. He said he put “37 in it, just like it calls for,” and something about how when it’s cold, in winter, more pressure is needed at baseline. The mileage has not changed much, so far, but I just filled up and have only driven 11 miles. I think perhaps your name refers to Mark Martin #6 Valvoline. He was a hell of a driver. Took care of his equipment…not like me!

Thanks, guys. Still considering changing my name to MR-IDIOT!


Based on your driving, I’d say there’s a fair chance you’ve got sludge

Sludge would explain why you’re not leaking oil, yet no oil shows on the dipstick

It would also explain the increased valve noise. Sludge would prevent proper oil flow from reaching the valvetrain

Here’s a good way to check for sludge: Have your mechanic remove the oil pan and/or valve cover for inspection. If there’s sludge, it’ll stare him in the face

@PrescottAZ A quick check you can do is to remove the oil filler cap with the engine cold. Stick your middle finger in the hole and rub it against the inside of the valve cover. A non-sludged engine will just show oil on your finger. A sludged engine will show crud and probably flakes as well.

You can also take a bottle brush, bend it and rub the inside of the valce cover. Any deposite wil indicate sludge.

Your driving style is very conducive to sludging, and driving the car fast for 20 miles or so once a week will help prevent further sludging. Changing oil is not enough in your case.

Just because you didn’t see any oil on the dipstick does not mean that the engine was out of oil. The dipstick does not go all the way to the bottom of the pan. If you are a quart and a half low, the oil will not touch the dipstick.

The tire pressure was down in the 20s. He said he put “37 in it, just like it calls for,”

Are you sure that the recommended tire pressure for your car is 37 lbs?
A check of either your Owner’s Manual or the placard affixed to the driver’s door jamb will yield the correct info.

While elevated tire pressure is better than running with tires that are badly deflated, I would recommend that you only increase the pressure in your tires by ~3 or 4 lbs over the car mfr’s recommended pressure. And then, make sure that you check the pressure at least once a month in order to avoid being in the same situation again, of driving on badly deflated tires.

Unless you have a physical handicap that prevents you from doing tasks like this, you shouldn’t be relying on anyone else to check your tire pressure, just as you shouldn’t be relying on anyone else to keep your tires properly check your oil level.

You should NOT need struts at 61K miles unless your roads are really bad.