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

Sketchy Mechanic

So, coolant somehow leaked and destroyed the engine in the used Subaru Outback 2001(about 130,000 miles) that I just recently bought. I’m new to SW Colorado and asked my aunt and uncle who have lived here 20+ years who they’d recommend for a mechanic. Since I don’t want to be specific about the mechanic just yet, I’ll just say they sent me to “Dan.” He’s been in business since 1977 and seems credible. This is my first very own vehicle so I’ve never paid too close of attention to detail when it came to mechanics, but I had a bad feeling about this place from the get-go. It’s got junk cars filling the parking lot and just doesn’t seem like a well put together place. However, the repair money is coming through my parents and it was their choice in who I went to, and they chose Dan.
When I went to pick my car up after getting the new engine, I got a write up of the work along with a receipt. I didn’t, however, think to get a copy of the warranty, and he didn’t think to give me one. Anyway, the car felt extremely sluggish going up the hill back to where I live. I told the Dan this and told him that the check engine light also went on. He said that the coolant must have fried the catalytic converter as well and that I’d need a new one. He said he could get me a cheaper one NOT from Subaru but that the check engine light might go on again. I told him to get me a factory one because I do not want my CE light being on unnecessarily and that I was willing to pay the extra money for it. I made an appointment for over a week later. I called that morning to confirm, and he didn’t even seem aware that I would be coming in that day. He said he could get me in, and that it would take a total of two hours to do. After two hours I called and he said things didn’t seem right and he needed to do a test drive. A couple hours later he finally told me that he’d gotten the wrong size converter and he’d need to keep my car until he could get the right part, and he’d replace it and get it back to me. He picked me up in my car and I noticed that there was a piece of plastic lying on the ground that I know for sure had not been there before (I’d just cleaned my car out before dropping it off). I asked if he knew what it was and he said, “Oh, it must be for the light on the door. I’ll put that on for ya.” No one else could have knocked it off but someone in his shop - so they just tossed it on the floor of the car and weren’t going to saying anything? Anyway, his son drove me 20 minutes from the shop to their house to get their “loaner car” and tried to start it up but it didn’t even have a battery in it. After an hour of waiting in the cold for him to find and put in a battery, I took off in their little car full of the family’s random junk.
I went back to get my car a couple days later and when I asked how it was running Dan said, “it’s made a great improvement.” I asked if it felt right and he said, “I got it going from 45mph up that hill to 65mph. It’s much better.” I didn’t think to correct him at the time, but I’d been able to get my car to go 55mph up that hill, not 45. I asked one more time, very clearly, if the car felt like it was running the way it should be. And he again said he’d made an improvement and did not answer my actual question. I drove it up the hill and could only get it to 60mph, flooring it (meanwhile I noticed there was black gunk on the doorhandle that hadn’t been there before). I called and told him, and he said he doesn’t make race cars and that I shouldn’t be speeding up that hill anyway - flooring it and going 70 was going to kill my engine. I told him that I don’t care about speed, but I’d at least like my car to be able to make it up the hill going the speed limit (which is 65) and not be passed by every single other vehicle (which I was). Isn’t flooring it and going only 60 going to be just as much stress on the engine?
I got back on the road and the check engine light went on. Again, I called Dan.
Dan- It’s because you used low grade fuel. If you use up your tank and put in higher grade fuel the light will go off.
Me- Ok. By the way, what did you read the compression at for my car?
Dan- 125.
Me- That’s really low. It should be between 150 and 165.
Dan- Maybe at sea level (he knows I just moved out here from Ca).
Me- This was a local mechanic that told me what it should be at.
Dan- Maybe for another car.
Me- He knows exactly what kind of car I drive.
Dan- Well I’ve never seen a Subaru with that kind of compression.
I made an appointment to go see another mechanic and had him run various tests. He said that the catalytic converter that was put in is an after-market part and that the check engine light was on because the o2 sensors have a lower threshold for after-market parts. I told him that I’d just had that converter put in and was supposed to be a factory part, and he said that if it’s really from Subaru then it’s a whole different set-up than he’s ever seen before. He said that the holes aren’t in the same place and that there’s nowhere to attach the heat sensors, so it’s pretty blatantly different from any other factory part he’s seen.
Since all this has happened I’ve looked at Dan’s yelp reviews and there are two One-Star reviews that say he put the wrong part in. There’s another hidden six reviews that that are “Not Recommended by Yelp,” meaning that they might be fake reviews. All of those ones are Five-Star reviews.

So, my point in making this post is to make sure that I make the correct steps from here. I’m under the impression that Dan has lied to me on multiple occasions. I’m going to have the 2nd mechanic put a new factory converter in, and I’m going to take pictures of the one he puts in and the one he takes out. Then I’ll return Dan’s converter to him and make sure to get a copy of my engine warranty from him since he never gave me one before. I’m NOT going to pay him for the converter. He’d also replaced some O2 sensors so I will pay him for those. If he asks for payment for labor I will tell him that I’ve paid enough already in time and energy. (He’s charging a total of $1000. According to the 2nd mechanic, you should pay no more than a few hundred dollars for an after-market converter.)

Please let me know your thoughts on ANY of this. I know it’s long, sorry. I feel I should also note that Dan knows I’m a 23 year old female who knows very little about cars, and that I just moved out here and my parents are the ones paying for repairs, from California. I’m a pretty obviously good candidate for someone to easily rip off. At least that’s what I’m thinking Dan’s thinking.

You don’t need to know a lot about cars. You need to know how to conduct business and it sounds to me like you do that pretty good. Dan needs to get it through his thick skull that you are a business person and car repair is a business transaction.

If Dan is to stay in business, he needs to start acting like a business man and start satisfying his customers. You need to keep the pressure on him, but as soon as this fiasco is over, start using the other mechanic.

Is the new engine a remanufactured engine or a junk yard engine? What is it supposed to be? If its a reman, do you know the name of the supplier?

Your post is awful lengthy and that can make it very difficult to follow. However, I will say this.
A failing engine going through coolant can ruin catalytic converters.
The appearance of a place may mean nothing. A dump can be staffed by competent professionals and a gleaming, hospital clean facility may be a den of thieves and incompetents.

I will address the compression issue. You state “new” engine and I assume this means a used one that is new to your car.

All of those compression numbers are low. The 150-165 is tolerable at best and on the way downhill.A Subaru engine in very good shape should have 180 and up no matter the altitude.
The 125 number flat sucks to be honest. If that number is present on all cylinders then the engine is worn out and the best that can be said is that it runs; or sort of.

Based on the engine compression I could not see spending one more dime on this car until that issue is resolved. That’s just good money after bad.

What did he charge you for the engine swap? At 125 psi it sounds like he put a crapped-out used engine in. No wonder it can barely get uphill.

He gets his engines from

Well, that doesn’t mean much. They say they test their engines and offer a warranty (which your mechanic didn’t bother to give you) but it’s kind of useless because they don’t pay for the labor for swapping out the engine and shipping it back. So you’re basically stuck with whatever it is they send you once your mechanic installs it.

I have not heard of that outfit but it appears they get their engines as used out of Japan much like JDM. These are comparatively low miles engines but have likely seen severe service and little maintenance.

A search shows that the company has a lousy reputation with many complaints including an F rating by the BBB and numerous complaints over engines that are no good.

If your mechanic is going to use an engine like this it’s his obligation to:
Warn you in advance of any potential shortcomings and advise you of “No Warranty” on his part.
Before installation of that engine it’s also recommended that the engine get various new seals and a timing belt kit. If this was not done; a mistake on his part.

Sorry, but that engine is prematurely worn out. Now the big question is what is this guy going to do about it; if anything. Any scenario regarding any warranty should be in writing because verbal statements mean almost nothing.

These JDM engines do a lot of sitting around even before they find their way to a shipping container. I’ve spoken with a lot of people, and they suggest overhauling these motors before installing them. They drain the oil once harvested, and they sit around for a long while with no protection. Seals dry up and bare metal surfaces grow a nice coating of rust. You run a risk of scoring up cylinders on startup and leaking seals down the road if you don’t freshen things up first.

"A search shows that the company has a lousy reputation with many complaints including an F rating by the BBB and numerous complaints over engines that are no good."
I definitely believe you, but can you direct me to the complaints you found? I think they might help my case, even if only a tiny bit. Thanks!

You need a new shop, but more importantly you need to sit down with your parents, who are footing the bill, and discuss with them what you’ve told us. It’s entirely possible that they can help get these issues resolved. Dan just might be much less inclined to give your dad the runaround than he is you. Experience, and the opponent knowing that the problem has been “bumped up to a higher authority” that has more experience, both count in these situations.

I’ve been to a new shop that has gained my trust (though I’ll never put all my trust into a mechanic, no matter what). I’ve been informing my parents of everything along the way, and I actually had to have my dad step aside because he likes to avoid conflict and was almost going to let Dan off the hook (he was going to have him replace the converter again!). I called and told Dan to cancel any orders he’s made for a new converter and that I will take my car someplace else and return to him the converter he put in my car. I asked him about where he got the parts of my car, why he didn’t get a factory part, etc. He started to question why I was asking him questions and I told him that it’s clear he’s lied to me on several occasions and I need to set things straight. He then told me that the conversation was going to end and he hung up before I could say anything. I have my most recent phone calls with Dan recorded, as is legal in Colorado.

Just do a search in WA for USEngines on the BBB website. It also appears this company has claimed to be rated A+ by the BBB and that is not the case. BBB has a warning on their site about this and rates them F.

The BBB also states that the company has refused to even respond to complaints made to them.

There are numerous other complaints about them on sites such as, ripoff report, etc.
Some statements on other sites have referred to this company as having been taken to district court 30 times.

Well, we must be talking about two different companies. The one Dan orders from is, whereas I think you’re looking at The two companies have a similar name, US Engines vs. Engines US, but I otherwise can’t see how they would be linked in any way. EnginesUS does appear in a search on the BBB website but they’re rated a B and have only one complaint. So, not great, but not nearly as bad as US Engines.

There is nothing inherently wrong with an aftermarket catalytic converter, but Dan is a thief, IMO.

If I confused the 2 operations then I apologize up front. My bad.

However, the fact remains that the engine you were sold is worn out and what you were told about compression and seal level is mostly BS.
Compression at altitude will be a bit lower than at sea level; all things equal. The difference is miniscule though and could be thought of a 190 at sea level; 185 at altitude for example.
A 125 PSI at altitude still sucks. Guaranteed.

It looks like enginesus and enginesrus are the same or at least use the same web site. Its just a tough situation as usual. You got a bum engine and Dan is backing away from it. Even if it didn’t back away, I dought he did all the work on the engine that the warranty requires so they have an out. Plus I doubt Dan would have replaced the engine himself and would try to charge you again. So I guess I don’t know, its either live with the engine you got once its running ok, or start all over again and try and get the money back from Dan after you have another engine put in. Not good choices so maybe depends on how bad it really is and what options the new shop can give you.

NYBo: the reason I wanted a factory converter is because I didn’t want the check engine light to come on unnecessarily, which it already has.
Ok4450: no worries! And yeah, most of the things this guy has said is total BS. Not gonna let him get away with it

Meg, it sounds like you’re making good decisions and you just plain got screwed. Your dad’s advice didn’t turn out to be the best, and I apologize for suggesting that this needed a more experienced eye. My heart was in the right place, I just made some assumptions that apparently were not correct.

With that, I wish you the best.


Important question . . .

How much is Dan charging you for the catalytic converter? . . . just the part, by the way

factory cats are quite expensive

Does the invoice clearly say it’s a factory cat?

If it does, he cheated you, from the sound of it

If for example, it doesn’t get that specific, and the cat only cost $200 (for the part), then it’s more of a murky issue . . . as far as the cat goes. In that case, you asked for a factory cat, yet he installed an aftermarket cat and also only charged you for the aftermarket cat. In which case, he didn’t do what you asked him to, but didn’t outright cheat you

In any case, 125psi compression is on the low side, and might explain some of the problems you’re having

By the way, how much did he charge you for the engine . . . just the engine, not the labor

I’m not really familiar with subaru engines. That said, if the valve lash is out of adjustment, it could explain low compression. If valve lash is too tight, compression will be lower than normal. If subarus use hydraulic lifters, though, then it’s just a tired engine

Good luck!

the same mountain bike: that’s okay, your input is still very appreciated!
db4690: Dan never gave me a write-up for the converter and I never thought to ask for a receipt because I knew the payment hadn’t gone through yet. I still should have asked for a write up of the costs, but I didn’t think to do so at the time. However, yesterday when I spoke with him on the phone I asked him how much he paid for the converter, but he didn’t answer the question and told me the “conversation is over” and hung up before I had a chance to say anything. I’d also called the company he’d admitted to buying from, but they don’t have records of him ordering from them at all last week (when he supposedly ordered one part, returned it because it was the wrong size, and ordered another one of the right size). So I’m wondering if he used a junk part. I don’t know how much of the cost goes to labor, but he was going to charge us about $1000 to put in the converter.
He’s also trying to claim now that he was never told to get a factory part. I don’t have physical proof that I told him to get a factory part, but I remember distinctly telling him to get me a factory part because I did not want the check engine light to come on, as would probably happen (and did) with an after-market part.