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Slapped with a $5000 repair bill after keeping the car regularly maintained. What should I do?

Details: There’s two Mechanics in this scenario. Ford dealership, and Don’s Auto.

Ford Dealership sold me the car. 2017 Ford Fiesta SE 1.0 L eco-boost.

In 2019 I took it into a mesa (yes that’s dumb, admittedly) and I bottomed out on a dirt hill. Snapped the air conditioner line (green liquid came hissing out). Took it immediately to Ford Dealership. They said they were busy for the next 3 days out and recommended I go to the mechanic literally 200 yards down the street. So I did. That was Don’s Auto

Don’s Auto held the car a few days to order the part, the AC line on the bottom of the car that snapped, and replaced it, and the car was good to go.

Since then I’ve had the car taken into the Ford Dealership itself 3 separate times for the normal checkup (I get an email that says “Hey it’s about that time to come get it checked out again!” Ok, so wanting to keep my car maintained properly I do so). They do a multi-point inspection each time and absolutely zero of the times did they give me any indication anything was wrong. Keep in mind I know nothing about cars, this is why I pay a mechanic to keep on top of this.

Last week I’m on the road, and the gas pedal no longer creates a response in the car. I immediately pull over and call my brother (mechanic). As I’m talking to him with the car resting, it starts to respond again. I get the car a half mile home immediately. Brother comes over and pulls the code P1299 something about overheating. He says this is consistent with what I experienced, it probably cooled down enough to start again when we were talking.

Next day I get the car to Ford. They keep it for several days, and then slap me with a $5000 repair bill. They said there wasn’t any coolant in it, and that the exhaust port was cracked, coolant got into the motor, and one of the cylinder heads was cracked and needed to be replaced. I told him about the accident and the Ford guy told me the main line mechanic says the radiator was out of place and the air ducts were messed up and the mechanic believes all of this damage stems from my bottoming out 14-16 months earlier. $5000 repair bill.

I’m devastated. That’s going to wipe out all the money I have. I’m equally frustrated because I’ve been paying these guys to keep on top of the car regularly as I thought I was supposed to and the Ford guy basically said “Yeah these guys are paid to check a few different things and aren’t doing an engine diagnostic” and basically handwaved and said he was sorry.

I have a professional mechanic of 20 years for a friend and I called him, he said the mechanics should have caught those things during the mutliple inspections, but technically they’re only supposed to address what I go in for. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I was supposed to know anything was wrong to instruct them to look for it. I’m not a mechanic. That’s literally what I pay them for. I feel used and taken advantage of and I don’t know what to do.

Do I have any recourse here? Are either of the mechanics responsible for not catching any of this? WHY am I paying these guys for routine maintenance of nobody is going to catch potential damage leading to catastrophic engine failure?

The last time Ford inspected/maintained it was on Oct 21, 2020. So in 2 1/2 months all of this apparently happened and nobody picked up on any of the warning signs prior.

Looking for any advice, thank you in advance :frowning:

It would appear to me that your little joy ride compromised the coolant system to the point where it was damaged but not leaking. When all mechanics inspected the vehicle there was coolant in the vehicle, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to drive as long as you have. To expect a mechanic to spot a slightly bent coolant line or minor damage to a coolant hose is unreasonable. Or the failure could have just happened during normal wear and tear. (But I doubt it). Either way your cooling system was intact when it was inspected. This amount of damage could not be done without the vehicle giving you some sort of warning. You need to pay closer attention to your instrument panel. Particularly the temperature gauge in this case. I’m betting it reported overheating long before any damage to your engine was done. This repair is all on you.

Maybe your brother could help you on this issue. I am sure he can fix it for less

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I’m sorry for your troubles, but stuff happens in life. You might try getting a second opinion/second estimate.

Another life lesson I learned, when I was younger, was don’t go mudding/off-roading in the truck that you drive to work. Because if you mess up your truck you use to get to work, you mess up your ability to get to work.


From now on check with your owners manual , your brother and this professional mechanic for what service items you really need .

What are they fixing for $5k?
New head? New motor?

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I don’t believe this for one moment. I assume what you meant to say is that they kept the car for several days, then told you that it needs $5k worth of repairs. I very seriously doubt they kept the car for several days with no communication, then contacted you to say the balance due is $5k.

What exactly did they say occurred, and what exactly is the recommended repair? I don’t know what they meant by “exhaust port”, and this is an inline 3-cylinder engine, so only one cylinder head. If coolant actually got into the oil, there is no way I would pay for a professional repair that does not replace the entire motor, or send it out to a machine shop for complete disassembly, cleaning, and repair–including all new gaskets, seals, and bearing inserts.

Also, if you can get a diagnosis in writing, blaming the past accident, perhaps you can contact your insurance company–assuming the car was covered by comprehensive and collision insurance on the date of this alleged accident, and you have documentation such as a work order from the day of the accident to prove when it occurred.

Barring a successful insurance claim, you have three options: authorize the work and pay to have the car repaired by the Ford dealer, tow it to another shop for a second opinion, or tow it home and sell it on Craigslist as a “mechanic special” and buy a different used car with your $5k. I live in a region where cars do not rust, so when confronted with a $5k repair bill, and assuming no ability to DIY, I’d just cut my losses and buy something else.

I suspect that off-road damage would be excluded in the OP’s policy.

However, within the past year or so, we have had at least one forum member who suggested lying to an insurance company. Hopefully the OP will use this incident as a learning experience, and not as an opportunity to gain a benefit as a result of lying to his insurance company.

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No one said anything about insurance fraud. If the car was being driven on an approved trail, or dirt road, I would assume such use is covered, but I have never looked into that. People spend many tens of thousands of dollars to buy and modify SUVs and pickups for off-road use, and I cannot believe that owners of such expensive vehicles are unprotected by their insurance. Surely that would defeat the purpose of having insurance?

Would a tiny Ford Fiesta be considered appropriate by his insurance company for that type of driving?
I don’t know the answer to that question, and I suspect that most of the other forum members wouldn’t know it either.

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I don’t consider a Ford Fiesta an off-road car and any damage caused by doing so is on the car owner’s dime.
Even a legitimate off-road car will not be covered due to abuse. Many decades ago Ford ran ads showing a pickup being flogged out in the countryside. Some guy up north did this and buckled the frame between the bed and cab. He wanted Ford to pay and when they refused he sued them. He lost.

At this point none of us know what maintenance services you had performed. Details are important.
Some questions to me are why have you not been allowing your pro mechanic friend of 20 years to do all of this?
Another question is why did Don’s Auto not catch this when they replaced the A/C line?
And are you saying they did a 5 grand repair without your approval? Having a hard time buying that.

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People buy and modify production cars for racing, that is not covered and neither is off roading. Even the towing coverage will not cover you if you leave the road.

A dirt road is a road, a trail is not.

You could go to small claims but chances are you don’t have other people with similar problems helping you.
There’s a saying about doing the same thing over and over again with the same results.
Cartalk has a feature where good mechanics get rated by fellow cartalk people. You should take advantage of that feature and quit donating your money to dealerships. First question to ask a mechanic is , Do you own a boat?

I think it’s a bit misguided to blame the dealer at this point with so much missing information. No one knows what those services involved as one example. The OP says they were “slapped” which could be taken to mean they were surprised with it. If the OP authorized 5 grand prior to the work they should not complain about it later.

The OP also says a “green liquid” came out of the A/C line. To me that could mean that someone has added dye into the system to check for a leak. It’s assumed by me, right or wrong, that the car was purchased used. So who knows; maybe there was a prior overheating issue which led to A/C leaks (inoperative fan maybe) and this car had a pre-existing condition.

As for that lame old mechanic/boat theory I will say that I have known many mechanics over the decades. However, only 2 of them owned boats and one of them drove a 12 year old Dodge van with the other driving a 16 year old mid 70s Chevelle.

As for avoiding dealerships I will add this. They are not as crooked as you emphatically state unless you have personally worked at them and are privy to knowledge I am not aware of. With any complaint there is always, as Paul Harvey always stated, the rest of the story.


. With any complaint there is always, as Paul Harvey always stated, the rest of the story.

That is usually the part of the story we never get.


All of the maintenance visits in the world won’t turn a stock Ford Fiesta into an off road vehicle. You did something dumb and you are shocked at the price. Experience is sometimes an expensive teacher.