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Spent Thousands - Got the car back worse than when I dropped it off

Over the last month, Ive spent 2.5 thousand on my car. Originally, the inciting event was a plume of smoke coming from under my hood. I had the car towed and they said my radiator blew up and did the repair. A week later, I was smelling what I thought was radiator fluid. I took it back and they said I had three major oil leaks. My wife didn’t understand why they did spot the leaks just a week earlier, if they were that major? All that said, I had been going there for awhile, so I trusted them. They fixed, or they said they fixed, all three leaks but when they returned the car, it would kind of rattle intermittently whenever the car was stopped but running. I had no such problem before bring it in for the other issues. They kept it for another few days, almost a month in total with all the repairs and they said they got it to where it was barely noticeable. Well now, just two weeks late, it has been getting worse and worse, the rattling of the car when the car is stopped. And tonight, all of my warning lights suddenly came on- engine warning, brakes, everything all at once. I spent two and half grand with this shop and they returned it with a problem it didn’t even have before. Thoughts? Insights? It needs timing belt, that was the next thing to get repaired.

There’s not enough info known to be able to determine what is going on with the car.
Knowing the year, mileage, and whether overheating was present when the radiator let go may help.
You state it needs a timing belt. Should this be taken to mean that it broke?
If so, this goes back to the mileage and whether the belt has ever been replaced in the past.

It is a 2003 Acura RL, it has 158K miles on it. There was no overheating issues prior to the radiator blowing. The timing belt was recommended by the same mechanic but it is not broken. He said it could go in a month or a year, but it needed to be replaced.


The links are copies of the receipts, for more detail

“There was no overheating issues prior to the radiator blowing.”

How long did you drive with the overheating issue?


None of my gauges stated overheating nor was there any signs of over heating. On the day the radiator blew, it was a smell, not a noise that got worse and worse. I drove maybe 5 miles from my house to a lunch spot, which is when the plumes of smoke happened.

The timeline is radiator goes out > car repair shop for a week > I start noticing the same smell as before the radiator going out, but stronger > one week after getting the car back, I return it to the shop > the shop informs me that there are between 1-3 serious oil leaks and that they think my timing belt could be in danger. I authorize the first repair and once they get in there, they state they have to fix the other two leaks, which I also authorize. They have the car for two weeks > I get the car back and immediately experience a shaking kind of rumbling (on and off) whenever the car is running and stopped. I return the car back to shop within one day of getting it back > they keep the car for two to three days and state they got something in the oil line when reassembling the car. They are very vague as to what is causing the rumbling. They tell me they will need a $400 part but when it comes in, it ends up not being the problem. The continue to clean plugs, other things I didn’t understand. > I get the car back and the rumble when stopped is barely noticeable and rarely occurs. Over a period of two weeks, this gets worse and worse, especially the last 3-4 days. I was able to drive it with no major rumbling some 30 miles with no problem yesterday and yet today, it got super bad and was constant- with all of my warning lights coming on.

I suspect that just before or just after “the radiator blew” the car was subjected to severe overheating which has led to the other problems…You may be trying to resuscitate a dead horse…

Sounds like a head gasket problem…what we have here is a failure to communicate by your “cool hand Luke” mechanic. You should be informed every step of the way for that kind of $$$$$$.

What I am seeing here is an older car that is having issues. It is pretty common for radiator problems to morph into other engine problems. There is always a risk of that happening.

But the alternative is pretty expensive - completely rebuilding the engine and all related components. That was the only way to be sure that none of this would have happened.

Sure, the shop should have told you there was a risk that there was more damage than just the radiator - and that the repairs aren’t going to fix every potential problem - and that there might be a series of repairs needed that weren’t apparent from the start.

But you should also be aware that eventually everything on the car will fail - the question is when.

So I think what you need to do is weigh the costs of repairs vs the cost of replacing the vehicle - keeping in mind that nothing last forever…

I’m inclined to agree with the others that the engine was overheated and suffered a headgasket failure and perhaps even a warped head. What I’d suggest at this time is a check for presence of hydrocarbons in the coolant (you can buy a lab kit at the parts store). If there are hydrocarbons in the coolant, you need to decide whether you want to spend the money for some serious work. If there are none, I’d do a pressure leakdown test to confirm. Again, you can buy a kit, but since you’re admittedly not a car guy you can have the shop do it.

If it’s confirmed that you have no headgasket leak, than GET THAT TIMING BELT DONE or you’re likely to have a trashed valvetrain in the near future.

I honestly don’t think the shop you’re using is doing anything but trying to mitigate the amount you’ll need to spend. Your comment about not wanting to change the timing belt suggests to me that they might have gotten the impression that you wanted them to do this from your conversations with them. No disrespect meant, I’m just providing an honest guess as to the scenario.

The rattle could be a failing serpentine belt idler pulley or an accessory (alternator, power steering etc.) bearing.
Now if it’s failed completely the belt slips or comes off, stopping the alternator and lighting the dash lights.

With todays engine designs, if they suffer a serious overheat episode, you don’t rebuild them, you replace them…If the vehicle itself is worth the money…I suspect this vehicle is not worth that kind of money…

If the OP was not aware just how bad the engine overheated, then he did not communicate this to the mechanic…The mechanic thought he was working on a sound engine. That might not be the case…

I was not avoiding replacing the timing belt, I didn’t have the cash on hand to do it right then ( a few weeks ago). The timing belt was budgeted for this month, which the mechanic knew. In terms of the mechanic being at fault or not, he’s a good guy, he’s just very poorly organized and over the last year, as his shop has grown, has made some serious mistakes. I had a major brake job done with him and his team forgot to tighten the bolts on one of the tires, which almost came off. Thankfully, I caught it right away.

If it is head gaskets, I don’t know why he would have a problem diagnosing the problem versus giving me the car and saying it was fine for the road again. I had the car towed today into a shop that has exceptional reviews and that a friend has used under dire circumstances, we will see. Its not just an Acura RL, its has been very well taken car of, looks great, great paint job, low profile kit and more, I don’t want to give up the ride. I would a lot rather spend money and get it back up to par, then take on a car payment.

Thanks for the insights, Im sure the new mechanic will give me the news tomorrow.

New mechanic was a good choice. I don’t think you overheated the engine despite what others are saying, and Honda’s are a little more tolerant of overheating than most aluminum engines. The smell after the radiator replacement could simply have been residual coolant on the engine. It probably would have gone away after a few days of driving.

Three oil leaks. One could have been the valve cover, it would not have required the repair of any other oil leaks. The second could be the distributor o-ring, again it would not have required any other repairs. The rest of things that leak oil on this engine are located behind the timing belt, which means the timing belt and balance shaft belts would have to have been removed to fix them.

So if the mechanic had to remove the timing belt and balance shaft belt to fix this, why didn’t they at least inform you that the belt replacement at that time would have only added $50 or so to the total bill? If they did remove these belts and did not align the balance shaft belt correctly, then the engine would shake badly at certain RPMs. V6 engines typically have only one balance shaft as compared to two on a 4 cylinder.

“Honda’s are little more tolerant of overheating than most aluminum engines.”

In my experience, Honda engines are least tolerant to overheating of aluminum head engines.


They did two of those, Keith. The area where access is needed to replace the timing belt, they had in the notes that when that area was to be accessed, to do another repair. The new mechanic has a perfect score on Yelp with a lot of reviews, which Ive never seen. We had a long talk and he stated that he would break down his recommendations into those (if any) missed by the previous mechanic that they might be liable for (if negligence was at play) and those that would not have anything to do with the previous repairs.

Again, thanks for the detailed insights.

It’s a little unusual to see a radiator failure in a 10 year old car, especially if it has had the routine cooling system services (per the owner’s manual) on schedule. In a 20 year old car, yes. 10 year old, not so much. I think you need to find out why it failed. The radiator on my Corolla failed b/c the engine fan stopped working due to a faulty fan temp switch. The radiator on my VW Rabbit failed b/c of a head gasket leak. Ask you mechanic to verify all the engine fans are working correctly, spin when they should, and at the right speed. And ask to have a chemical test for exhaust gasses in the coolant.

This is an all aluminum 3.2L V6 twin-cam 24 valve engine…If it follows Honda tradition, it has an “alumasil block” , a sleeveless design where the piston rings ride directly on the cylinder bores… A major overheat, or even not so major, can destroy these engines…

My new mechanic got in there and found the issues. Ignition coils were out, which was allowing gasoline to get into and blow out, the spark plugs. The previous mechanic had also used tape to tape up a part relating to all this. His view was that he did not think the previous mechanic had done anything malicious, he did not agree with the tape job but did not feel that caused any issues. Nor did he believe it was ethical for me to not be told any of this. But he did not see one issue causing the other. At the beginning of this thread, I posted to links to three photos of my receipts from the original mechanic, in case anyone wants to look and offer their thoughts. This guy seems super on top of everything, so Im going to go with him, I just would appreciate an understanding (mechanically) of, whether or not poorly executed repairs from the original work could have caused this, down to how the engine was reassembled. Thanks!