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Was my car sabotaged?

I purchased a 125k mile 2005 Toyota Camry in good condition and with a good carfax history about 5 months ago. It was due for its second oil change since we’ve owned it so my wife took it in to a Meineke. After the car was in the garage for 10-15 minutes, a technician told my wife we had an oil leak. He took her back to see it and she saw oil all over. It was splattered on the underside of the car hood, on top of the manifold, and basically everywhere else. The oil was not dirty or grimy. He explained that there was a leak in the valve cover gasket. They wanted to charge $500 to fix the leak.

We declined the repair and took it to the place we bought it. He told my wife that the leak was so bad, she would likely not make it home without ending up on the side of the road. The oil was seeping from the side of the valve cover. When he would wipe it off, more would immediately flow out, almost like wiping blood from an open wound. He expressed his opinion on what happened and repaired the leak for $40. He also showed me the valve cover gasket. It was split cleanly in half.

After the repair, I’ve driven 500+ miles and have not lost any oil.

I’ve intentionally left out his opinion and have only included absolute facts because I want to hear unbiased thoughts on what may have happened.

I know very little about cars, but I had no reason to think anything was wrong with my car prior to taking it to Meineke. The oil light was not on, there was no obvious indication of oil under the car where we park, and there was no smell of burning oil. In fact, just a few days prior to taking it to the shop, we had driven the car 300 miles in one day with no indications of trouble.

Is it possible that I had a leak before taking it to Meineke?

What does it sound like may have happened at Meineke?

Considering the time frame, I don’t think that Meineke had enough time to remove the valve cover, cut it, replace the valve cover and then get oil all over the inside of the engine compartment. I think you got very lucky.

$500 to repair a valve cover gasket is a little over the top, it should be less than $100. It does bother me that the oil was seeping out of the valve cover as you describe it. For oil to be coming out like that, the oil drain back holes would be restricted. It could do that if the engine was running at the time, but if the engine was not running, you may still have a problem.

Did you get to see the engine with the valve cover off?

I dunno. Sounds a little suspicious to me. And $500 for a valve cover gasket? Makes me question their honesty in the first place.

No way to tell, I agree with @keith, it’d be hard (and a lot of work) for Meineke to sabotage it. Spray oil on it, maybe, but not that. From now on use an independent shop you trust for the oil changes and maintenance.

@Keith: I did not get to see the engine with the cover off.

I have been checking it constantly, and I haven’t seen any more signs of leaking even after driving more than 500 miles.

I don’t believe they removed it, but I am suspicious that they did something. How does a car go from having no signs of an oil leak, to barely making it 15 miles? Why was the oil on the engine fresh? Wouldn’t oil that had been in the car for 3 months look quite dirty?

And to clarify: the $500 was for a valve cover gasket, a drip pan, and the labor.

You may not know much about cars, but you clearly have a good head on your shoulders.
And now you know something about Meineke. Congratulations on using good judgement.

By the way, I just priced out a gasket for a friend (Toyota calls it the “gasket, cylinder head cover”, and it’s $17.50. It should take under an hour to install… I’m slow… really slow. In her case she has some oil seeping onto a sparkplug.

Of course a V6 would be a it more intense.

Happy motoring.

I don’t think that Meineke caused the leak, but I think they were trying to take advantage of it. A leak like that does not spray oil all over the inside of the engine compartment. If the oil fill cap were left off, you would see that, but you would also see a lot of oil smoke when some of that oil landed on a hot exhaust manifold.

I think you were lucky that the oil leak was found when it was, but it looks like Meineke embellished the situation by spraying oil around the engine compartment and then tried to get $500 for the repair. I don’t know if that qualifies as sabotage to you or not.

What’s the story on the drip pan? Thats a new twist to the story.

I don’t see how. some gaskets have a split anyway and you use gasket sealer to bond it together upon installation

I think the drip pan was just thrown in the mix. My friend that repaired it said that he didn’t see any need to replace the drip pan.

He suggested this possible scenario: A rookie changed the oil, left the cap off and started the car. Actually, he said, “I’m 100% the car was started with the cap off.” He said he had done it and seen it done enough times that he could tell the signature splash on the underside of the hood and on top of the manifold – how else does the oil leak “up”?

As for the leak, my friend conjectured that perhaps to avoid getting in trouble (perhaps he was on probation?), he shoved a screwdriver into the gasket. That is definitely conjecture, but I just don’t understand how a car can go from no leak to major leak in that short of a time span.

I ve seen that hood splash myself… but I m an idiot…

Whether intentional or accidental Meineke sounds like a shop to avoid. There is a Meinkeke near me and I have personally seen an estimate for more than $1000 for brake and suspension work that they stated was critically needed but they had not even taken the wheels off. The franchise must attract unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

Your friend could be right about leaving the oil cap off, but jamming a screwdriver into the gasket would be obvious.

I’m not a fan of Meineke at all but I seriously doubt they sabotaged the engine to cause an oil leak.
Ten years old and 125k miles is reason enough to leak. The price may, or may not, be in line as much depends upon locale, shop rates, parts sourcing, and so on.

A story I read once from a guy who worked for Meineke stated that corporate HQs really puts the squeeze on the franchise owners. This squeezing leads them to squeezing the customers and the employees both as to pay and hours worked. Some are forced into 7 day a week operations.

The franchisee can often be put into the position of losing everything they own including their homes if those franchise fees are not kept up.
The potential for being hosed stops at corporate HQs… :wink:

@wesw Toyota valve cover gaskets, for the 2.4 &3.0 don’t have splits, they are continuous. @hgbiii I doubt it was because the oil cap was left off since you saw oil gushing from the side of the valve cover.

No way in hades, I have worked for Toyota for many years and the v.c. gaskets do not split. They can get hard and leak but the factory gasket will not split while on the car. On the 4cyl I could get the valve cover on and off in that amount of time. Do you happen to have a picture of the old gasket?

The gasket is an o-ring. Usually they get hard and seap oil. Sounds as if it was run without the oil cap.

I’m surprised nobody has recommended to the OP to manually check the oil level regularly. Depending on the type of “Oil Light”, it might be telling you to either change the oil or that it’s too late and your engine may be damaged.

@ Joe Guy But that’s not the issue here. The car suddenly developed a humongus oil leak out the valve cover gasket while at Meineke.

As SteveC76 mentioned the valve cover on this engine could be removed very quickly. You could even just loosen it, raise it a little and reach in with a hook pick and cut out a little piece of the gasket then bolt it back down.

If it had been run with the oil cap off prior to the Meineke service with all that oil sprayed all over the engine compartment and exhaust manifold the OP would have seen clouds of smoke coming from under the hood.

The attached link will allow you to see the gasket in question and how it fits into the engine. Toyota uses “O-rings” to protect the spark plugs that are attached to and part of the valvecover gasket, not an uncommon arrangement. Assembly is much quicker.

It isn’t a huge challenge to remove the valvecover and replace the gasket, but if you haven’t done one it’s important to pay attention to what you’re doing. There are all sorts of little “traps” such as the COP being trapped under the plastic “trough” that protects the primary wires and needing to be removed first, knowing how to unclip the COP clips without breaking them, and other details. The OP’s car has already been fixed, but if a reader is planning to do his/her own, it’d be good to solicit the assistance of someone knowledgeable to show you the little tricks.

It’d also be good to ask the dealer parts guy to print an “exploded view” drawing that’ll show the torque values of the valvecover gasket screws. Toyota seems to like something around 8 ft/lbs for these screws, but I worked on a friend’s Justy some years back (I LIKED that little three-banger) and that design used shoulder bolts that if one overtightened them could snap off and leave the shank in the head.

I doubt that anyone at Meineke sabotaged the car. And leaving the cap off as it ran would take hours to splash that much oil around, plus there would be no air movement as the car sat in the bay, so the oil would not be spread all over the engine compartment.

I think that it is just a coincident that the cover gasket took a dump just before you went in for service.

But on the other hand…now you know that Meineke and all the other quick change places are not to be trusted. $500 for that job is way too much.