Hello Car Talk community. I need some advice and my cousin sent me here. (Apologies in advance for how long this is).
I have a 2003 Subaru Legacy Sedan. In September of 2013 I took it to a Subaru specific garage for it’s 30,000 mile (no, that’s not a typo. My ten year old car had 33,906 miles on it. If it isn’t incredibly obvious, I almost never drive). inspection, as recommended by the manual. Here is the work the inspection called for, and which they did: “perform complete safety inspection of brakes, exhaust, suspension, lighting and cooling systems, check and adjust parking brake an accessory belts as needed, replace air filter, spark plugs, fuel filter if applicable, oil, oil filter and drain plug gasket, thermostat gasket and radiator cap, drain and fill cooling system, automatic transmission fluid differential fluids, brake fluid in the reservoir and washer fluid”. Good. Fine. That all set me back $354, plus $95 for a battery package. Here’s where it gets expensive, and where my issues start. They suggested replacing my head gasket. This is apparently not suspicious, as evidently there had been some issues with head gaskets at the 10 year mark in this make and model of car. I don’t know if the work NEEDED to be done, but I didn’t know better and said sure. THAT work set me back $2110. But I picked up the car and it seemed to be running fine, if a bit sluggish at times (though my car has never had much giddy-up) until February of this year.
In early February, after driving for maybe 15 minutes (about 3 miles), the car’s check engine light came on and it started sounding like it was going to die any time I was at a stop light; rattling and so forth, vibrations, etc… In addition to smoke/steam (it was white, not black or gray) coming from the front left part of my hood. Luckily I was two blocks from my destination and I made it. Later that evening I was able to successfully drive my car home with no issue. I took it to my local garage where they diagnosed (inaccurately, as it turned out) a spark plug issue. The invoice says ‘parts–spark plugs 4-4 NGK 6953. parts-ignition wire set 1.’ The check engine light was off and I went on my merry little way. 2 days later the check engine light came back on. I will admit at this point that I became a wee big negligent, and since my car was successfully getting me around on my very short little drives, I ignored the light. It then turned off of its own accord maybe 2 weeks later.
Then I very stupidly (I think I forgot that my car was struggling) drove my car 16 miles to the airport (and I had not, until this point, pushed the car above probably 40 MPH). I managed to hit every single green light so I did not have to slow up until I approached the airport garage and realized that the same vibrating, death rattle, smoking hood thing was happening. Except worse. My car was NOT in good shape. When I finally stopped the car to collect my ticket into the garage, the car died. I turned it back on. Died again. Managed to get it to start a second time and zoomed into the parking garage. A few days later I had it towed (it wouldn’t start, but that was probably because I accidentally left my dome light on and drained the battery) to the same garage that did the spark plug work. They ran a bunch of tests but weren’t entirely sure what the problem was. They took it across the street to another mechanic who diagnosed the following: “car has misfire on cylinder 3 and failed a cooling pressure test with no external signs of coolant leak. We then did an engine block test to test for hydro-carbon gas in the cooling system and the car did fail. Thus, there is likely a leak through the head gasket or a potential crack in the cylinder head. REC: R+R cylinder heads, replace gasket, and pressure test cylinder heads.” It did end up being a leak in the head gasket, which they showed to me when I picked up the car. The mechanic who did the work said that the screws on one side ‘weren’t torqued down enough.’ So I ended up paying over $3000 to fix a head gasket that was leaking because of what would appear to be shoddy or incompetent work by the first garage. That initial work is no longer under warranty, since it has been more that 12 months. However, it says 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. It has been 2,158 miles. They made the following notes regarding the warranty: “please note a check engine light (which is emissions related) may come on or back on at any time. This is no way reflects any work performed by -blank- . If the check engine light has anything to do with work performed by -blank-, we will waive the diagnostic fee, but not any parts.” Second part of the warranty, “all of the above work has a 12 month/12,000 mile warranty, whichever comes first, provided that the oil is changed every 3 months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first (it has been), with provided receipts and that the vehicle is never allowed to overheat (nope), or a check engine light is ignored (hmm. I immediately addressed the first one, but did ignore the second.) The vehicle must be brought to -blank- at the owner’s expense for any warranty consideration. There is no exception to this policy.”
I’m sorry that this is so incredibly long. I just thought that it might be helpful to have as many details as possible. My question is this: do I have a legitimate claim to restitution from the first garage? Or has the expired warranty rendered that moot? I’m obviously no mechanic, but it would seem to me that a leaking head gasket less than 2 years and 3,000 miles out from a replaced head gasket (and the mechanics assertion that the screws weren’t properly tightened) gives me a pretty solid base from which to argue. Do you wise souls think that I should pursue this? $2,000 is a lot of money. I’m not sure how much I could get back if I did go after them, or how to go about it. I’ve considered confronting them in person and asking them to make it right (though I’m not entirely sure what that would mean? Full refund? Refund for the labor? For the parts?) and then threatening (though I’m loathe to do this) to go to every review site on the web and outline my story, in addition to writing to the better business bureau, etc. If that doesn’t work, is it worth my time to go to small claims court? Does anyone here have experience with such a thing? I could really use some advice on this. Please help! And thank you!