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How can Tom get Walmart to replace his engine?

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Dear Tom and Ray:



My wife had the oil changed in her 2010 Camry at Walmart. One week later, as she was finishing her 25-mile morning commute, she noticed a noise coming from the engine while she parked the car. She called me to report it, and said she also noticed a small amount of oil dripping under the car. Upon restarting the car at lunch, the sound was much worse.

So she shut off the car, and had it towed to the dealer where it was purchased. The dealer said that the oil-filter cartridge was installed incorrectly, so the oil ran out and the car's engine probably is a total loss. I will be going to the dealer and also speaking with a Walmart manager tomorrow. How do I ensure that Walmart will make good on this, and won't try to weasel out of paying for my new engine? It's going to cost thousands of dollars. Thanks for your advice. -- Tom

TOM: Well, you can't prevent them from TRYING to weasel out of it, Tom. The manager wouldn't be worth his salt if he didn't at least try to claim that the oil was abducted by aliens while you were walking the dog.

RAY: Actually, what they may argue is that your wife shares some responsibility for the engine failure because she had an obligation to notice that the oil light was on. And that once the oil light was on, she should have stopped driving before the engine was ruined completely. If she did drive some distance with the oil light on, that argument has some merit.

TOM: But whether she shares responsibility or not, your job now is to lock down your evidence. So, when you go to the dealer, you want to get his statement, in writing, of what he found, when he found it, what he believes happened and how much your new engine's going to cost. Take some dated pictures of the incorrectly installed part, if you can, and get the names and phone numbers of the individuals who examined your car. Ask them to agree to testify in small-claims court someday, should that be necessary.

RAY: And by the way, I would ask the dealer to specify a new or remanufactured engine, rather than let Walmart repair your engine. Here's why: The worst of the damage -- to the crankshaft and the bearings -- will be obvious when they take apart the engine. But when you run out of oil, there's subtle damage to every other part that's supposed to be protected by oil. And that damage may not show up for 50,000 or 75,000 miles, when you start burning oil and belching blue smoke.

TOM: And while that's not a problem for a car that already has a lot of miles on it, your car is practically brand-new, and you have a right to expect another 100,000 non-oil-burning miles out of it. So ask the dealer to write down that the engine needs to be replaced and cannot be satisfactorily rebuilt.

RAY: Once you have all of your evidence collected -- the receipt for the Walmart oil change, the dealer's statements, the pictures with circles and arrows on them -- trundle over to Walmart and calmly lay out your case. Basically, the more you're able to convince the Walmart manager that resistance is futile, the easier a time you'll have getting your money from them.

TOM: The good news is that just about all repair shops have what we like to call "bonehead insurance," which covers us for the stupid things we, or our employees, inevitably do once in a while.

RAY: Well, it covers us for the stupid things we do while working on other people's cars. It won't cover me for agreeing to write a newspaper column with my brother, unfortunately.

TOM: But Walmart either has insurance to cover its employees' mistakes, or it self-insures and covers the cost of the errors itself. Either way, you have to let them know that they're going to have to make a claim and buy you an engine.

RAY: If they try to give you the runaround, then you have to take them to small-claims court. Or, if the small-claims damage limit in your state isn't high enough to cover the cost of the engine, you'll have to pay a lawyer and use the regular court system.

TOM: But in front of a judge, the expert testimony and contemporaneous evidence you collected from the dealership should win the day. And hopefully the Walmart manager, or his or her higher-up, is experienced enough to know that in advance. Good luck, Tom.
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