Mechanic admits I didn't need a new engine, so do I have to pay for it?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was told by three different mechanics about a month ago that the knock in my '97 Grand Cherokee was an engine about to go. After comparing options, it seemed the best route was a new $2,500 engine with a three-year warranty. The mechanic told me the installation would take two days. It ended up being a week, at which time I received a phone call saying I didn't need an engine at all. I was told that instead, I needed a power-steering pump (an additional $75 for the part). This is AFTER he had completed the engine install. As I sit typing this, I am livid and really at a loss as to what I can do. According to him, I can't even have the old parts (that weren't bad), because they have to be returned. Am I really out $2,500, and does he bear no responsibility for charging me and installing something I didn't even need??? Finally, how the heck do you confuse a power-steering pump and an engine repair?? I'm not a mechanic, but isn't this in "Car Repair 101"? -- Michelle

RAY: I don't think he took Car Repair 101, Michelle. If he had, he never would have admitted that you didn't need the engine! He would have said, "By the way, you ALSO needed a new power-steering pump, Michelle. I'll just add it to your bill."

TOM: So we have to give him credit here for at least being honest.

RAY: On the other hand, assuming he was one of the three mechanics who gave you the diagnosis (assuming you didn't just come to him and say, "I need a new engine"), he was grossly incompetent to mistake a bad power-steering pump for a failing engine.

TOM: Whenever we hear an engine noise, the first thing we do is take off all of the belts. That takes all of the accessories -- like the power-steering pump, water pump and alternator -- out of the equation. If the noise then goes away, we know it's one of the accessories. If the noise is still there, then we look at the engine. Your mechanic obviously skipped that crucial first step.

RAY: So he screwed up badly, and he's absolutely responsible. But what to do now? On the one hand, you didn't need an engine at all, so the argument could be made that he should eat the whole thing, and you should just pay him for the power-steering pump. And don't let him tell you that the pump is $2,500.

TOM: But on the other hand, you do have a rebuilt engine now, which is worth quite a bit. Even though you didn't want it, it will prolong the life of your car, or at least make it worth more when you sell it.

RAY: So if you think he's a decent guy and he just made an honest mistake, I would make a deal with him. I'd say, "Look, you completely misdiagnosed this and put in an engine when I didn't need one at all. So here's what we'll do. You donate your labor, and then we'll split the wholesale cost of the engine." That's going put you out about $750, Michelle. But you'll have a new engine.

TOM: If he refuses, you can always take him to small claims court, and you'll easily win. But try to settle it with him first. It sounds like he's an honest guy -- even if he has been taking too many moron pills lately.

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