Did Marilyn's mechanic destroy her transmission?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2011

Dear Tom and Ray:

I took my vehicle in to a local mechanic shop for a timing-belt replacement. After the repair, I drove approximately 75 miles, and the transmission burned up. We had the car towed to AAMCO. The AAMCO owner said the cause of the transmission failure was that the previous mechanic had forgotten to remove a clamp from one of the two coolant lines that run to the transmission, resulting in the transmission overheating and then a $2,800 repair bill for a rebuilt transmission. The original mechanic says he never clamped off any lines when he replaced the timing belt. What do you think? Would lines have been clamped? -- Marilyn


RAY: They certainly could have been, Marilyn.

TOM: You don't tell us what kind of car you have. But for certain cars, you DO have to remove the radiator to change the timing belt. And if you remove the radiator, you would clamp off the transmission cooler lines so you don't spill transmission fluid all over your shoes, or the shop floor.

RAY: Cars with longitudinally mounted engines (mounted the long way, front to back) require you to remove the radiator to get to the timing belt. Those include lots of VWs and Audis, all Subarus, lots of small SUVs and pickups, and many other vehicles.

TOM: So if you have a longitudinally mounted engine, the AAMCO guy is absolutely right. If you clamp off the lines and then forget to remove the clamps when you're done, you prevent the transmission fluid from getting cooled. And within 100 miles, that can raise the temperature of the transmission enough to ruin it.

RAY: You're lucky that you have an eyewitness who will testify that when your car was towed in, the clamp was still there!

TOM: So, start by getting a written statement from the AAMCO guy describing exactly what he found. Take it back to your original mechanic, along with the repair bill, AND his clamp. Ask him if he'd like to write you a check now, or if he'd rather write you one later, with the court costs added in, because small claims court is your next step.

RAY: Keep in mind that if your car has 195,000 miles on it, the court might not make the shop pay the whole cost of a new transmission. But you'll win in court, Marilyn. As long as you don't lose that clamp.

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