Does the mechanic who replaced our water pump owe us a new engine?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife has a '93 Subaru Justy with about 100,000 miles on it. It has been treated well throughout its lifetime. When the temperature gauge showed that it was running hot, we took the car to the Subaru dealer. Six hundred dollars and a new water pump later, we left. During the repair, the mechanic had also noticed, and replaced, a cracked oil-pump cover. Twenty miles later, my wife was driving home from work when the oil light came on. A few blocks after that, the engine seized. The engine was only a quart low when I checked it just before the tow truck hauled it back to the dealer for a coroner's certificate. The dealer says he will happily replace the engine for about $2,900. But we unhappily find it too much of a coincidence that, 20 miles after it was repaired, the oil pump died of natural causes. Should we stand and fight? -- Bill

RAY: Yes. You should fight for truth, Justy and the American way, Bill. My guess is he messed up the repair. The cover on this oil pump has an O-ring that goes underneath it. He could have damaged the O-ring, put the cover on crooked or just forgotten to sufficiently tighten down the bolts.

TOM: Any of those things could lead to a loss of oil pressure without a significant loss of oil. It's too bad. For him.

RAY: Yeah. Unfortunately for him, he probably owes you an engine. But let's be realistic. He owes you an engine similar to the one you had. That is, an engine with 100,000 miles on it.

TOM: So a reasonable solution would be for him to buy a Justy engine from a junkyard and install it for you. And don't feel too bad for him -- almost every shop has "bonehead" insurance to cover mistakes like this, because they do happen. I mean, my brother and our claims adjuster are on a first-name basis.

RAY: As for how to make your stand, I'd tow the car to another, independent mechanic, and have him look at it. Don't warn the dealership that you're coming (don't give them time to doctor the evidence). Just show up with the tow truck. If the independent mechanic can attest to the fact that the oil-pump cover was not attached securely, you have a slam-dunk case in small-claims court.

TOM: Of course, it's possible that you'll learn that it WAS just a coincidence and the dealership wasn't at fault. In which case, you'll be the one taking a trip to the junkyard. And once you get there, you can decide whether you're making a withdrawal or a deposit.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One