How do I know if driving a mile with no oil in my car did any lasting damage?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

The unbelievable has happened. I took my new '97 Toyota Camry (12,000 miles) to
a shop to have my oil changed. Well, they did a fine job of removing the old
oil, but dropped the ball when it came to adding new oil! I drove away, then
noticed the oil light was on, and ended up driving about a mile before getting
back to the shop to complain. The engine was probably running for about five
minutes without oil. The shop put oil in the car and then tried to ignore me --
like I would go away or something!

Unfortunately, the place I went to was not a Toyota dealer; it was a Cadillac/
Olds dealer. They had been changing my oil for the last three years and said
they could do Toyotas. I had the oil pan taken off at Toyota a week later and
had an oil analysis taken; the results are not back yet. The dealership said my
bearings are not scorched, and everything looks just fine. However, everyone
tells me that the life of my car has been seriously shortened. Who should I
believe, and shouldn't the dealership that screwed up be responsible? I tried to
talk to them, but they brushed me off. I have a lawyer, and he says the
dealership has shop liability insurance that will pay for a replacement car or a
replacement engine. What should a little brunette with a Camry do? -- Robin

TOM: The little brunette should sue their pants off, Robin. If they're really
ignoring you, that may be the only way to get their attention.

RAY: They certainly didn't do your engine any good by sending you off without
oil. Whether there's physical evidence of damage now, or whether that damage
will show up in 60,000 miles, we can't tell. And the problem is that nobody can
tell if and when the damage will show up. But the dealership certainly IS
responsible for this screw-up. And your lawyer is right; garages carry liability
insurance to cover just this sort of mishap.

TOM: Your best bet would be to get the Toyota dealer to attest to the fact that
some damage was done (based on the oil analysis or their own investigation).
Then you can present your claim to the Cadillac/Olds dealer, and they'll turn it
over to their insurance company.

RAY: If they're reasonable people, and there's no clear damage now, I'd propose
a compromise. Make a deal by which the insurance company puts $5,000 in escrow
and if any lubricated portion of your engine causes the engine to fail before
100,000 miles, that money goes toward buying you a new engine. If you get to
100,000 miles without a major problem, they get to keep the money. Given the
uncertainty about how much damage was really done, that's a very fair and
logical way to do it, Robin.

TOM: Unfortunately, not all insurance companies are fair and logical, so you may
have no choice but to sue them right now for a replacement engine. But try
reason first, Robin. Good luck.

* * *

Are you inadvertently wrecking your poor car? Find out by reading Tom and Ray's
pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send
$3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, PO Box
5541, Riverton, NJ 08077-5541.

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