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LegalGems
LegalGems, Lawyer
Category: Consumer Protection Law
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Experience:  Research Attorney; Private Practice; Attorney Mentor; Mediator
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Our 2001 PT Cruiser stopped running and the check engine light

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Our 2001 PT Cruiser stopped running and the check engine light came on. I checked the Chrysler trouble code (P0304) and then checked (via my iphone) the code online. It identified a few potential issues to include loss of compression, bad ignition coil, spark plug, etc., so I had it towed to our local Pepboys (auto service). They scoped it (electonically) and told me I had a bad valve gasket that needed replacing and a n ignition coil and tune up. We negotiated a cost of $750 to repair. Later they called me at home and said that the mechanic did the work , but were not aware of motor oil in the #4 cyclinder. Well the after the oil burnt off the cyclinder lost compression, which meant that I needed a new, used or rebuilt engine at my cost for the engine and their labor (i.e about $3,000). I said I can't afford that so I may just have to scrap it or sell it for parts. Then they said that I still need to pay them $650 (they deleted the cost of the electronic testing) for parts and labor; which really infuriates me that I should pay for a service that ends with the destruction of my vehicle's engine. They say it's not their fault. What can I do (my car, when running, is still in good condition and worth around $2,000). What can I do?

Ron W (XXXXX@XXXXXX.XXX)
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Consumer Protection Law
Expert:  LegalGems replied 11 months ago.

LegalGems :

Hi! LegalGems here. I have extensive consumer law experience and will use this to assist you with your issue today. I am sorry to hear of this. In situations such as this, the consumer needs to prove that the mechanic was negligent in his repairs, causing the subsequent damage to the engine; or alternatively to prove that a skilled mechanic would have noted the oil problem, and would have advised the consumer that the $650 repair would not fix the car because of the engine issue. The only way to prove this is by getting a mechanic (independent third party) to look at the car and write a statement to that effect. This requires the consumer to have possession of the car, and the mechanic at issue won't release the car until the amount owing is paid. (They can generally get a mechanic's lien for money owing due to work performed). So it puts the consumer in a catch 22. However, if the initial mechanic's negligence did in fact cause the damage, then generally the consumer comes out ahead, as the judge would presumably order the mechanic to pay for damages caused by the negligence. The consumer would still be liable for the initial amount owing, but the subsequent cost of repair (engine) would be the damages generally awarded. (Along with reasonably foreseeable expenses, which often include rental car expense while the repair is being done). You mentioned you only talked to the local rep - you may want to escalate it by talking to a division manager. If this fails, generally a demand letter is sent, along with copies of any supporting evidence. Should this fail to achieve the desired result, then the consumer can pursue the claim in court. Small claims cases are limited to $5,000. Here is a link to the relevant website:http://courts.mi.gov/Self-help/center/casetype/Pages/SmallClaims.aspx For a sample letter, please see: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0296-sample-consumer-complaint-letter The letter should be addressed to either the auto mechanic store manager, or to the person authorized to accept service as listed by the secretary of state (ideally both). Hopefully a favorable response will be forthcoming so as to avoid the hassle of small claims (although that is a rather simplified process compared to general civil court, so it should be considered as a viable option).

Customer:

One thing I didn't add due to the room allowed. The mechanic said that there was oil on the top of the valve cover, which may have seeped into the cyclinder when he was checking the compression., which appeared to be good at the time. So he was aware of the excess oil prior to giving me the estimate. Further, the manager made the decision to charge me $650 instead of the $760 estimate. He said that the mechanic didn't know , or wasn't aware of the oil in the cyclinder before starting and completing the job. The oil the cyclinder to maintain compression until it burnt off when the engine was running. Right now they have the car there and want me to pay $650 and remove it.

LegalGems :

Thanks for the follow up. Yes, due to the laws that allow a mechanic to get a lien for work performed, they would be able to require you to pay the money for work performed. However, all of that additional information should be brought to the attention of the third party independent mechanic, so the mechanic can make his assessment based on that. It should also be addressed to the judge. If the mechanic was aware of the oil, then it would appear to be negligent for him to not disclose it, resulting in the need for a new engine. His behavior/action will be judged based on what a "reasonable" mechanic exercise due diligence would have done. It's similar to a dentist putting a filling on a tooth that definitely needs a root canal- the filling was extraneous and did not solve the underlying problem - in fact exacerbated it because the dentist didn't inform of the root canal. "But for" the dentists representation that the patient needed a filling, patient would not have paid $100 to have filling placed on rotten tooth. But the patient justifiably relied on the doctor's expertise, and it was reasonably foreseeable that the patient would do so, based on the doctor's representatinos.

Customer:

One last thing I just thought of. The car did make a "ticking" sound (not very loud), but I suggested to my daughter-in-law (I let her use the car to take her autistic son to school) to check the oil when the car was cool, in order to get an accurate reading. She never got the chance because the car stopped running shortly after she left our house. when the car stopped running she called me and I went there there and added about 1/2 quart of oil to see if it needed more oil, but it stayed at the maximum level, so I decided to call Pepboys - I informed the Service Rep about this when I dropped it off, so they were aware of it. He said that it wouldn't or shouldn't make any difference, because they had to put it on he scope to identify any electrical issues. But it turned out, via he mechanic, not to be an electrical issue or a compression issue. It was deemed to be a valve seal/gasket issue, with excess oil on the valve cover, which also required that new plugs, wires and ignition coil (i.e., a tune-up) be installed because they we soaked with oil.

Customer:

One thing of note is that they had me sign the work order but would not give me a copy (hat's what the Service Rep told me).

LegalGems :

So most of the damage was due to the oil? If it soaked those component parts after the rep got his hands on the car, after you advised him of this, this should be addressed in the letter/complaint, because that would add to the damages resulting from the mechanic's negligence. Also make sure the independent mechanic knows this - as an experienced mechanic they should be able to give you a cause and effect idea - i.e. what action/defect caused what damages. This will assist you in making a proper claim for damages.

Customer:

Should I sent them a complaint letter (should I cite an amount that they may owe me for my loss) before or after making $650 payment; and, pursue small claims court if we can't negotiate a settlement?

LegalGems :

If you send the complaint letter before hand, that would hopefully result in you not having to pay the $650. But the thing is, they can refuse, in which case to get your car back you would generally have to pay the $650. And you need the car to have a mechanic inspect it to further bolster your case. However, once you elevate this to a demand letter, it is very possible that they will work with you to resolve the issue so that you need not hire a third party mechanic.

Customer:

I'll give it a try.

Customer:

Thanks

LegalGems :

http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ar0097_16020_7.pdf (Hmm, the site seems to be having issues - I can't link you to this, but you can copy and paste it in your url- it contains rules re: written estimates, signage, etc). My prior post didn't go through so hopefully this one does- this sometimes happens during periods of high use.

LegalGems, Lawyer
Satisfied Customers: 3299
Experience: Research Attorney; Private Practice; Attorney Mentor; Mediator
LegalGems and 4 other Consumer Protection Law Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  LegalGems replied 11 months ago.
I wanted to be sure and thank you for using JA/Pearl.

I hope you found the information I provided useful. Hopefully you can get your cruiser up an running soon, without having to go to court over this.

If you would like to request me for your future legal inquires, please put TO LEGAL GEMS in front of the question, and I will do my best!
Take care.

Please be sure and complete the customer satisfaction survey the site will be sending you so that I can continue to provide affordable information to our customers. Thank you!

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