General Question

seekingwolf's avatar

Car people: Is this mechanic lying to me?

Asked by seekingwolf (9846 points ) October 3rd, 2013

I took my car in for a routine oil change. I’m not “past due” for an oil change either. No problems to report.

When the guys get done, I’m told that when they checked my oil, there was NO oil on the dipstick, NONE at all. They said I have an oil leak and that there was oil on the engine. They want me to pay for a $700 repair to replace a sealant.

I don’t understand it: I haven’t seen any fresh oil spots under my car (at least, ones that I have noticed), my oil light has NEVER gone off, and I haven’t been experiencing any engine knocks/loudness. They claimed my engine was running loudly…I don’t know what they are talking about. It didn’t sound loud to me.

I called my dealer (30 min away) and I’m going to have them take a look for free when I’m out that way, but what do you guys think?

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46 Answers

snowberry's avatar

This screams scam artists! But they’re not very artsy, are they? I’d be worried about my car now…Did you take it to a full service repair shop? If so, they’re trying to fleece you for sure.

jca's avatar

Did you explain to the mechanics what you told us? No oil, no noise, etc.?

seekingwolf's avatar

Yeah, it’s full service. You don’t think they drilled a hole in it or something? I’m paranoid like that. I worry about people screwing it up on purpose.

@jca

Yeah, I told the guy about the oil light, the noise, etc. He basically shrugged and was like “Well that’s what we found…”

What I found curious is that the guy said “Well maybe you’ll notice oil spots now because now you know that there is an issue with the sealant”.

OH GOD DID THEY RUIN MY CAR.

snowberry's avatar

You might want to get it to the dealer today, not later. If there is damage, it has to be documented now. Write down everything they told you, and keep all your paperwork. Show it to your dealer. Are you sure you can trust your dealer? No need to make things worse than they are.

jca's avatar

To me, what a good mechanic would do is take you to your car and show you the problem.

He’s telling you that you need a $700 repair and he does not have much to say about it?

I would run for the hills.

This is why I have my one mechanic (which is actually a Nissan dealer but I have a Honda) and I trust them and will travel to the ends of the earth for them because my trust in them is priceless.

jca's avatar

This is not your usual mechanic? What made you bring your car to these people?

seekingwolf's avatar

I trust the dealer. They are just very expensive and far away. I don’t go to them because of the expense and don’t want to travel 30 min to see them. I haven’t gone to them in a long time.

I don’t have time to go today. I have work and they are 30 min away.

I’ve been going to this mechanic for almost 2 years. Monroe Muffler actually. There is a Monroe Muffler near my parents’ place that they love and I liked a lot. I moved 30 min away and picked a local Monroe Muffler to go to based on reviews.

Looks like I’ll be stuck going to the Monroe Muffler near my parents’ again. So far away. :(

jca's avatar

It’s worth going farther to a mechanic if you trust them.

Those chain mechanics are only as good as the management of the individual shop.

I had a very bad experience about 15–20 years ago at a local chain muffler place (which did all kinds of mechanic work) and they tried to sell me some repairs which I then brought to my mechanic (car dealer) and was told the repairs were not necessary. I confronted the head guy at the muffler place and his explanations for why I was told I needed what they said I needed did not add up. They said I needed shocks (or was it struts?) and my dealer said my car was fine. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

pleiades's avatar

First off before the witch hunting on this mechanic you’re fearing begins, could you tell us what year your car and make model is?

seekingwolf's avatar

Yeah I’m probably gonna go to the Monroe Muffler near my parents’ because they have been going to them for years and trust them a lot. I used them myself before I moved out and I was happy.

You don’t think they sabotaged my car though, do you?

@pleiades

It’s a 2009 Honda Fit. I bought it new in 2009.

seekingwolf's avatar

I have 70,500 miles on it.

The car mechanic said that the “rear main sealant” needs to be replaced. Those were his exact words.

pleiades's avatar

It’s very possible to have oil leaks with out oil dripping, oil can also burn away. Sometimes there is also oil pan in the way to prevent oil leaks hitting the floor. Check all those first.

seekingwolf's avatar

I’m a dolt when it comes to cars. I asked them where the oil was in the car and they didn’t mention a pan but said that oil was on the engine and expressed surprise when I said that I haven’t seen oil slicks under my car. They said that I would be leaking down for sure.

seekingwolf's avatar

I guess what bothers me is that if they did the dipstick test and found NO oil on the stick at all, why wasn’t my oil and/or engine light on?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Rear main are a pressure area so you may have to be driving to get oil pushed out. Underside of car could be coated with oil.
Check the oil level yourself EVERY MORNING. Or you could be calling a tow truck tow you to the dealer for a new engine.

seekingwolf's avatar

Looks like I am going to check it myself everyday for a while. I don’t trust these people.

pleiades's avatar

I sort of agree with Tropical I tend to check the oil dipstick myself before oil changes at repair shops. Engine leaks aren’t anything to fear. It’s running without oil is to fear. Remember, the whole car system is basically a huge power pump system. That’s all it is pushing pressures through here and there to get the wheels to move. Everything else is a luxury.

What most likely happened is your gasket sealant where the mechanic says it’s leaked is overheated and cracked up and oil has found it’s way through. Remember there is alot of pressure going to and from areas of the engine.

With that being said, ask the mechanic to show you the exact location of where the repair needs to be. Before going to your dealer, who wants to make even more money off you just to confirm what another mechanic already showed you. Also be sure the mechanic you went to already is ASE certified.

Sometimes their lingo is off with the general world. “No oil on the dipstick” to them could mean , “Dude this oil is so low there’s practically no oil inside”

They do over exaggerate but to actively reach in there and damage the car is just plain illegal and if you find any puncturing wounds from a tool, you can sue them out of business.

So again just ask him where exactly the wound is. Ask nicely and tell them you’re considering it but tell them you want to see it first. Then just follow them into the garage and go from there.

Also please please remember, this is their profession, their job title doesn’t include teaching you how it all works (though some are nice enough to do that) these guys don’t have degrees in communication they just fix the vehicle with tools.

jca's avatar

I still say a good mechanic would put her car up on the lift and show her where the problem is, i.e. “Look at the oil that is all over the engine” or “see how the gasket is loose?”

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m not sure, but I think maybe since the car is older you’re just burning more oil.

On the other hand, I don’t trust mechanics at all, ones that I don’t know anyway. Definately have the dealership check it for you.

When I bought my car brand new, they said keep oil in it at all times and it’ll run forever, and it’s been true thus far.

drhat77's avatar

If the dealer doesn’t find anything wrong with it, refill the oil, and check the dip stick every day for a week. if there is minimal change in a week, check it every week. If you see it dropping predictably, yes you have a leak, but it may be cheaper to just top off the oil between changes
I had a mechanic I trusted who I took my car when it made weird sounds when I turned it. Turned out i had a leak in the steering fluid. He told me he could take the engine apart for $1000, maybe find the leak, but probably not have it run right after he put it back together… OR, just do what I recommended above. I basically ended up topping off the steering fluid every month until I sold the car.

jca's avatar

@KNOWITALL: Hondas have a good reputation. 70,000 miles is not really “older” and not of a age where the car should be burning oil. I have a 2008 Civic, about 160k miles and it burns zero oil and runs great. Knock on wood.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@jca I have an 01 Corolla I bought in 2000 with less than 130k, burns oil a lot for the last two years I’d say. But I get ya!

jerv's avatar

I drive an ‘86 Corolla. Like the ‘85 and ‘87 I’ve owned before it, it burns about a quart every 500-ish miles. I never expect a full dipstick.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@jerv My mechanic said to use a 5w quart with each oil change and it’ll prevent you getting a low-oil burn scar or blowing a rod. :)

CWOTUS's avatar

Take a breath and try to remain calm.

Do you regularly check your oil? If you don’t, then you should start. (I’m one to talk. My oil level hasn’t fluctuated in my 2004 Camry in six years, so I don’t check it any more, but I should anyway.) If you know the variations in levels on the dipstick, between “warm” and “cool”, for example, and between “full to the mark right after an oil change” and “down a quart”, then you can’t be flim-flammed. So get used to checking the dipstick; that’s what it’s for.

For normal readings, it’s best to get into the habit of looking at the dipstick AFTER each fillup with fuel. That gives the engine a few minutes to cool and for all of the warm oil to drain into the pan after your drive to the filling station. It’s best to check when the car is cold and level on your driveway before you start each morning, but that’s not always practical. When you’re stopped for fuel anyway, then checking the oil is only a two-minute addition of time. Not a major handicap.

Did they show you the oil on the engine that they were concerned about? An “oil leak”, as you expect, would show up under the parked car as it rests. “Leaking seals” are another matter. That’s where the hot oil is forced out of the engine – potentially at any point where a seam exists and is currently sealed with a gasket or other seal of some sort – and can go up, down or sideways. This will be noticeable on upper engine surfaces. A well-maintained engine should not be excessively oily. There will be some oil and some films of road dust, mud spatter (maybe) and other grime, but not a heavy, greasy-looking and generalized oil accumulation all over.

Don’t rely on “check engine” lights entirely. If that’s all you do, you’ll learn the reason why those are called “idiot lights”.

jerv's avatar

@KNOWITALL Older Corollas cannot even use 10w30 at temperatures over 50F. They take the thick stuff; I use 20w50.

@CWOTUS To add on, the oil light is a pressure sensor, not a level sensor. I’ve run 2 quarts low in a 3.7 quart system before without tripping the light, and I know it works. Low oil pressure is practically no oil at all; as you might imagine, that’s a bad thing, but so long as you don’t drive on it for too long, it’s not terrible.

The 4A-LC engine has a habit of seeping through the valve cover gasket; other engines have other quirks. For me, that means I lose oil without burning it and without leaving a puddle, but it makes for a messy block. And no, a new gasket never seals it, at least not on the three I’ve owned.

kritiper's avatar

Without starting the engine, turn the key to the “ENGINE RUN” position. This is just before the spring loaded position where the starter engages and all of the dash lights come on. (This is the test position for dash light operation.) Does the “ENGINE OIL” light come on?
Some oil leaks will only show while the engine is running and not while the car is motionless, although some oil drips should show if there is any leak.
You could have oil low enough to not show on the stick and there would/could still be enough oil for pressure and not have the light come on.
Something does sound a little fishy because they didn’t talk to you about the repair before doing the work. The dealer can give you some info, and you might also contact your local Better Business Bureau.

rojo's avatar

If you have the good fortune to find a good, honest mechanic it is a blessing. If you find one, stick with him (and don’t tell your friends) I was devastated when the one we had used for over a dozen years told us he was retiring. I was smart enough to get a reference from him for my next one as well.

seekingwolf's avatar

Yeah, my oil lights (as well as all of my dashboard lights) are working fine and come on in the test position.

I don’t personally test my oil but I get it changed VERY regularly and am good about that.
I always get 5 qt of oil.

I opened my hood and checked out my engine. Yeah, no “oil on the engine” like they said.

I’m just going to check it once a day and see if the level goes down.

snowberry's avatar

In addition, slide under your car on a piece of clean cardboard, and take a look for yourself. Take pictures too so you can remember what it looks like today.

seekingwolf's avatar

I can’t fit under my car. It’s very, very low (no more than a bit more than a foot off the ground) and I’m morbidly obese.

I did take pics of the inside of the hood. I know they didn’t lift up my car and look under it so the claim that my engine was “covered with oil” from the oil leak came from them looking from above. I see no evidence of an oil splash.

Would it be inherently obvious? Even if they cleaned up? I looked way down too, and everything. Nothing.

jerv's avatar

On my car, it’s blatant. On a newer car, it’ll look more like honey, but after 27 years, mine looks more like axle grease all over the block.

seekingwolf's avatar

I can’t see anything. I found maybe one spot on the upper engine but I touched it and I think it was water. That was it.

snowberry's avatar

Stick a piece of clean cardboard under the engine area, and replace it every time you move the car and return. My guess is that if there’s oil leaking, or anything leaking, you should see something sooner or later.

CWOTUS's avatar

They had to raise your car to drain the oil. (They may not have raised it off the ground, as a matter of fact. Most Jiffy Lube type places have you drive on a bridge-like structure – two channel iron tracks, generally – over a lube pit. So there were people under your car.)

snowberry's avatar

True, but a Jiffy Lube would have no financial incentive to mess with her car because they couldn’t do the heavy work that would be required to fix it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Just a quick search using the terms “monro muffler scam” turned up many complaints. Here is a sample.

The first time you go you will get great service at an excellent price. Like a crack dealer, they get you on the next one.

Wow. I just went to the Better Business Bureau for my area. There were many complaints. They must need a team of employees to respond to them all. Check it out for your area.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

When a rear main oil seal goes, it tends to vomit engine oil out the rear of the engine. When the engine is running the oil runs out, not drips out. This usually doesn’t get oil on the engine itself (the rear main seal is in the bottom rear of the engine, or bottom left on most Honda transverse engines) but all over the transmission. Typically these seals go all-at-once, rather than a bit at a time.

None of this means for sure that they are trying to rip you off. As others have said, check your engine oil before you start the car again. Take it to a trusted mechanic ASAP and have it checked out. Good luck!

jca's avatar

I remember seeing one of those Friday night news shows, like 20/20, a few years ago that discussed what @LuckyGuy said – the muffler chains’ management all were pressured by corporate and received bonuses based upon how much business they “pushed.”

Please post an update as to what you find out! Everyone is curious and I’m sure everyone wishes you luck!

JCA
The Update Lady

johnpowell's avatar

I didn’t read all of this. But why drill a hole? Say you fixed it and do nothing then collect a check.

50% of people probably fall for this scam.

seekingwolf's avatar

I found an A+ BBB mechanic in my local area. They have been in business for about 80 years…1 resolved complaint in 3 years. I can’t find any bad reviews either. I think I’m gonna check them out.

snowberry's avatar

Go to Car Talk. Even though the Tappet Brothers are retired, they have an active list of mechanics and their ratings in most areas. Here ya go…. http://www.cartalk.com/mechanics-files

SecondHandStoke's avatar

The leak may be occurring only when the car is running due to the increased oil pressure.

Have the tech put the car on a lift and show you the leak evidence so you can see for yourself.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Regarding Jiffy Lube:

NEVER take your car there. They have a one size fits all approach to oil changes.

Example: Honda seals it’s oil drain plug with a soft aluminum washer that deforms to create a seal that acts as a gasket. This is because a Honda oil drain hole is made by simply threading into the soft aluminum of the oil pan itself. This is easily overtightened and strips these threads. The only proper repair then is to replace the entire pan at considerable expense.

This aluminum washer is one use only and must be replaced with every oil change.

Honda oil filters are designed in regards to the individual engine’s operating pressure.

The factory washer and filter. Jiffy Lube uses neither of these. The chances that the JL hack has grossly overtightened both is great. Honda’s coolant is made specifically designed for Honda cars and is a miracle of engineering. Independent BMW race teams use Honda coolant for it’s bulletproof nature.

Also having the car on a lift is a chance for the tech to look over the car for problems unique to your manufacturer. Unless you have access to a lift and know what to look for you should take advantage of this opportunity.

Using factory fluids is some free, some cheap insurance.

Take your car to the dealer’s service department or an independent shop that knows your make well. This also gives you a chance to build a relationship and line of communication with the shop. With enough changes they may be willing to negotiate a price break when a bigger problem comes along.

Regarding @rexacoracofalipitorius comment: If the front main seal goes it will spray oil outside the motor under operation. Even if it is the rear main seal you don’t want engine oil all over your clutch.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

@SecondHandStoke From direct experience I can attest that a blown rear main can blow oil outside the engine / trans. From second-hand experience I can confirm your statement about the front main.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

@seekingwolf

A full foot’s ground clearance isn’t what I’d call low.

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