Car committed suicide
December 29, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

My friends 02 honda crv which she has taken immaculate care suddenly totaled itself. She has had every conceivable maintenance on time from the dealership and they say they cannot do anything to help. She either drops 5 grand on a new engine or buys a new car. Is there anything anyone can do?

The spark plug broke and destroyed several cylinders. It is totaled. She had a service on it two weeks ago. The dealership can't do anything for her. The car is not under warranty. It is simply some very bad luck. Does she have any recourse, legal or otherwise, in not having to pay for repairs or a new car by herself? This may be a lost cause but... Help us, hive mind!
posted by nurgle to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might be able to find a shade-tree mechanic who can do an engine transplant for a couple grand less. You get what you pay for, though -- a used engine, a mechanic who may not be intimately familiar with that make and model, etc. Often, car makers have powertrain warranties for this reason -- even with religious care, a freak manufacturing defect can explode an engine years after it has left the factory. Best bet may be to invest $5k in a new ride and see how much a junkyard will pay for a parts car.
posted by bprater at 12:18 PM on December 29, 2010

Yeah, even with the legendary longevity of hondas, I'd be reluctant to invest $5k in an 8 year old car. Seconding bprater's suggestion to sell it for parts and apply the $5k towards a new vehicle.
posted by Oktober at 12:25 PM on December 29, 2010

For most cars, the spark plug is 95% outside of the engine. I've never seen one break free on its own. I find it peculiar that it somehow broke free and rather than being blown away from the engine was sucked in. Consider having a second shop look at the engine. What kind of service was done recently? Were the plugs replaced? If so, is it possible that the threads were stripped and an appropriate rethread wasn't done out of laziness or cost? Someone needs to closely examine the head that the "loose" plug came from. Especially the threads around that plug. A story might be there.
posted by bprater at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

How the heck does a broken spark plug destroy several cylinders? That just doesn't make any sense at all to me. I would want a clearer explanation of what went wrong in case the recent service is related. I'd have it towed to a different shop for a second opinion.
posted by jon1270 at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

First thing to do is get a second opinion on the cost. Personally I wouldn't put a new engine in a 9 year old car. Used CR-V engines aren't unobtanium; here is someone selling used ones for $2K with a five year warranty. You can probably get one locally for less. Unless there is a gotcha in the CR-V's assembly it should take less than a day to replace the engine

That second opinion can also give you an idea whether the failure resulted from a mistake made during servicing. A complete engine failure from a broken spark plug doesn't sound right but I'm not a Honda engine expert.
posted by Mitheral at 12:29 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

To answer jon, a small fleck of a pebble can destroy a cylinder. A spark plug is huge compared to that and with the extraordinary forces inside an engine, destroying a couple cylinders with a free-moving plug isn't unreasonable. But like I mentioned, actually getting a plug into the cylinder itself seems like a feat unto itself. It is akin to getting a bowling ball to slide down the neck of a two-liter bottle without David Blaine present. If I were her, I'd want evidence of that rogue plug.
posted by bprater at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2010

Nthing: second opinion about everything about the engine: Is it blown at all? Did what they say happened, happen? It could just be a poorly worded explanation, or some dick mechanic making up crap. There are at least two reasons to lie:
- the dealership is in the business of selling new cars.
- they screwed something up 2 weeks ago.

Don't jump to that second conclusion; unfortunately. I didn't catch the mileage, but assuming an 8-9 year old vehicle has 100K on it - it's not unheard of for the engine to break down at that stage.

And if it is the worst and it simply needs a new engine, as has been said, go to an independent and get an estimate for a remanufactured engine, installed, before making up your mind. Most cities have good Honda shops around and about.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:45 PM on December 29, 2010

I understand how hard debris, such as a fragment of a spark plug, would carve up the walls of one cylinder (assuming it somehow got in there), but how's it going to get to other cylinders? I can't see the piston driving the debris sideways through a cylinder wall. Furthermore, a whole spark plug cannot pass through the hole it's screwed into. Conceivably some chunk of the plug could break off and fall in. The mechanic ought to be able to see very easily where the plug broke, since the remainder of it will still be stuck in the cap of its wire.
posted by jon1270 at 12:51 PM on December 29, 2010

Just wanted to say that when I had a major, unexpected problem with my 4-year-old Honda CR-V, someone advised me to go to the Car Talk forums (you know, Click and Clack, from NPR) and ask questions there. I got great advice -- which in my case involved me writing to Honda of America to tell them that I'd owned Hondas for years, did all my service at my dealer, and that I expected more out of my Honda. They ended up covering the entire cost of the repair. That may not happen in your case, but the Car Talk forum people were really knowledgeable and helpful. You may find it useful.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Someone needs to closely examine the head that the "loose" plug came from. Especially the threads around that plug. A story might be there.

I cannot agree with this more. She also needs to find out exactly what her last service visit entailed--sometimes it involves changing the spark plugs. Definitely get a second opinion, preferably not from the person you'd use to replace the engine.

In the event that it's just bad luck, check around for engine sources that are not the dealership. As people have pointed out above, you can probably get one for less than 5k.
posted by corey flood at 1:06 PM on December 29, 2010

Get a second opinion- though mileage and the where and how of her driving is probably means more than the age of the car, the spark plug thing sounds really weird to my (admittedly non-mechanically inclined) ears.

Data point: a couple years ago my mechanic put a new engine in my 1986 Honda Accord and so far I've gotten another 100,000 miles out of it. It cost $2,200.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:12 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a second data point: when I blew my engine in my Dodge Neon, the dealership wanted $6K to replace the engine. I found an independent mechanic who did the same work (plus some other stuff) for $3K.

Definitely get a second opinion about the whys and whatfors of the engine's demise as well as a second or third estimate on the cost of replacing the engine.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 1:35 PM on December 29, 2010

Nth the above, and add that if it is some crazy spark plug issue it may be caused by manufacturer defect in the plugs.

How the heck does a broken spark plug destroy several cylinders? That just doesn't make any sense at all to me.

Likely the piston with the debris would seize, damaging itself and that cylinder. That would probably bend or jam the camshaft and cause the other rapidly moving pistons to jam/bend/break.

I'd ignore the 'several' anyway. it's a 4 cylinder. 2 broken pistons is "half" of them.
posted by anti social order at 2:40 PM on December 29, 2010

The actual mechanism for the broken spark plug is likely the interior ceramic part of the plug broke off during installation and then fell out of the spark plug into the cylinder. At which point it would be shattered by the piston and score the cylinderwalls and head severally.

It could also just break during use. Sometimes machines break, it is no ones fault and life goes on. If she is happy with the car (and most crv owners are), there are no other problems, then get a used japanese engine (this particular engine is readily available) from hmotors. It will be some variant of the B20 engine and if they don't have it they can probably tell who does, or google can. If she is any sizeable city she can probably find some tuning shop that can do the swap (there is a whole industry around swapping honda engines-so just chaning out for the same should be easy).

The used japanese engines are usually in great shape and a real bargain. They are produced by some japanese tax laws that I don't really understand, but there seems to be an endless supply of them.

BTW the older crvs are smaller, lighter and get a lot better mileage than newer ones and are the one to get (as far as I am concerned). And hondas in general are fairly easy to work on. The cheapest route for her is to get the engine replaced and keep a car she likes.
posted by bartonlong at 3:01 PM on December 29, 2010

My boyfriend is a Honda mechanic at a dealership, he says:

The dealership should be doing something about this. A spark plug doesn't just break. If she recently had the spark plugs replaced by said dealership, then they should be on the hook whether it was mechanic negligence or a defective part. He said that if something like this happened where he worked, they would replace the engine with a used one. If you aren't confident in that dealership, get a second opinion.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:15 PM on December 29, 2010

This is just a guess since hasn't actually seen the car, but he also says that a likely scenario is that something else was sucked up into the intake, bounced around the combustion chamber and damaged the cylinders and then damaged the spark plug causing it to break. He says that that model and year have notorious problems with valves burning. If this is the case, then the dealership doesn't have to do anything. They are only on the hook if the spark plug broke from being a defective part or from mechanical negligence.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:21 PM on December 29, 2010

I so agree with MaryDellamorte. I'm not very up on Hondas, but the recent service and a "broken spark plug" . . . . something stinks here. Perchance did her recent service include replacing or gapping the plugs? All you have to do is crossthread the plug to create a disaster. Either way, this is mechanic error or a part failure that happens very rarely and usually secondarily to mechanic error.

I'd be making a lot of noise at that dealer, in the manager's office, certainly if the recent service involved the plugs at all.
posted by spitbull at 5:54 PM on December 29, 2010

A couple thoughts from a person who replaced an engine on an older Toyota Corolla:

1) I was able to get a very affordable, gently used engine for $1,500. That included installation. I don't know if Honda engines are quite as available used as Toyota engines, because Japan has some interesting laws which result in high turnover rates of relatively new cars to junkyards, but she might want to ask around to see if a used engine would be right for her.

2) I did not get nearly as much life out of my car as I had hoped subsequent to that repair. The problem was not the engine (which ran perfectly), but rather that the entire car was old. It continued to demand expensive repairs on a yearly basis and eventually I decided I couldn't afford that.

3) Given the hastle and costs involved in replacing the car, I believe I got my money's worth, despite the fact that I had to give up the car about 2 years later. It carried me through a time when I could not have afforded a replacement car, and would not have wanted to take on the additional debt. Yes, it was scary & but it was reasonably painless once the decision to do so had been made.

4) Another thing she might want to consider is truly how attached she is to THAT car, and whether she can reasonably expect to be able to replace it with something she will be as happy with. I truly regret throwing in the towel on my Toyota Corolla 60/40 faux-4-wheel-drive hatchback: It was a GREAT car, and the ideal size (even now, with more family) & Toyota no longer makes them. Had I taken that irreplaceability into account, knowing that I had already replaced the motor, I might have concluded that a complete overhaul & maintaining the car as a beloved AND reliable antique was worth it. Don't know if she's got that kind of relationship with the car, but it's something to think about.
posted by Ys at 6:19 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she does end up needing a new engine, check eBay first. There are a number of engine dealers that will ship to your local mechanic, or even you, for competitive rates.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:16 PM on December 29, 2010

A broken spark plug does not break several cylinders. It'd break one, maybe, but it's pretty unusual (to say the least) that a spark plug breaks in a way that will allow part of it to drop into the bore. Either way, it'd trash one cylinder.

Likely the piston with the debris would seize, damaging itself and that cylinder. That would probably bend or jam the camshaft and cause the other rapidly moving pistons to jam/bend/break.

Er, no. This doesn't make sense. There is no cause and effect that works in your example in an engine. Things in the cylinder will not 'jam the camshaft'. If a piston seizes, the engine stops. Pretty much instantly. There's very little means for it to further affect the rest of the engine from a single cylinder failure.

Besides, it'd be a serious bit of debris that stuck in the combustion chamber long enough to jam the piston - most likely if it is small enough to go through the spark plug hole (ie tiny) it'd get mashed up and spat out the exhaust, although possibly fatally scoring the piston wall in the process. Maybe seizing the engine, but it's unlikely.
posted by Brockles at 5:28 PM on December 30, 2010

Seconding BlahLaLa - contact Honda directly. My sister-in-law had a similar issue with her SUV at Thanksgiving and the manufacturer (can't remember which one at the moment) agreed to pay for half of the repairs.
posted by anthropoid at 5:28 PM on December 30, 2010

Just as an add to the others hitting on this aspect:

The spark plug broke and destroyed several cylinders. It is totaled.

Whether the explanation has been warped between dealership and here is hard to tell, but if that is roughly verbatim, then alarm bells are going off for me with that one. As mentioned, this is a bizarre explanation, although it is perfectly possible that the engine is totalled. Not to say that it isn't pooched, but the explanation rings very, very hollow to me.

She had a service on it two weeks ago.

This is making more clanging noises for me - the recent service and the sketchy explanation makes my inner cynic stand straight up, that's for sure. I'd want a MUCH more detailed explanation (feel free to add that here if you can) before I'd be prepared to accept that explanation for lack of culpability. Especially if spark plugs were part of the last service - check for that. If they were, then faulty parts or workmanship is almost certainly involved if the description is (in some bizarre way) true.

if they replaced something two weeks ago that shat and took the engine with it, then hell yes it's their fault (at least partially). If they don't agree, they can take it to the supplier of the spark plug for compensation, to my mind.
posted by Brockles at 5:38 PM on December 30, 2010

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