Cars are a foreign language to me.
May 15, 2011 10:24 AM   Subscribe

What is the likelihood that my car overheating yesterday is completely unrelated to the quick lube-type service I got the day before yesterday?

I have a 2001 Chevy Cavalier with 110k on it and terrible luck with cars. I bought this one in February and have put about 3,000 miles on it since then. It's been damn near perfect. Runs like a champ, pretty decent on gas and all. I took it to a quick lube type place on Friday, where they check various fluids and whatnot. Then my car overheated on Saturday, something it has never done before. What are the odds that the service somehow messed up my cooling system?

- The car has never had temperature problems since I've had it. It always runs pretty much exactly at the middle, except in the winter before it warmed up
- At the oil change, the guy told me he took some of the coolant out to test and it failed (whatever that means?), and it needed to be flushed/changed. I told him if this was service that could wait a month or so (budget), and he said absolutely.
- I drove about 30 miles since the oil change, before it overheated
- The car didn't lock up or sputter. I pulled over as soon as the gauge went up, and turned it off as it was reaching the red area.

The biggest reason I think it has something to do with the oil change is because I took my car to the same location (it was a different brand and had different owners/staff at the time) and the dumbshit who did my oil change forgot to replace my radiator cap and the engine cooked later that day. Color me stupid for going back to a garage that destroyed my other car, but I figured with new owners/staff and the positive feedback I'd heard about the new management, I'd give it a whirl. Lesson learned?

Anyway, what do auto-savvy type people think? Was I just on the road to being screwed and it's just coincidence? Or something else?
posted by katybird to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Kind of obvious, but: Is your radiator cap on? Is there water in the radiator?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:34 AM on May 15, 2011

Even if it was just a coincidence, the fact that they didn't notice it and/or tell you "oh, here's a problem you might want to fix" doesn't help their case.
posted by Melismata at 10:37 AM on May 15, 2011

You checked your oil, I'm sure? Because once after an oil change I discovered the bastards had not actually put any oil back in. And I have heard the same tale from others.
posted by Glinn at 10:46 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The radiator cap is there, and there's stuff in it. It is a little below the fill line though. I don't know how much they take out to do the testing, but shouldn't they replace what they take out?
posted by katybird at 10:54 AM on May 15, 2011

For this very reason, we go to a local (non-chain) mechanic for this, pay a bit more, and the Mr. watches everything personally. We took vehicle once to a large chain and they screwed vehicle so bad it took 6 months and $1,200 to bring it back to where it had been previously. Chain denied having done anything, even though problem started on the way home. GRRR.

No, not coincidence IMO.
posted by batikrose at 10:55 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I didn't check my oil...but I didn't hear any abnormal noises or anything before the overheating. Oh, Gods, I hadn't even thought of that possibility.
posted by katybird at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2011

Does the car start now? if the engine is cool and there is oil in the engine starting it up now will not likely do any additional harm. Does the fan on the radiator come one? the easy was to make sure they didn't screw that up (by knocking loose a electrical connection most likely) is to start it and turn on the air conditioner and see if the fans come on as the temperature gauge reaches normal temperature. The ac should make both fans come on even if the engine temp does't make them.
posted by bartonlong at 11:11 AM on May 15, 2011

It's entirely possible that this is coincidence. We can't tell from here. At this point, it hardly matters. Have the car diagnosed so you know exactly why it overheated, and then explore the possibility that whatever's broke was broken by the oil change place.
posted by jon1270 at 11:30 AM on May 15, 2011

110k miles is about the right time to start having major issues with a Chevy. It could be that one of the cooling hoses failed - was there a lot of steam or white smoke coming out of the engine bay when you stopped the car?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:38 AM on May 15, 2011

What is the likelihood that my car overheating yesterday is completely unrelated to the quick lube-type service I got the day before yesterday?

Nonzero. jon1270 has good advice.
posted by box at 11:52 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

No visible steam or smoke when I cut it off. I wasn't running the AC (I don't usually) but I will mention that the AC only works on the 3rd and 4th highest settings. The lower two don't seem to activate the fan (though you can feel cold air kind of hanging out, if that makes sense).

I'm still waiting on more information from the garage I had it towed to. Anxiously.
posted by katybird at 12:05 PM on May 15, 2011

I also have a 2001 Chevy Cavalier and was at around the same mileage a year ago when I took it to a quick lube service place and the same thing happened. Weird.

I took the car back to the quick lube place that worked on it and it turned out that the thermostat was broken. They said that they couldn't be sure one way or another if they'd broken it while checking the coolant, but (partially thanks to some strong words from my father) they fixed it at no charge that night.

Of course, I am no mechanic and YMMV. Good luck!
posted by cheerwine at 1:46 PM on May 15, 2011

I just want to add that if you are going to own a car, you really should at least know the basics of how it works. Buy 'Auto Repair for Dummies' and read it. You don't have to ever actually do any work yourself if you don't want, but at least you'll have a clue when dealing with mechanics. That alone makes the investment in time well worth it.

Also 2nding to never again use a quick lube place. Develop a relationship with a competent mechanic by being a regular customer.
posted by COD at 2:16 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

i think it's pretty doubtful if your radiator cap was put on correctly. when my thermostat went in my car a couple of years ago, it just went one day without warning. at 110k miles anything can happen. might even be the original thermostat.
posted by lester at 2:32 PM on May 15, 2011

...I figured with new owners/staff and the positive feedback I'd heard about the new management, I'd give it a whirl.

No offense to minimum-wage flunkies (I was once one myself) but they often have little to no vested interest in not ultimately screwing the pooch on such matters. Normally, the worst that will happen to them when they screw up -- even if the screw-up involves the utter annihilation of your engine -- is that they'll be fired.

The cost to you is huge, but the cost to the employee is somewhat minimal (since many other high turnover jobs are available), and the employer will almost always turn a profit since they can blame their now-fired nincompoop on all your woes.

On that note, please check the oil and get back to us.
posted by matlock expressway at 2:51 PM on May 15, 2011

As an auto insurance adjuster I bought a lot of cars when my insureds (various quick oil change places) left out dipsticks, drainbolts, oil filters, oil (as in, drained it but forgot to replace it), and, my personal favorite, dropped the car off the lift. Any screw-up your imagination can conceive, somebody can make it a reality.

Call the oil change place and ask for their insurance policy number and claims center phone number. It might be something and it might be nothing, but the insurer can help you get to the bottom of it.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:47 PM on May 15, 2011

Did they change any belts? If not, and if there's enough coolant in your radiator now and the cap is on the radiator properly, I'd say it is pretty unlikely that it had anything to do with the oil change guys.

Radiators tend to sludge up over time. Hence this product. It could also be your thermostat, the water pump or a belt (which is slipping and failing to turn the water pump).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2011

Check the air filter compartment for left over cleaning rags.

Seriously. The quickie-lube in my neighborhood vacuumed-out a mouse nest and associated nut shells from the air filter compartment of my '92 Accord, and left a rag in there.

My car was over-heating (and over-revving[?]) so badly I had to call AAA to tow it to my mechanic.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:29 PM on May 15, 2011

I wasn't running the AC (I don't usually) but I will mention that the AC only works on the 3rd and 4th highest settings

I didn't mean the cabin fan (the one that pushes air out of the vents in the dash) but the fan(s) on the radiator. They come on when the car is getting hot or you turn on the AC (if it is working right).

The dead spots on your cabin fan control is a separate issue.

I too recommend staying away from quick lube places. You will pay a little more for a either the dealer or a nearby private mechanic. You can get ripped off from any place though.

I would also recommend getting a car repair for dummies or at least reading an or wikipedia on whatever car system you are getting worked on to at least avoid the most egregious rip offs. Quick lube places don't typically rip you off (in that they actually perform the work you are paying for) but they often perform unnecessary work and/or incompetent.

and finally a cavalier with 110k thousand miles on it can be a ticking time bomb anyway. This was not chevy's finest hour.
posted by bartonlong at 9:17 PM on May 15, 2011

Final update: it ended up being the thermostat, which I don't think was reasonably the quick. I got that fixed and will be returning in a couple of paychecks for a radiator hose replacement, which was on the way out according to the mechanic.

I will be getting my service from my friendly neighborhood mechanic from now on, who is much closer anyway - I had no idea he was there!
posted by katybird at 7:38 PM on May 16, 2011

I got that fixed and will be returning in a couple of paychecks for a radiator hose replacement, which was on the way out according to the mechanic.

Get that radiator hose fixed as soon as you can. It shouldn't be all that expensive to fix now - possibly less than the thermostat. As it fails, overheating will become more likely, and that can damage your engine.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:10 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen to b1tr0t. About 20 years ago I totaled the engine on a lovely Mazda 626 (back when the 626 was a fun little sports coupe) by delaying the repair of a radiator hose. I still feel sorry for that every time I pass the spot on Interstate 77 where the engine seized and the car coasted its final couple hundred yards before the wrecker hauled it away.

Radiator hoses are both cheap and easy to replace. Don't put it off.
posted by jon1270 at 10:25 AM on May 17, 2011

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