Blowing my head gasket...
March 5, 2012 12:22 PM   Subscribe

My RAV4 is two months out of warranty, and suddenly needs $5k worth of work. What should I do in this scenario?

Some further details:

I am the first and only owner of this vehicle (3.5L v6), it has 72,000km on it and the extended warranty expired in December.

I took it in to the dealer for a routine oil change/inspection and the tech called me and told me it needs a new head gasket (leaking coolant) and that the rear axle seals are leaking. I am not surprised by the axle seals as this vehicle has had them done twice already and I suspect it will be a chronic issue with the vehicle. The head gasket floored me though.

The tech suggested that the head gasket is 26 hours of labour on it's own 'since it's a V6' and that I was looking at over $4k worth of work plus taxes.

I am taking this to an independent mechanic that a friend recommended tomorrow to confirm these findings and get an alternative quote, but I as suspicious about the timing with the recent expiry of the warranty, coupled with some flyers I've received in the last six months from the dealership about wanting me to trade in my RAV. I've opened a customer care case with Toyota through the dealership in order to try and get them to cover this under the extended warranty given the low mileage as well.

If they confirm that the head gasket is shot and warranty is refused, is it worth it to invest this much in this vehicle? Black book value is about $13k-$15k on trade in, retail seems to be $20k to $23k in the city right now.

Is there anything else I should do? This is not a financial hit that will be easy to absorb at the moment.
posted by WinnipegDragon to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When I had a $2000 repair on a Honda that was barely four years old, I wrote Honda of America a sincere letter stating that I expected more from a Honda, that I'd owned several Hondas in a row, and that I wanted them to cover the repair. They did.

(Now it's five years later and there's just been a class action lawsuit for the same repair issue.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:33 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't matter what black book or retail is on a working RAV4 because you don't have one. Black book on a RAV4 that needs a $5000 repair is going to be around $5000 less than black book on a working one.

The dealer flyers are automatic, they just send those to everyone that's bought one, because they'd rather put used cars on the lot by selling more cars than by buying them at auction.

So do everything you can to get Toyota to cover it (writing a letter is a good approach), but if they don't, you presumably need a car, and unless you particularly don't want this one anymore, fixing it is going to leave you better off than selling it needing a lot of work and then buying another (unknown-condition) car. Cars are terrible investments -- don't think of them in those terms, just think about what that $5000 could get you other than a fixed RAV4. (Not much, I imagine.)

Re the axle seals: since they were fixed under warranty already, I'd be surprised if fixing them again isn't -- typically warranties only require that the first claim on an issue be within the warranty period.
posted by mendel at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2012

You should NOT be having to think about head gaskets at ~45K miles. There's no way this is 26 hours of labor, even if they're sending the machine work out to be done elsewhere (pretty common).

I'd run to an independent as fast as possible. There's a lot that's fishy about this.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 1:29 PM on March 5, 2012

Best answer: I had the exact same thing happen with a Subaru. Same mileage and two weeks outside warranty. Subaru covered it after I called and asked them too.
posted by fshgrl at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2012

i had the radio controller board go out for the third time on my acura last year. i was the second owner (my boyfriend was the first, and bought the car since we'd been together, so i knew what it had been through). the first time it went out, they replaced it. the second time it went out, it was related to an accident that he had been in, and the insurance got the board resoldered at an "automobile electronics expert". and it failed a third time (the whole display would go dead and not come back).

i spent some time on the independent acura boards, and found many instances of the same problem, and someone had posted a case number and a bulletin number. so i called acura. explained what was up, and since the second board had technically not been their issue (although it was, it had been touched by a third party, so), they agreed to replace the board for me and split the cost with me 50/50, which was completely acceptable to me.

so i would definitely call toyota and explain what's going on. be prepared to show paperwork on your previous repairs (i had to fax stuff in - the acura customer service people cannot give their e-mail addresses out). you don't ask, you don't get, and for $4K, i'd totally ask.
posted by koroshiya at 1:46 PM on March 5, 2012

Take it to a different dealer and see what they say. 26 hours is ridiculous.
posted by gjc at 4:39 PM on March 5, 2012

Response by poster: Take it to a different dealer and see what they say. 26 hours is ridiculous.

Since it's a flat-rate shop, I don't think the actual time spent matters.

Got the official quote: $4,095.31 for the head gasket and $496.53 for the rear axle seals.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 4:49 PM on March 5, 2012

Talk to the service manager and negotiate it down. We've had similar things happen on two of our cars. Both times the service manager was able to negotiate with the car company and cut the cost in half. (One car was a Chyrsler and the other one was a Honda)

Make your expectations clear, too. I basically said that there was no way that I expected to be dealing with these costly repairs on a newer car, and that I thought that the car company should split it with us. That's all it took -- one phone call in both cases. In both cases, the service manager called on our behalf. I think that perhaps that made it simpler -- he had more "pull" with the company vs. a random customer.
posted by Ostara at 5:24 PM on March 5, 2012

Just wanted to add that when I had my Honda problem I posted about over at the Click & Clack boards. That's where I got the advice to write to Honda; you may want to see what they have to say to you over there.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:03 PM on March 5, 2012

It would be extremely unusual to see a head gasket fail at 45k miles unless the engine had been badly abused (overheated mainly). I've known one person who had early head gasket failure on a recently-out-of-warranty Mini, and had it covered by pressing her complaint hard with the dealer. It should be pretty clear to any competent mechanic that this would have to be due to a defect either of the old gasket or its installation. A second opinion would be good, but I suspect that if they were going to lie to you about work needing to be done, major head-off engine repair would not be the thing they would go with.

Don't neglect this issue either. If the diagnosis is confirmed, you can't just drive it around for awhile and fix it later. You risk cracking the head, and then you'll really have a repair bill on your hands.

I have a history of giving people this same advice on MetaFilter threads like this: your car that is in need of major repairs is worth more to you and everyone else in repaired condition than not. There is literally no repair that I wouldn't do to a car in favor of just getting a new one. It's almost always cheaper in the long run to fix things (and I've done major engine overhaul and replacement). If you just plain want a new car, go for it, but economically repair is usually the better bet. In your case, I would be pushing Toyota to pick up the tab. Good luck.
posted by autojack at 9:58 PM on March 5, 2012

My family did this twice on an Audi that encountered two separate mechanical failures in the 2 months after the last portion of its (surprisingly long) warranty expired.

The service manager had to get permission from the corporate higher-ups, but the company eventually covered both repairs; I think we had to pay for a small portion of the labor charges on one of them, but it was far less than what the total bill would have been.

I used to have a Toyota; if the dealer gives you a hard time about this, walk out, and call up a different dealer (or write to Toyota directly). I found that the quality of their dealerships was incredibly variable. A few of them were quite nice, and most of the others were complete scumbags.
posted by schmod at 6:07 AM on March 6, 2012

My wife's minivan went into the dealer for recall service and they informed her that there was a power steering problem that they could fix today without elaborating what it was. So we're in the same situation you are and will ask our independent mechanic about it next visit.

The Toyota dealer garage in my area are notorious swindlers who up-sell everybody they can into extra work whether they need it or not. Also I have heard stories of Toyota brake and turn signal bulbs burning out where the owners take the car into the dealer for a replacement. "Well, Ma'am. A burned out bulb could be an indicator of something more serious. We'll need to run a diagnostic to determine what the problem is. $300.00 for that will give you the piece of mind that it won't lead to bigger problems down the road."

Seconding the second opinion.
posted by No Shmoobles at 8:10 AM on March 6, 2012

Response by poster: Confirmed with the second shop, the gasket is leaking. However, he says it's not a 'leak' so much as some seeping and corrosion. It's not an immediate concern but it definitely existed well before my last oil change and the expiration of the warranty.

Time to talk to the service manager at Toyota.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2012

Response by poster: Followup!

After two and a half weeks, a few dozen calls to Toyota and my dealership, the Head Gasket is being replaced at no charge. Axle seals are still being evaluated, but the independent mechanic said they were fine, so I'm not too concerned about that.

Thanks for the help AskMe.

Squeaky wheel <- Grease
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:53 AM on March 22, 2012

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