Please advise on auto shop guarantee problem
December 27, 2017 10:09 AM   Subscribe

A well-regarded auto shop installed a new head gasket on our Subaru. Less than a month later, it failed, causing radiator fluid to seep in and wreck the engine. The shop offered us free labor but said we should pay for the parts. How do we address this?

We'd like the full repair including parts to be done, free of charge. There was a guarantee on the initial work. The auto shop has a good reputation so we are surprised that they want us to pay for the parts, which will total over $2700.

Thanks, everyone, for any advice!
posted by ragtimepiano to Work & Money (7 answers total)
What was the stated guarantee on the initial work? It all hinges on that and how well it is enforceable.
posted by Brockles at 10:17 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you believe that it failed because the part was faulty or because it was installed incorrectly? If the latter, they should cover everything; if the former, you should take it up with the parts supplier. (But I imagine this is probably impossible to determine.)
posted by metasarah at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2017

Subarus are known for having head gasket failure issues and if the shop is not a Subaru specialist, they may have used aftermarket headgaskets which can be problematic. (More so than the originals.) The mechanics may have also failed to check the block and heads to see if they are warped or true, failed to clean up the mating surfaces on the heads or block, or failed to torque down the head bolts correctly. I think you have a pretty solid case here to make the argument that they should be picking up more of this repair, especially given that the failure happened so shortly after the original repair and that there's a logical chain of failure events stemming from the head gasket job being done wrong (whether what was wrong about it was the replacement parts they supplied OR how they performed the job) the first time . The other question you have to ask yourself is "do I want the shop which screwed up this job in charge of making it right?" Are they proposing to install a complete remanufactured long block from a quality rebuilder?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 10:46 AM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

There was a guarantee on the initial work. Ask for a copy of the guarantee.
posted by theora55 at 10:49 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My understanding of the Subi 2.5 boxer engine, is that it's the factory head gasket that is the weak link. For rebuilds, it's recommended to use an aftermarket gasket.

You can source your own parts online at much less than what the shop is going to charge you. If you can get them to accept those parts.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:06 AM on December 27, 2017

Using an _unspecified_ brand of aftermarket headgaskets on most Subarus is risky. There are a couple of premium aftermarket brands (such as Cometic) which are arguably better than OEM (original Subaru) but there are many brands which are absolute disasters. The OEM gaskets often make it to the 10yr/100K mile mark at least. Replacing them with the same type once should get you to the end of the useful life of the vehicle.

I would also suggest not supplying your own parts for a major job like this. If the mechanic is supplying the parts, they are responsible for the outcome of the job, period. If you supply your own parts, if things go wrong, you've created a scenario where the mechanic can dodge responsibility by pointing the finger at the "defective parts" you supplied. Try to take matters up with your parts supplier, and they can claim that the mechanic "installed them incorrectly."

Read a few of the many headgasket failure threads on the Ultimate Subaru Message board for confirmation.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 11:46 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need to read the guarantee on your original work order. Typically a shop will guarantee their work for 90 days, which should cover you. But also typically, they only guarantee the original work, which was replacing a head gasket. It now sounds like there is damage beyond the original work, which may not strictly fall under their guarantee.

If that is the case, then you are in the more gray area of proving that they are responsible for the more extensive damage because of faulty repair work. This is a little more difficult to prove and might require legal intervention, which could be expensive.

A reputable shop would just own up to the damage and fix it. By offering to cover the labor but not the parts, they are simply negotiating hoping you will meet them half way. Note that they are probably charging a markup on the parts to partially cover their labor costs. You should negotiate harder if you believe they are responsible for the new damage. At the very least you should insist on paying wholesale cost on parts, not the shop markup.
posted by JackFlash at 3:35 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

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