In November, 2010, my 2003 Mazda Protege with with 130,000 miles began burning oil and blowing blue smoke from the exhaust. I knew this was not a good sign, but I took it to Tires Plus in Madison, Wisconsin, were I live, to find out what the cost would be to repair it. They examined the engine and the store manager, Tim Campbell, told me the valve seals were bad. He said replacement of the valve seals would require removal of the head, and since the head was warped (this is very common), the head would have to be planed before reassembling it. He said the better option was to purchase a whole new head. He said the cost of the repair with the new head, including parts and labor, would be $2100.
Making that expensive a repair on a car with that many miles on it is a tough decision. A person has to choose between paying for the repair or junking the car and using the $2100 for a down payment on a newer car. But I really liked the car, so I told Mr. Campbell to go ahead with the repair.
A couple days later Mr. Campbell called to tell me that the repair was complete. After I retrieved my car from the shop and drove it around, I noticed it was still blowing blue smoke from the exhaust. I took the car back to Tires Plus and told Mr. Campbell. The mechanic who did the repair came out and told me that it would take a while to burn out all the oil that was already in the manifold and exhaust system, so I should just keep driving the car.
I checked the oil level after a few more days, and the level was low. So I filled it up with oil. The car kept blowing smoke and when I checked the oil level after another week it was three quarts low. So the engine was still clearly burning oil.
By this time it's December. I took the car back to Tires Plus and informed Mr. Campbell of the situation. They replaced a PVC valve and gave the car an engine treatment, which means they poured some special fluid in the oil. Mr. Campbell told me that should fix it and told me to drive the car a few more weeks to see if it stopped smoking and burning oil.
The problem persisted. Today, January 28, 2012, I dropped the car off at Tires Plus and informed Mr. Campbell that, after two months and $2100 out of my pocket, the car still had exactly the same problem it had when I originally brought it in. He said he'd have a mechanic take a look at it. Three hours later, a mechanic who identified himself as Josh called me and informed me that he had identified the problem. He said the piston rings were bad. He said he couldn't tell me how much the repair would cost until Monday, because he needed to call a parts supplier that wasn't open on weekends. But Josh gave me a ballpark estimate of 3 to 4 thousand dollars. I asked him if he was implying that I would have to pay for that repair. He said of course I would have to pay. I told him I had already paid $2100 to fix the problem of the engine burning oil. He said that money went to replace the head.
A long discussion ensued. To sum it up: I paid Tires Plus $2100 to fix a specific problem. They did not fix the problem, but, instead, fixed some other problem that, so far as I know, may not have even needed fixing. Then, two months later, they tell me, "Oh, by the way, we've now found the real problem. But you'll have to pay us 3 or 4 thousand more to fix that."
I am willing to give Tires Plus the benefit of the doubt. I do not suggest that they intentionally disregarded the real problem with my car while charging me two grand for fixing a problem I never asked to have fixed. But they did misdiagnose the problem when I originally brought the car in. Now, anyone can make a mistake. I'd be lying if I said I'd never made a mistake at work. But the question now is who must pay for their mistake. Obviously, I don't think that should be me.
I don't know if the head really needed replacement or not, and, at this point, there is no way to know for sure. But let's consider both scenarios with the assumption that Tires Plus had correctly diagnosed the piston ring problem from the begining. Senario 1: The head did not need replacement. In that case, the piston-ring job would have cost 3 or 4 thousand dollars. At that price point I would have junked the car and used my 3 or 4 thousand as a down payment on a newer car. I was on the fence over that choice at $2100. Scenario 2: The head really did require replacement. If that's true, my car needed $5000 worth of repairs. Now it's not even close; the car gets junked.
I have an appointment to speak with Mr. Campbell on Monday. The way I see it, Tires Plus must either refund my $2100, since they didn't fix the problem, or else they must fix the piston-ring problem with no further charge. I can tell you this much: Mr. Campbell better tell me something good on Monday, or we'll be discussing the matter with Consumer Protection and small claims court.