Garage bothces car repair - suggestions, please!

Some time ago my car overheated and so I brought it to the Skoda dealer for repairs. They replaced the coolant pump, found the rest of the engine in good conditions, and sent me on my way.

But the car continued leaking, and the coolant level was going down.

So I brought the car back. They kept it for a couple of days, told me nothing was wrong with it, and that coolant level was readjusting because there was a replaced section of the cooling system that was empty. The leak? Ahh, nothing, just condensation from the air conditioner, which I left on. Because, ah, the air con does not switch itself off when I switch off the car.

But the car continued leaking, and the coolant level was going down.

So I brought the car back again. Again they kept it for a couple of days, told me nothing was wrong with it, and gave it back to me. Repairs manager (always courteous during the whole process) says he even drove it around for hours and it was “as dry as a bone, sah!”.

But the car continued leaking, and the coolant level was going down.

So I brought the car back again. This time I even mopped the leak with some tissues, and it was pink. So it was not water, right? With me armed with my proof, they kept it for a couple of days. This time they found that the housing of the thermostat was deformed (caused by that overheating episode) and was the source of the leak. So they replaced it, charged me for it, found the rest of the engine in good conditions, and sent me on my way.

But the car continued leaking, and the coolant level was going down.

But now I’m getting really angry that this car is still leaking. It’s so visible that even someone as skilled as me can spot it - just leave the car overnight and look under it the following day! I don’t know if they’re not taking me seriously or what. Are they trying to replace things until the leak goes away? Not on my money, buddy, that’s called shotgun debugging in IT and it’s strongly advised against.

I’m leery to call them again and complain, I don’t want to start an argument. Well, what are my best options now? Sue? Complain? Ask for a refund? Go somewhere else? Well, certainly I’m not keen on being their customer again, but I feel I’ve been taken advantage of. On the other side, to err is human and it might be a series of human mistakes. A long one that costs me a lot of money, and happens to earn them a lot of money.

Sorry for venting for so long - I am quite pissed, this car is getting a drain on my finances. Suggestions will be appreciated!

Background information: I’m in the UK, the car is a Skoda Fabia 1.4 from 2001 with about 46000 miles. More or less. And it didn’t leak before the overheating problem.

Hie thee to Trading Standards. Also speak to the AA or RAC if you’re a member.

They replaced the pump, told you nothing was wrong twice, then replaced the thermostat, when you brought proof it was leaking. That doesn’t really strike me as a fraudulent shop as much as an incompetent shop, unless they’re charging you a bunch to say nothing is wrong.

My suggestion would be to find another place to get the car fixed. Also, spend a few minutes with the car to see exactly where it is leaking from. Get underneath, or look underneath and watch it drip, then trace it back as best as you can. You might get lucky and find the source yourself.

I don’t see that you have obviously paid for something you didn’t get, aside from a reasonable expectation of thoroughness. Given that, I doubt you would qualify for a refund, or that you have grounds for a suit.

It does seem clear that there’s a significant lack of competence at this garage. They’re probably doing the best they can, but between what looks like little desire to actually solve your problems and limited ability to even identify said problems, I’d say you be better served somewhere else. Do some research to satisfy yourself that it is a competent, honorable garage.

Comments on a few specifics here:

"They…told me nothing was wrong with it, and that coolant level was readjusting because there was a replaced section of the cooling system that was empty."
Good workmanship would have included making sure that the entire system was full before releasing the car.

"The leak? Ahh, nothing, just condensation from the air conditioner, which I left on."
That would be plain water, quite easy to differentiate from engine coolant.

"Because, ah, the air con does not switch itself off when I switch off the car."
??? Well, it doesn’t reset its switches to the “OFF” position, but it is certainly switched off when the ignition is switched off. Depending on what they meant by this remark, it is at best totally irrelevant, and at worst indicates a pathetic lack of understanding of how the A/C system works or a blatant lie.

There are ways to find cooling system leaks, notably a pressure tester to force the leakage to occur for observation. If there are multiple leaks, which is not uncommon, they will generally be found one at a time, with the largest leak showing up first. Once that leak is found and fixed, the test is repeated to see if there are other leaks, or to show that there are not. Any competent mechanic/garage knows this, will advise the customer of the possibility, and will not say the leakage is stopped until ALL detectable leaks have been found. It appears that this place is woefully inadequate in their knowledge and ability of how to fix cars.

Since you clearly have external leakage, there’s a good chance that finding and fixing the source of that will solve your problems. But be aware that one of the unfortunate possibilities is that the engine head gasket has been breached (this often is a result of overheating). Until head gasket leakage gets pretty bad (at which point the car is hardly driveable), it can be difficult to pinpoint it. A combustion leak test is often helpful in this case. And if this is the problem, it will be a major (and expensive) repair. You absolutely do not want a poorly skilled outfit diagnosing and fixing this type of problem.

[true story] My chiropractor had a Volvo that was bought from my dealership. During my visits she complained of her Volvo using coolant. She had brought it back and anther tech tested the system and found no fault. She complained that it was still using coolant. Now I knew this woman, and I knew how competent she is (very) I knew she was not prone to stretching the truth. I told her to bring it back and I would find the leak.
She brought it back. I pressure tested the system as soon as she got there. This was at 8:30AM. It held pressure just fine. :confused: WTF? If she told me it was using coolant, I had to believe her, I knew that A) she would not lie, and B) she knew the green stuff in the clear bottle with a pressure cap is coolant.
So I left the pressure tester on the car while I worked on other cars. At 2 PM, I hear water dripping from under her car. I go look and sure enough there was a leak that I fixed.
It turned out that where a rubber hose connected to the back of the water pump under the intake manifold leaked (where it is pretty much invisible BTW). It only leaked when the car was stone cold. Testing the system hot it was tight as a drum. This was due to the different expansion rates of the rubber hose and the aluminum water pump. [/true story]

If it were me, I would go back and talk to the manager. Convince him that you are not a drug addict, and you are not a habitual liar.
Once you have his agreement on these two points, continue.
Say something like: Look I have been back X times for this problem, and I still am adding coolant to the system. This is not the correct function for this system and we both know it. I have discussed this with another professional mechanic and he sees two possible problems that you may not have addressed. Here is what I would like you to do. I will bring my car in one afternoon, and I want you to put a radiator pressure tester on it and leave it there overnight, in case the system only leaks when the the system is cold. Further I would ask that you spread some clean paper under the engine compartment, so if in fact it leaks there will be evidence on the paper. Can you do that for me?

At this point you are being reasonable, and you will pretty much force them to do their job. If there is an external leak, this procedure should find it. If you don’t trust them, then go to the dealership when they open (not an hour later, but the moment they unlock the doors) and ask to go see the car yourself. if there is a leak you will see it on the paper. If there is no pressure tester on the car, you will know it.

However there is another possibility that I should address. The overheating may have damaged the engine and there is an internal leak between the coolant passages and the combustion chamber. AKA a blown head gasket. Since you are complaining of a external leak, this condition may or may not exist. It could also exist in addition to an external leak.

So when you have the above conversation with the manager, you might ask him if the shop has done a test for combustion gases in coolant to check for a blown head gasket. If the response is no, ask him why not. This is very simple test that is very common for a car that has overheated.

I’m subscribing to this thread in case you have any other questions.

ETA: What Gary T said. :slight_smile:

Right, lots of useful information here - thanks! I’ll track the local branch of the Trading Standards Office.

A blown head gasket was the very first thing I thought of, and the very first thing I asked to check the first time I brought the car in, and they claimed it was in good conditions.

And an observation: the reason why I was meditating about asking for a refund was the way they replaced a couple of components, charged me for it, but not solving the problem. I only have their word that the component replaced was actually the fault of the problem; I’m concerned someone just took a shortcut, and thought “Coolant leak? Certainly the water pump!”. In fact, if I wanted to be nasty, I’d also say that I only have their word that they didn’t go for the most expensive component first, and that the pump and thermostat were changed at all.

It’s pretty easy to verify that a water looks new, if one can see it. On some engine designs it’s readily visible, on others it’s necessary to remove some parts to look at it. Likewise, it’s usually easy to determine if a thermostat housing looks new.

While it’s possible they just threw parts on it, I would deem it unlikely. The odds of guessing correctly which of several candidates was actually leaking are slim. On most vehicles, the radiator and heater core would cost more than the parts you had replaced. More probable is that they did see leakage from the water pump and thermostat housing, but failed to pursue the matter to the point where all leaks were identified.

Of course, what you wanted was an end to the leakage, which they have failed to deliver. Even granting that the pump and thermostat were indeed leaking and were indeed replaced, your needs still haven’t been met. But if those parts were faulty and were replaced, the charges are justifiable in that context.

Sometimes it’s important to advise the customer of all needed repairs beforehand, rather than one at a time. For example, if someone knew he needed three things costing a total of 300, he might decide to sell the vehicle rather than repair any of them. But in the case of coolant leaks, it’s not always possible to identify all the needed repairs at the beginning, so it would be hard to make the case that they failed to properly inform you on those grounds.

It can’t hurt to have a talk with the garage that did the work, and see if they are willing and able to help you. But assuming that you can’t prove fraud (replacing a well-functioning part or charging for a part not replaced), probably the only compensation you might get would be tied into their doing further work. That would leave you in the position of deciding whether you trust them to do said work properly and to your satisfaction.

I’m going through this same problem with one of my cars right now, a pontiac sunfire. The only difference is that it only leaks after it’s been running more than 30 minutes and stops when the car is cool. It’s driving me nuts. The water pump has been changed and a new thermostat has been installed yet somewhere near the back of the engine there is a leak.

One missed leak point that people overlook is the freeze plugs in the engine. Have those checked out for leaks. Check the connecting hose from the radiator overflow to the overflow reservoir. The reservoir may have a crack and leak too.

There are news! After a chat with the University’s advisors, I composed a letter to the dealership where I asked for a copy of their complaints procedure, explained that I wanted to submit a complaint and listed the reasons. The advisors advised me to put in a complaint that my rights as established in the 1982 Trade Act were violated, and request that the car is repaired by a third party (to be agreed upon) on their cost, and for my previous bills to be refunded. I was firm but polite and indicated an intention to go through their proper channels to submit a formal complaint.

That apparently got them moving really really quickly. They called me back the same day they received my letter, apologized and asked for another chance to repair it. Questions about the refund were deftly avoided by saying that they wanted to sort out the problem first; I’m concerned this could leave me open to a later “Yep, all that stuff needed to be done, here’s another bill for the last intervention”.

Now you’ve gone this far, you have to hold firm I think. If you’ve laid out your terms (repair by a garage at their expense) then stick with it. Otherwise I suspect you’re right, and your problems are just beginning!

I’d be tempted to point out to them that seeing as they’ve had several chances to sort out the problem, and failed each time, if they were able to magically fix it this time they were either acting incompetently or unlawfully in the first place.

Yet more news! Hopefully this will be the end of the saga. Long story short, the suggestion of involving another garage must have really bothered them: when we met in person they asked to have another go at it, so that they could also evaluate the previous repairs in view of a refund. Sure, I said, but that’s going to be the last time, and please remember this is an act of trust.

Well, the lads in overalls must have got a whipping. They found out that the head gasket was bad - just the one thing I asked them to check the very first time! And they said it was ok! They also agreed to refund all previous expenses and not charge for that last repair. We parted shaking hands and smiling, which is a good thing!

Now I’m going to keep an eye on that car, and let’s hope the problem is really and actually sorted out. If it is, and there are no more leaks, then I’m thinking about a letter of thanks; they got my complaints when things went wrong, so I feel they deserve some acknowledgment when they make what appears to be a honest effort to remedy their errors. Mind, this doesn’t endear them to me, because a garage with competent staff wouldn’t have botched things so many times, and they wouldn’t have to repair my car for free, but I do appreciate the effort to redress things. Even if I know this is just a technique to retain customers! :slight_smile:

Agreed. And thanks for the update.

I see that as a Yank, I was not familiar with grievance policies in the U.K., so some of my remarks above did not fit the situation. My apologies for that.

Anyway, glad to hear of your progress here.

Oh, no, you made very useful remarks, that I added to my complaint letter, duly rephrased. It must have really made them understand I was being serious about all of this.

So, I should really thank you, not get your apologies! :slight_smile: