Legal Q: Part or work leads to catastrophic engine failure

Two-pronged issue:

If an engine is repaired and the repair is done wrong and this leads to catastrophic engine failure, can the mechanic/shop be held responsible for rebuilding said engine (or replacing the engine with a rebuilt engine) if the sloppy work lead to the engine failure? (Please don’t chime in and tell me that poor work can’t lead to engine failure or rebuild. It can).

If an engine is repaired and the repair is done properly, but a part was at fault, and this leads to catastrophic engine failure, can the manufacturer be held responsible for rebuilding or replacing the engine with a rebuilt engine if the sloppy work lead to the engine failure? (Please don’t chime in an tell me that poorly manufactured parts can’t lead to engine failure).

Finally, for both scenarios, assume that in neither case did the shop or the part manufacturer own up and rectify their error. If one were to go to court, and had overwhelming evidence to win the case and prove fault, does the law protect the shop or part manufacturer such that they are only responsible to warranty their work or part and not the engine damage?


My brother-in-law had taken his car (a Subaru Forester) to a Jiffy Lube to have them change the oil. At some point during that process, Jiffy Lube removed the drain plug for the transmission (though they were not doing transmission service on the vehicle). After leaving the Jiffy Lube, the car’s transmission seized up, and destroyed itself.

My brother-in-law was able, after some wrangling, to get the owner of that Jiffy Lube to pay for the cost of replacing the car’s transmission. This required him to apply some pressure through a lawyer, though the case never went to court (so I don’t know how a court would have found it).

Yes to both. Scenario #1 is the subject of many calls to Car Talk, and Tom and Ray frequently cite this as the difference between a good shop and a shady shop, then provide guidance on how to deal with a shady shop that won’t own up to it.

Scenario #2 would have the shop get reimbursed for their costs from the part supplier. That’s why it’s important to let the shop buy parts rather than bring them in yourself.

In either case, I think (IANA shop owner) that garages have insurance for this type of thing, so if an $8/hr oil change tech grenades the engine of a $180k Bentley they don’t have to pack it up.

In the first case, absolutely, although it can be tricky to prove something like that, especially when you get a lot of people who are completely out of line making these sorts of claims. One semi-common scenario is a shop botches a timing belt change on an interference engine (and of course the various Jiffy Lube horror stories). Since they’re only responsible for getting things back to how they were before, it’s much more common for a shop to put in a used engine of similar mileage than to rebuild yours or put in a new one.

As for the second question, I don’t believe the manufacturer would be legally obligated to do so beyond what’s stated in the warranty (some cursory warranty is often mandatory for parts sold to a customer, but I don’t know about rebuild parts sold to a shop). As a matter of practice, though, they probably would compensate the rebuilder for its time if the part could clearly be shown to be defective, especially if it were a big shop that does a lot of rebuilds. But, again, it gets tricky to prove a part is defective and/or was the cause of other damage and things can easily devolve into a he said-she said situation. Since the labor at-cost for rebuilding an engine generally isn’t enough to bother trying a shaky case in court over (especially at a big machine shop), more likely it’s just a matter of if the part manufacturer feels the shop deserves compensation or cares enough about the shop’s buisness to pay anyways.

So, I only deal with the shop that did the work? In other words, I send my letter of grievance to them?

Actually, it’s a marine engine and a certified marine surveyor is leaning towards the part(s) being defective (it’s actually about as damming as it could get), which led to cooling water being ingested into the engine.

The shop did all work and ordered/supplied all parts. There is a chance some gasket work was done wrong, but the gasket product was pretty foolproof to handle. The engine parts are in question.

Feel free to offer opinions on how to proceed if a big, well-known marina installed exhaust components that leaked cooling water and led to the destruction of a 8.2 liter marine engine. I have multiple marine surveys indicating this was the problem.

Well, I don’t really have any experience with marine stuff of the non-outboard variety, but if it works similar to the automotive world, you should definitely talk to the shop that sold you the part first. Assuming it was still covered by a parts and labor warranty, a good shop should make things right for you and then pursue the part supplier if they were indeed at fault. If it did come down to legal action and the shop wasn’t cooperating, you might have some direct claim against the manufacturer, but you should definitely have a lawyer by the time it gets to that point.

Realistically, what I would do is be sure you have extremely good documentation of both the problem and the cost of the damage inflicted by it. I’m not really familiar with what exactly a marine surveyor does, but it may make sense to have a non-involved marine mechanic look it over and confirm it in writing. If the shop doesn’t profusely and enthusiastically pledge to make it right for you, get a lawyer. Depending on how much you’d potentially be out for the engine, you might want to get one anyways. The shop may end up having to eat a lot of money over this (I’d say a boat payment, but I’m not sure if you can make that joke for marine mechanics) so they might very well require some legal prodding.

Obviously IANAL and all that, and how the local laws and the relevant warranties are written might mean everything works compeletely differently.

FTR, we’re talking a $10,000 US Dollar rebuild on a 502 c.i (8.2 liter) GM engine.

Engine builder and surveyor concur on cause.

Drafting letter and going to hold off on lawyer, and will involve NJ Consumer Affairs Office first if they push back. 3 grand is the small claims limit in NJ, so I would need a lawyer at some point to navigate the courts, should it come to that.

Get the lawyer NOW. Statements you make to agencies and potential litigants will be admissible in court, and a single misstep can tie your lawyer’s hands later on. It’s expensive, I know, but a lawyer who’s done this before will know how to phrase your letter and/or your complaint to be effective without giving up any rights or any ground.

Ouch! Yeah, for that kind of cash consulting a lawyer first would be a good thing. For just a regular car engine, it’s not always cost effective to use a lawyer for these kinds of disputes, but for $10k I think that’s a no-brainer.