Catastrophic Engine Failure, Dealer at Fault? Please advise!
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This is a discussion on Catastrophic Engine Failure, Dealer at Fault? Please advise! within the General Maintenance, Troubleshooting & Accidents. forums, part of the Tech & Modifying & General Repairs category; Hi everyone, Let me apologize for the length of this post, but I do not want to spare any detail. ...

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Jun 2004
    Los Angeles, CA

    Catastrophic Engine Failure, Dealer at Fault? Please advise!

    Hi everyone,

    Let me apologize for the length of this post, but I do not want to spare any detail.

    I have a 2002 WRX Wagon with 82k miles on it. I'm the original owner, and it's never been in an accident, it's only had minor mechanical issues over its lifespan (faulty air sensor, broken heater core, slipping alternator belt).

    But those problems were way in the past... for the last year (at least) my WRX had been running beautifully. I received a notice in the mail from Subaru of America a couple months ago pertaining to fuel line problem where the smell of fuel leaks into the cabin during cold weather. They said if you've experienced this problem, bring it in and they'll fix it for free. Now, I live in SoCal, so my car rarely experiences cold weather. But I have experienced this issue in the past when traveling up to Mammoth in the winter... the fuel smell was so bad that I had to roll down the windows (it always fixed itself once i reached warmer weather). Anyways... I was happy to learn that I wasn't alone and this was a covered issue, so I arranged an appointment with my local dealership, which will remain nameless at this point. I was planning on selling my Subaru in a couple months as I'm moving to NYC, and I wanted to make sure all of its recall repairs were completed.

    When I got to the dealership, it was apparent that they weren't thrilled that they had to do this repair, which I guess is quite time-consuming. At first, my service manager swore that I had all my recalls already completed. But then after prodding him about the letter I received, he noted that there was a "voluntary recall" or "voluntary service" which he guesses was what I was referring to. They certainly knew what I was talking about when I called earlier, so I have no idea why he was getting in a war of semantics with me.

    Anyways, they do the repairs overnight, and I pick it up the next day. Car seems to be driving perfectly normal. Two hours later, the Check Engine Light goes on. Granted, the car FEELS like it's running fine, so no idea what it could be. I even try to bring it to AutoZone to get the code read, but turns out they stopped doing that free service a couple months ago! I call the same service manager immediately... he says he'll take a look at it, but he can't until tomorrow. I'm getting a little annoyed, since it's pretty clear they messed something up. He said that they have to remove like 10 vacuum pumps to do this fuel line repair, and most likely it's a faulty vacuum or pump. He says the recall service is very time consuming as they have to get pretty deep within the engine, and they've even complained to Subaru before about these sort of issues happening after they do the repair. I ask him if I can drive it in the meantime. He says "oh yes, absolutely. As long as the CEL isn't flashing... totally safe to drive." Since he said it was safe to drive, I didn't mind waiting until the next day to bring it in.

    The next day I start the car, and the CEL turns off. Everything seems to be running smoothly again. I call the service manager again and tell him the CEL turned off. He told that it was nothing to worry about, and that we should just play it by ear. Fine... I took his advice.

    Two days go by... the check engine light goes on again. I call him up, make an appointment for this Friday, but again, he says in no uncertain terms that the car is safe to drive in the meantime.

    OK, next day, CEL goes off, but I decide that it still deserves to be looked at so I don't cancel my appointment, which is still set for today (Friday).

    Last night I'm driving on the 101 freeway, going about 60 MPH, cars running smooth, no CEL, and suddenly CRUNCH... the engine makes this horrible noise then just dies. I manage to coast safely across three lanes of traffic into the breakdown lane. I do not try to turn it back on, knowing that could cause more damage. I get a flatbed to tow me to the dealer where I leave it at the night drop with explicit instructions NOT to turn the ignition on, in case it was a broken timing belt.

    The same service manager calls me up and tells me the bad news. My #4 rod went right through my crank case, and I need a new engine block. He said it would cost $6800! That's about 2/3rds of my car's Blue Book value. Of course, he can sense my train of thought here, and starts to categorically deny that the recall work they did last week had ANYTHING to do with these problems. He said that this isn't related at all to the fuel lines and that they didn't go anywhere near the bottom of the engine. "Ask anyone with experience in the field and they'll tell you that these problems are unrelated," he told me. He also told me that the codes they got from the CEL were p0328 - knock sensor, p0304- cylander 4 misfire, and 42- Power Supply low voltage. Of course, I have no idea if these were different than the codes that the CEL was reporting BEFORE I had the engine die on me.

    So right now, I really don't know what to do. I called my trusted independent mechanic who said he could do the repairs for $5500, and that would still include the 12 month new engine warranty, but he too believed I should seek some sort of recourse.

    Let's put it in simple terms: My car was running beautifully; I bring it in for a voluntary recall; hours later my CEL goes on; The service manager admits that it's probably due to the work they did, and I'm told explicitly that it's not urgent and to keep driving; a couple days later my engine catastrophically fails. I'm a firm believer in Occam's Razor, and I'm sorry, but it seems like to much of an extraordinary coincidence that these incidents are not somehow interrelated.

    So what do I do? Should I call Subaru of America directly? How do I lodge a formal complaint? Is there a way to do that and still get my car fixed in the immediate future, or am I going to be tied up in red tape for months?

    Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing your advice!!!


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  3. #2
    Super Moderator (Actually a SuperSpy) SD_GR's Avatar
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    CA, US
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    Quote Originally Posted by BAbaustin View Post
    So right now, I really don't know what to do. I called my trusted independent mechanic who said he could do the repairs for $5500, and that would still include the 12 month new engine warranty, but he too believed I should seek some sort of recourse...
    So what do I do? Should I call Subaru of America directly? How do I lodge a formal complaint?
    Yes. In the owner's manual the procedure to follow it listed.
    The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929
    WRX Info Links, Courtesy TheJ
    DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are the author's alone and are inherently worthless.

  4. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Woodland Park, CO
    Well, first things first, were you talking to THE Service Manager, or just someone at the desk? At this point, you need to be dealing with the person that manages that department.

    It's difficult to prove that the dealer's work caused this problem. However, all you really need to do is prove that the dealer did not perform that recall correctly and had not yet fixed their problem. At that point, it's up to THEM to prove that they did NOT break your engine. I doubt that can be proven.

    You might need to settle for a you pay 50% of the parts cost, they cover everything else.

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  6. #4
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    May 2010


    I have had pretty close to the same experience. My 02 wrx wagon wouldnt start, I had local dealership look into it. They said fuel pump is bad. They replaced pump and gave it back, it didnt start the same day. This dealership had it for over a month, so I had it towed to another close dealership. I informed them that there was a recall in the fuel line, possibly the reason for not starting. After a week with no work done I called subaru of america. Next day the call me and say " looks like there is a recall on the fuel line" (really?) so they do the work. I leave on a road trip to cali. It dies in vegas, same prob no start. I leave it with dealership there. A week later they inform me the local dealership didnt properly install the boot or sleeve it was left half way off. I sent it in today so they could finish the job and they inform me i need a new engine cause the main crank and bearing are going out!! Pretty sure if I would have gotten it started and been driving, same thing would have happened to mine. We need to get together on this I think. Please email me @

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