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Shop failed to refill oil tank, so it should help fix engine

Question: My son took his '90 Ford Probe in for an oil change yesterday, and they forgot to refill it with oil. He drove it about 5 miles before it quit on him. He pulled into a parking lot and called me for help. I asked him to check the dipstick, and it read empty. We had it towed back to the shop and they filled it with oil, drained it again and then refilled it again with oil. They then took it to another garage, which checked it over and said everything sounded fine. Do you think any damage was done? -- NeilRay: Probably. Most experts agree that one should not run a car without oil in it. And the fact that it died on him while he was driving indicates that it started to seize up and probably did damage the rings and the bearings.

Tom: His mistake was stopping. If he had just kept on driving until the engine was absolutely cooked, there would have been no question about the fact that they owe you an engine.

But since it's still running, they can have their buddies at the other shop give it the thumbs up and send you on your way. Then they just have to hope that by the time the car starts burning a quart of oil every 50 miles, either: (A) Your son will be living in a different state; or (B) They will have been abducted by aliens or the Better Business Bureau.

Ray: I'd tell them that you want to have the car checked out independently before you let them off the hook. Have a mechanic of YOUR choosing do an oil leak-down test. And if necessary, have him remove the oil pan and visually inspect the bearings. He may see that the bearings are actually burned.

Tom: And if that's the case, you'll just have to press them to share the cost of fixing it. They won't pay for a new engine -- nor should they, really -- because the engine you drove in with was 9 years old. But they should pay for a portion of the rebuilding cost, or they should buy you a used engine and install it. You'll have to negotiate with their insurance company.

Ray: All decent shops carry insurance to cover bonehead maneuvers like this. It's part of the cost of being in the auto repair business. And if they employ anyone like my brother, I'm sure they've opted for the lowest possible deductible. So don't feel bad about pushing this, Neil. It was their mistake.

CHANGING YOUR OIL is the cheapest insurance you can buy for your car, but how often should you change it? Find out by ordering Tom and Rays pamphlet Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It! Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

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