Brush With Car Death #4

Thursday, December 23 2004

I have a well deserved reputation of destroying cars. First, there was the engine of the Datsun 510 that exploded as I was driving. The oil pump failed, and the pistons seized up, throwing an entire piston out through the side of the engine. Then there was the Buick with its failing brakes and the engine that fell off its mounts. Then there was the Honda CRX that suffered a cracked engine block, also oil related.

That’s why when I bought my latest car I shelled out the extra money for a super special extended warranty, though at the time I just felt like it was worth the extra $1000 financed just for some extra peace of mind. The two new cars previous to that hadn’t needed it, but given that I used to average a car a year, it wasn’t such a bad idea.

At the end of a 12 hour drive recently, I noticed a sort of burning oil smell. I checked the oil, and there was none showing on the dip stick. Great – not even 6,000 miles on the car yet, and something is seriously wrong. I had gotten a full oil change a week or two before the drive.

I bought some oil, put 2 bottles in, and checked it the next morning. Oil showed on the stick, no oil on the road, all seemed well. I drove about 15 miles, and noticed that smoke was seeping out of the hood from the engine. When you see this, know that something is wrong. An engine should never issue forth smoke.

I pulled over, noticed a stream of oil dripping from the engine on the parking lot, called the road side assistance number, and got the car towed to the nearest dealer. They called a few hours later with a shocking story.

They told me that the last place I had my oil changed removed my stock oil filter (the evidence of wrench marks were there), but instead of replacing it had put it back on my car. In the process they’d punctured the oil filter. The hole in the oil filter must have gotten progressively larger, and finally failed to the point where it was pouring out oil when I pulled it off the road.

Luckily there was no damage overall, but the oil change place definitely put me in serious danger of breaking down in the middle of some snowy mountain pass hundreds of miles from the nearest anything. I expect that I’ll ask them to pay me for the oil change they charged me for originally, as well as the oil change I ultimately had to pay the dealer to perform. It’s about the most I think I can ask for, despite the danger they put me in.

If they’re not into that, I’ll spend my Saturday afternoons carrying a sign in front of the business saying “This place nearly made my new car explode, come ask me how” and tell people my story until the oil change place sees things clearly.