Can I sue if an oil change damaged my car?
NOTE: We are unfortunately currently not taking oil change cases due to high caseloads, but we are leaving up this page for informational purposes.
If your car has been damaged by an oil change, you have legal options. We’ve represented people who go in for a simple oil change and come out with an engine that’s been totally destroyed. And it happens more often than you’d think.
Even the biggest and most respectable mechanic shops sometimes just botch an oil change. They might forget to put oil back in, destroying your engine as you drive around not knowing you don’t have any oil in it. Sometimes they don’t tighten the oil drain plug properly, which can cause it to leak out. They might not put a filter back in, or they might install it incorrectly.
Now they made a mistake, and your car’s engine is destroyed. Often you’ll find that the oil change company just wants to wash their hands of it. The mechanics pretend they did nothing wrong. They say maybe it was your fault, even though it happened a few days after they were working on it. They won’t help, but we will.
You have lots of legal options. For example, there’s a legal claim called “negligence,” which is when someone doesn’t exercise the care they should and your property is damaged from it. You might also have a warranty, whether your contract says it or not. Warranties are implied by law in many cases, including where you’re relying on an expert like a mechanic. And warranties can often be created by things in the advertising you saw or even signs up at the mechanic’s shop. States also have consumer protection laws which let you sue over unfair practices, and some states even have specific laws governing mechanics and automobile work.
Lots of consumers have successfully recovered from mechanics who botched their oil changes. For example, a consumer in Chatham County, Georgia sued and won against a Cadillac / Pontiac dealer who allegedly ruined their car’s engine. Backus Cadillac-Pontiac v. Ernest, 195 Ga. App. 579, 579-80, 394 S.E.2d 367, 368-69 (1990). They alleged that she “brought her car to appellant for servicing, including an oil change. The next day appellee’s husband picked up the vehicle, drove it a few blocks, and the engine stalled. When the car was re-started, the lifters were ‘making . . . a loud racket’; and the engine made distinct rattling and grinding sounds as if the rod, pistons or crankshaft were loose or broken. The sound was that of an engine being run without oil.”
In a case in San Antonio, Texas, a consumer sued a mechanic for both negligence, breach of warranty, and violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (a law that protects consumers). 2 Fat Guys Inv. v. Klaver, 928 S.W.2d 268 (Tex. App. 1996). She took her Toyota in for a simple oil change, and then drove it from San Antonio to College Station. “Before she was outside of Bryan/College Station, her car began making knocking noises and died.” Id. She took it to a dealership where another mechanic “examined the car and determined that the oil had in fact leaked through the drain plug. He found that the engine had been almost completely eroded due to oil starvation.” Id. She alleged at trial that “either the use of an improperly sized gasket or the improper replacement of the existing gasket caused the oil to slowly leak from the drain plug of her car, which, in turn, caused her engine to burn up.” She won and got compensated for her damage.
Can I file a lawsuit over a defective oil change, or do I have to file an arbitration?
One thing that complicates matters is that you may not actually be able to sue in court depending on what kind of contract you signed with the service shop. Most companies put clauses in their contracts requiring you to go to arbitration, which is basically a miniature lawsuit before an independent lawyer who decides what happens.
Arbitrations are complicated, and just like a lawsuit, you probably want a lawyer to help. The company will have one, and there’s an entire book of rules to follow. You have a hearing like in a lawsuit and have to prove your case. And there’s fees to pay to even get it going that cost hundreds of dollars.