First of all, from what you've said so far, the dealer didn't do anything wrong. If there was a known problem related to the engine, it wouldn't have run fine for 18 days. Second, lemon laws only apply to new cars. The laws vary between states, but in general, they apply to a car that has been repaired under warranty for the same thing three times, or when it has been out-of-service for a specific number of days. In those cases you can ask for a refund, but there will be a dollar amount deducted from that refund equal to the cost of renting the same model for the number of days you owned it. That will run into thousands of dollars.
Most reputable dealers offer a 30-day 50/50 warranty on used vehicles. Basically they will take care of a problem and the half you're paying covers their cost of parts and labor. They don't make any profit on that repair and their mechanic is tied up so he can't make money for the business on someone elses car. The business breaks even, and the lost profit potential goes toward customer satisfaction. If the accusation of not checking the oil level was made by a salesman, shrug that off and forget it. He has no more knowledge of what goes on inside an engine than you have and was likely just repeating things he overheard before. It's the service manager who is your representative, and if he says, "fix it" to his mechanic, that's all you have to care about. He will also take care of the paperwork. That includes calculating the bill, then cutting it in half. No other employees have the authority to do that. If, after inspecting the engine and having a conversation with the mechanic, the service manager had any reason to suspect intentional damage was done, he would not honor their 50/50 warranty. If it hasn't come to that, consider yourself fortunate this occurred within their warranty period, and thank the service manager for taking care of it. No reputable dealer would sell a car if they were expecting it to develop a problem, but they know things DO happen sometimes, and they offer this warranty to help take the sting out of a bad situation. For every used car they trust enough to sell and make someone happy, they send probably three or four to the auction for someone else to worry about.
As for the oil issue, if it was just low, that would have shown up on the dash gauge or warning light before serious damage would have occurred, as long as the gauge was noticed. If something hit the oil pan, or the seal blew out for the oil filter, the oil would have been lost very quickly and there would be plenty of evidence of that. What the dealer has to consider is the oil could have been allowed to get low, then new oil was added after the breakdown to hide the evidence. Also, the oil could have been drained on purpose to cause the damage so the owner could insist on a refund. That happens more often than you would think, but there are ways to tell when that was done. The owners of new cars who pull that get surprised when they can't get a refund, warranty won't cover that, and they have to pay for the repairs themselves. Engines from almost all manufacturers today are very reliable, especially when you look at all the high technology they use compared to even 20 years ago.
The next issue is knowing exactly what happened to the engine. Mechanics have real good communications skills, ... With other mechanics. Just like with doctors or any other profession, they can say in three words to another mechanic what it would take ten minutes of explanations to tell you. They have very poor communication skills with car owners. That's why you typically work with a service adviser and not the mechanic directly. Service advisers usually never were a mechanic. They understand just enough about cars to take what they think they heard from the mechanic and translate it into something they think you will understand, and you know things are going to get lost in translation. In this case, what did he mean by "seized"? Engines don't do that without there being some kind of warning or symptoms prior to that. I suspect there was a failure that got lumped under a term the service adviser was familiar with, and that is "seized". Overheating can lead to that. Loss of oil can do it. With no oil at all, some engines have been known to run a few minutes, but by far it's more common for serious damage to occur within a few seconds. That's why you're always instructed to stop the engine immediately when the oil light turns on, and coast to a stop. If there was still oil in the engine, it is fairly likely it didn't seize up, but there's plenty of other ways for an engine to sustain damage and stop running. That, and not wanting to rely on a mechanic's communication skills is why I'd want to see the damage or find out exactly what was found to cause the problem before I made any kind of judgement.
It's too late now since the battery had to be disconnected to replace the engine, but there likely were diagnostic fault codes stored in the Engine Computer that could have provided some clues as to what happened. In a recent case, a customer brought in his Dodge truck for the Check Engine light being on and the code was related to the rev limiter. Since data is stored in Engine, Anti-lock Brake, and Air Bag Computers, the dealer was able to show that the owner's son had been drag racing the truck and hit over 90 mph with it. Talk about an uncomfortable stare with his kid in the waiting room! I'm not accusing anyone of something like this, but we do see the evidence all the time, including from owners who sheepishly admit to doing such things, and it's why we have to consider the possibility in every case like this.
At this point, assuming the new engine is running properly and there's no other problems, after a week or so, think about stopping in to thank the service manager, and drop off a box of cookies for the mechanics, ... Preferably chocolate chip!
Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 AT 11:11 PM