First of all, I will never defend a disreputable mechanic or shop. Second, you conveniently left out all of those details so how do you expect me to correctly analyze what took place. Third, you assume you were lied to because the mechanic didn't experience what you did. That happens all the time in this business. The very first step of every troubleshooting procedure is "verify the complaint". Good mechanics never just jump in and start replacing stuff based on the customers' complaint or request. I can't tell you how many times I've had to ask customers to go with me on a test-drive to point out what they were talking about, then had to reassure them I believed them when the problem didn't occur. THEY felt like they were lying or making things up. I've had howling radiator fans that only acted up in cold weather and at highway speeds, and no one, including the car owners, realized it could take an hour to show up on the highway after sitting in the warm shop where I was trying to find the cause. For the owner, the problem showed up right away every day. For an inexperienced mechanic, he would assume he fixed the problem no matter what he did because now the noise is gone. Most owners would be understanding and would not get angry when the problem occurred again the next day. Those clues add up to aid in the diagnosis once they are known. Unfortunately we too often have to drag them out of the people who experienced them like they're top secret or something. You couldn't even be bothered to list the engine size when discussing an engine problem so I could look up the parts involved. Instead, you seem more pleased to have gotten away without paying for a service. I might be wrong on that account, but now you see how owners and mechanics perceive things differently. You haven't stated anything that suggests fraud. Perhaps some incompetence was involved, but even that is suspect. As proof, ... "A few days later it dumped all the antifreeze on the ground and overheated again". If something was done wrong, why didn't it overheat right away? If it did not overheat for a few days, obviously everything was working correctly so what is the mechanic supposed to do, keep looking? We already get accused from unknowledgeable customers of selling unneeded parts. Furthermore, you didn't ask about diagnosing the current problem or cause. You just want someone to help you blame every new problem on the first mechanic.
You had a preconceived notion the first mechanic lied to you so that's what you wanted to hear from the second one, but it sounds to me like the second one was pretty pleased to be able to call the first one disreputable to make himself look better. Our industry is full of people like that including one person on this site.
My fourth concern is you don't even know what part was supposedly put in wrong, and I can't think of one that could be. Head gaskets can't be put in wrong. There are valve guide seals and camshaft seals. If you would actually look at them you would see they can't be installed backward. They CAN be damaged during installation if the mechanic is careless, but that's where "flat rate" comes in. Flat rate means the shop charges the specified number of hours listed for each procedure. If the mechanic is experienced, has invested in lots of expensive tools, or has a lot of advanced training, he can get the job done faster. You pay the same amount but he can move onto the next job sooner and make more money per day. If he was like me and took his time to be sure everything was perfect, it would take longer than the flat rate time but you'd pay the same amount. The checks and balances is when he works too fast or does shoddy work, he has to do it over again at no additional charge to you. Both the mechanic and shop owner lose because they know you're not happy with the first repair, and they lose the chance to work on another customer's car. If that happens to one mechanic too often, there's no point in having him there. My reputation as a suspension and alignment specialist and an electrical specialist was summed up by a former manager: "We knew you were a little slower than everyone else, but we knew when your customers came back, it wasn't for a complaint". I went home with fewer dollars than the other guys, but I slept well at night. And you incorrectly assumed "I have no ethics". I don't feel the need to prove my stellar reputation to someone who has never met me. I have hundreds of very happy customers in all three of my professions, tv repair, auto repair, and teaching. On the other hand, I DO get to be offended now at that comment of yours. For too many years I watched people in the world of academia actively search for a reason to be offended, and now it's my turn. (The second half of that comment was sarcasm).
I CAN understand your wanting to get your car away from a shop you perceive as disreputable but you may have actually helped them out. Now they can wash their hands of it and let someone else run the risk of mis-diagnosing it or doing something wrong.
To shift gears for a minute, lets look at the additional facts you provided. Any struggling teacher will tell you it is almost impossible to write a test with questions that one student can't honestly misinterpret. To make matters worse, you're asking about opinions, not the troubleshooting facts we normally deal with. To start with:
"I took the car in because it overheated a little 3/4 of the way".
The assumption is the temperature gauge on the dash is reading 3/4 of full scale but you didn't say that. If that is correct, where does it normally read? I've had cars that read 3/4 scale when everything was fine. My current one reads 1/3 scale, and will go to over half scale if it's not moving, then the electric fan will turn on. On a few occasions the fan failed to turn on but I was in stop and go traffic and not in a position to get out and start to diagnose the problem. Instead, I just turned on the rear heater to cool the engine. You could very likely have something similar going on, and it sounds like whatever it is, it IS intermittent. Boy, we love those because over half the time we never know for sure if it's fixed or not.
So, ... So far we don't know if the temperature gauge is going too high because the engine has a problem, or the engine is fine but the cooling system is malfunctioning. Here's a few clues you might have provided or the mechanic should have looked for. If the hottest air coming out of the heater was real hot, the cooling system isn't doing its job. 95 percent of the time that is due to a dead radiator fan. The fan is only needed at very slow vehicle speeds. It is not needed at highway speeds when natural air flow is sufficient. Also, if the heater air is hot, you know the hot coolant is circulating so the water pump has to be doing its job. Failed water pumps are common on Volkswagens, not on most other car brands. More commonly water pumps develop leaks. Once the coolant level gets low enough it will stop circulating and the engine will overheat. You will get cold air from the heater. Without further details or an explanation from the mechanic, I'm not convinced the water pump was bad. Strike one against the mechanic.
"A few days later it dumped all the antifreeze on the ground and overheated again"
This comment leaves me with nothing but more questions. The obvious first comment is it worked fine for "a few days" so how could there have been a problem? The car was fixed and working properly, right? First of all, what happened with the car those few days? Was it sitting in the driveway undriven? Did you only drive it one mile to work and one mile home? Did you drive it long distances on the highway? My second, less obvious question has to do with "dumping antifreeze on the ground". One possible scenario is the original water pump was leaking, the coolant level got low so the engine overheated and spewed out air from the reservoir. Now it's full of coolant so when it overheated again it spewed out coolant which you saw on the ground. Same cause; different result; honest confusion.
Remember too that the dumped antifreeze is only the symptom for which there can be a lot of different causes. Another real common one is an air pocket in the cooling system. That can occur when anything related to it is done such as replacing a water pump, replacing a head gasket, or even just replacing a hose. On some engines, like my 3.0L Grand Caravan, those air pockets bleed out by themselves the first time the engine is restarted. On some engine they are a nightmare to bleed out. Even when the mechanic thinks they're bled and the engine is running fine, they can work their way out after a few warm-up / cool down cycles, and then cause overheating. They cause overheating because if that air pools underneath the thermostat, that thermostat won't open and let the hot coolant flow to the radiator. Thermostats must be hit with hot liquid to open up. Hot air won't do it. This seems to be more prevalent on certain GM engines but it can happen on other brands too. When this occurs days later, if you don't know how to bleed the system yourself, (most owners don't), about all you can do is nurse it back to the shop. Bleeding the system after that much time usually just takes a few minutes, then they will add coolant to the reservoir if it's needed.
So, it is possible there was nothing wrong after the water pump replacement other than the system needed to be rebled.
The next diagnosis was the reservoir. Strike two against the mechanic. While they do crack or spring leaks from time to time, cars didn't even have them until the late '60s or early '70s. At first they would dump excess warmed-up coolant onto the ground, then suck air back in when the engine cooled down. After that they just flowed air back and forth. The reservoirs were added to prevent that coolant from pouring onto the ground. I don't know what they said was wrong with your reservoir, but it is not likely it caused an overheating problem. If anything, it would be more common for an overheating problem to damage the reservoir, but that's rare.
"They told me they drove it 20 miles before I picked it up 30 minutes later and had no problem. So it was a lie"
That is absolutely wrong. By your own admission you drove the car a few days with no problem so why would you doubt they drove it a few minutes? This is obviously an intermittent problem. We hate them. You hate them. Everyone hates intermittent problems because most of the time no one ever knows for sure the problem is solved. We only know it's not solved when it acts up again. You don't even know right now that your car is fixed. Like I mentioned with my Grand Caravan, the radiator fan has failed to turn on three or four times in the last year. I know this vehicle inside-out, top to bottom, and I don't know yet what will solve the problem until I can catch it while it's acting up to do some troubleshooting. I could throw random parts at it but then if it acts up again six months from now, is it because my new part was bad, I didn't change the correct part, or an entirely different part has gone bad causing the same symptom? You also could have multiple parts failing, but you're assuming there's only one bad part and the mechanic changed the wrong one.
Now we're told it's the head gasket but we don't have a reason. Typically they leak coolant into the cylinders where it is burned and goes out the exhaust as thick white smoke. Did you ever see white smoke, (more than the normal white steam), from the tail pipe? Less commonly they can leak coolant into the engine oil or outside onto the ground. The more-common second way they leak is to leak exhaust gases into the cooling system where it appears as bubbles in the reservoir. The pounding of those bubbles can crack the reservoir, but that damaged reservoir they replaced is the result, not the cause. They may have fixed the result of your leaking head gasket but they didn't look far enough to find the cause. Foul ball on the mechanic's part.
To add to the confusion, a leaking head gasket can cause overheating and overheating can cause a leaking head gasket. In the first case, two things can happen. The exhaust gas leaking into the cooling system can pool under the thermostat as I mentioned earlier and cause it to not open. The resultant overheating will usually cause very hot air to come from the heater. The hint here is very often you'll see the bubbles flowing into the reservoir giving the illusion of overheating, but there will be no steam associated with those bubbles and the coolant may still be cold if the engine was just started. You know the engine can't get hot enough fast enough to overheat in just a few minutes of starting it so if you see bubbles right away, that is not a sign of overheating. It's a sign of a leaking head gasket. There's a simple chemical test to verify that.
In the second scenario overheating the engine can lead to a leaking head gasket. It isn't the head gasket exactly that fails. The aluminum cylinder head warps from the excessive heat. The beginnings of that problem could have started when the engine overheated the first time, before any mechanic looked at it or touched it. One of the risks they take when they agree to work on your car is the results of that overheating might show up during or right after they do other repairs. This is the "ever since" syndrome we are all too familiar with. You may be right that some problems were caused by the first mechanic but you haven't provided any strong proof of that.
"Car wouldn t start correctly after that and it was leaking oil. So I took it to another mechanic because obviously I was being taken for a ride by the dealership"
That is exactly when you should not have gone somewhere else. At the very nice family-owned Chrysler dealership I worked at, there were 49 employees, and they didn't all mess up your car but you're blaming the entire group of people. I worked next to one mechanic who had no formal training and diagnosed a lot of problems incorrectly. He was gone in less than six months. One person was not as conscientious as we would have liked to see so he rarely got promoted, received pay raises, or was sent for specialized training. There was no reason to fire the guy buy management was hoping he would quit, which he finally did. The rest of the mechanics got very angry with themselves when a car came back or they misdiagnosed something. We loved our dealership owners and didn't want to put them in the position of having to work with angry customers. I can't speak directly for other dealerships, but at mine, if a car came back the third time for a related problem, the service manager would get involved to find out what was going on. If it was the result of an experienced, competent mechanic having a bad day, he would have been left alone to rectify any problems he caused. About half of the time there were circumstances beyond his knowledge or control, and since management understands that, they will pay him for the additional needed work. They also understand that in your mind it's the same problem as before so even though they can make the argument you have to pay for those additional repairs, they often don't charge you or they will charge you just for the needed parts, but no labor. Since that is part of the cost of doing business, and it raises the cost for other customers, some shops will agree to cover half of the bill when they feel they were not at fault. To me that is an admission they did something wrong. I would rather have them give away ALL of my labor than to say I'm only worth half as much on this job. My managers and coworkers knew I would never complain and I'd abide by their decisions.
If the problems were caused by a fairly new mechanic and the service manager gets involved, he will likely enlist an experienced one to oversee the repairs or take over the repair completely. Some grumpy old-timers don't like doing that because they don't like sharing what took them a lifetime to learn. Guys like me love teaching and sharing our experience but customers want their cars back now. They don't have time to waste while we train the new guys. The service manager will also be in conference periodically with the dealership owners and will discuss your case or the mechanic in question. They shared a common expression with us: "It takes more advertising dollars to get one new customer than it takes to keep ten current customers happy and coming back". It's more profitable for them to try to keep you happy. Going to a second shop might have given you a feeling of satisfaction, (which is wrong), or a release of frustration, (which I can't argue with), but now that they know you are likely to never come back, what reason do they have to make it up to you. I've been treated this way at other businesses but instead of getting angry, I apologize and leave quietly, ... THEN I never go back. If the managers think they can earn your business again in the future, they may offer you a free oil change, a coupon book, or at the very least they will be even more appreciative when you do come back.
I can't argue with the fact there was oil leaking but you didn't say if it was from an incorrect part or procedure or if it was oil left over from the repair. It is customary after replacing a head gasket to wash the engine to show we take pride in our work. If my engine was left messy, I would certainly note the lack of professionalism but I wouldn't let it influence my opinion of the person's skill. We had one fantastic mechanic who the managers knew you never let a customer see in action because he was covered in grease from his toes to his armpits by 9:00 a.M, but he was they guy who could fix anything other people gave up on. If your engine simply wasn't cleaned after the repair, don't let that be the only thing you judge the mechanic on.
If there is indeed an oil leak, the mechanic will have to correct that on his own time since you didn't come in with that problem. You may have tried that but if you only got as far as the service adviser who writes up the paperwork, he may not remember all the details of the previous work, and he is very limited in what he can offer or give away. Part of his job is to get the service manager involved on your behalf, but you may have to request that. You have to remember that the manager is not your adversary although it certainly seems that way at times. He is your advocate. When a mechanic is causing repeated problems, it is his job to get them corrected or ask that person to find a job with a competitor. There's no reason to protect someone who is driving away customers.
Finally we get to the catalytic converter and you're asking if that is related to the oil leak. I can see where that could be a legitimate question, but only if you are like most car owners and don't understand how they work. In your first post you didn't say where the oil was leaking. Now you added it was leaking from the head gasket. Unless the mechanic really damaged it during the installation, that is going to be a very slow leak that you wouldn't notice right away. It's more likely some cover was installed with a gasket issue. One in particular that comes to mind bit me a few times. Some covers are installed with no gaskets, just gasket sealant from a tube. It is critical that both metal surfaces be 100 percent oil-free before applying that sealant, otherwise it won't bond and seal. Failure to have perfectly clean surfaces can be a result of haste, ignorance, lack of attention to detail, or a stupid drip can appear that we don't see just as we're installing the part. Regardless of who and what caused the oil to leak, the point is it's outside the engine where it can be seen. The catalytic converter in a part of the exhaust system. Oil leaking onto it would vaporize and burn off. That would be stinky but harmless. If the oil was being burned in the engine, you would see blue smoke from the tail pipe. That oil IS going through the catalytic converter but is unlikely to damage it. Unburned gas gets burned inside the catalytic converter so it gets really hot. We read every day here about blue exhaust smoke with no mention of catalytic converter failures, and we read all the time about converter failures with no obvious cause other than age. Some fail in a few years. Some work fine for decades.
You also said the catalytic converter is "going bad". That can mean a lot of different things. But none of them are related to oil leaking from the engine. What are the symptoms that led to this diagnosis?
Your final comment;
"Honestly, I would never take my car to a person like you. You clearly have no ethics"
was very disheartening. How many people would type for hours on a site that lets you vent for free? I worked for two years at what was surely my state's most disreputable tv repair shop. He was the guy who gives the entire industry a bad name but I learned a lot of tricks to watch out for and to warn people like you about. That guy went out of business because he ran out of customers in my extended community of over 100,000 people. I also worked for 30 years part-time for a little one-man shop in a farming community of 2,000 people. The only advertising he needed was word-of-mouth, and we enjoyed and carefully protected our reputation. People like my boss never made the news in spite of all his charitable work and church activities. When you say I have no ethics, you are exactly wrong. What I DO seem to have plenty of is bad luck but I always try to rectify my mistakes.
My first impressions are almost always wrong, but in this case, it seems to me the first mechanic was incompetent, and the second one is taking advantage of the situation knowing you're going to believe anything he says if it discredits the first one and agrees with your opinion. Incompetence is a reason to get the service manager involved. Addressing that is part of his job.
So my next assumption is the engine has not overheated for a month. If that is correct, we can rule out some other common causes like a plugged radiator, corroded cooling fins on the radiator, (which is too soon to expect for a four-year-old car), a bad radiator fan motor, an intermittent contact in the fan relay, or a "butterfly collection" blocking airflow through the radiator. On the other hand, if you're unlucky enough to live up north where I am, it's 30 degrees colder than it was a month ago. That can have a big impact on radiator-related overheating issues.
One thing that is still not clear is what caused the original overheating issue? I really doubt it was the water pump or the reservoir. That leaves the head gasket as the most common and most logical suspect. Here is a different way of looking at the sequence of events. The head gasket started to leak causing mild overheating. That's common on many engines on any brand of car. Replacement of that gasket requires removal of the cylinder head, and that requires removal of the timing belt. On very many engines of the last 20 years the water pump is run by the timing belt. Instead of it taking an hour or two to replace the old-style water pumps, it's at least a half-day job. When replacing the head gasket, the water pump procedure is 95 percent already done so almost all mechanics will replace the pump too to insure the quality of the repair and because it is only going to cost you a few extra minutes and the cost of the pump, ... A total of less than another $100.00. So you got the typical repair, just in the wrong order. The oil leak appears to be the mechanic's fault and he should have corrected it. You should not have had to pay another shop to do that. Failure of the catalytic converter is just another somewhat common problem that all of us have to accept. At issue in your case is that two expensive problems showed up at roughly the same time. That is another huge fear of all mechanics. I could type another chapter about that. It would be easier for you to accept, but not less expensive, if these two problems showed up a year apart. The logical assumption is both problems are related, but most likely that is not the case.
There's one more thought you didn't finish.
"Car wouldn t start correctly... "
That can have a lot of different symptoms and a lot of different causes, but given the related history, a logical guess would be the timing belt was off by one tooth. That is another sign of haste at best and incompetence at worst. To be fair, the engine might have run reasonably well, ... AFTER it finally started, so the mechanic may have taken it on a test-drive and pronounced it "fixed". He should have tried restarting the engine right away, and again after washing the engine while it cooled down. Had he done that, he should have noticed anything abnormal.
I know there's more to your story than you have time to share. My intent here was to provide somewhat of an explanation to what could have happened, and to give you some information to use if something like this ever happens again. Please don't call me unethical. No one else ever has. My reputation is the only thing of value that I have.
Saturday, January 5th, 2013 AT 2:24 AM