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While I know a little about cars, the bulk of my knowledge came from when I was a kid bolting on stuff to my Honda and racing it illegally. (So, not much.)

My '96 Civic DX (5-speed) recently passed 220k miles, and when on the highway, completely blew up while my wife was driving it. She had it towed home, I attempted to turn the engine over, and it sounded like a loud grinding noise. I figured there was a thrown rod and just chalked it up to age/miles. I called my local mechanic - whom, up to this point, I trusted - and asked him about a replacement engine. He offered to do a swap for $2400, I said that it was too expensive, and he found a cheaper engine and came down to $1700. I mulled it over but didn't have the money, so a few months later when I did (now), I contacted him and he said he could do it for $1800 + tax. Fair enough.

I had it towed there and they said it'd be done by Thursday/Friday of this week.

I went in on Friday, and they said that the new engine works, but the transmission may have been damaged due to the broken connecting rods (they showed me the parts), and that it may be significantly more expensive as it could require a gear repack or a new transmission + labor. They said they would have no idea if the transmission was bad without connecting it to the block and starting the engine.

So, I'm pretty pissed because at no point did they make it clear a replacement transmission was in the cards. Had I known there was even a chance of that happening, I would have sold the car for parts, since it would have clearly exceeded $2400 in parts + labor - which I previously said in conversations with the mechanic that it wasn't worth it.

Two questions, I guess:

  • Is their claim of "we must connect the transmission and start the engine to know if there's a problem" true? If not, how could they have diagnosed it?
  • Do you think they acted ethically given the background I provided to you?

Thanks a ton, guys. Hopefully this wall of text isn't too much; just wanted to provide enough detail.

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2 Answers

It is a pretty reasonable claim - if something was visually obvious, then it would be very bad, but there are a lot of types of damage that you just won't find until you crank it.

Before a garage sees the vehicle, they pretty much have to rely on what the customer is telling them, so based on your account, your thoughts that it was probably a thrown rod etc., then I reckon they could have assumed that was all they would have to sort.

If during the repair they realised there were wider issues, that is when I would expect them to contact you, and it sounds like that is what they have done.

Some garages may go a bit further and discuss the possible damage options with you earlier, but as they are just guessing at that point, many wouldn't.

All in all, from your account of it I can't see anything unethical - all seems reasonable to me, however I am not a lawyer, just a petrolhead.

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Perhaps the outcome may have been different if you had just called and said the car died what could be wrong? If your question is accurate you asked for the cost of replacing the engine and that is what was done. The ethical thing I always tried to do was evaluate the whole vehicle before suggesting repairs costing close to the vehicles value. They may have not suggested a new motor based on the mileage and age if you hadn't asked. You may have implied that you were willing to spend the money to fix what ever was wrong. That is water under the bridge at this point. If the car has served you well for 220000 miles and is generally in decent shape it may be worth your while to put a trans in it. If you sold the car as is you won't get the money back. With a replacement power train you should get many more years of service out of the car.

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