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I purchased a 125k mile 2005 Toyota Camry in good condition and with a good service history about 5 months ago. It was due for its second oil change since we've owned it so my wife took it in to a nearby Meineke Car Care Center. After the car was in the garage for 10-15 minutes, a technician told my wife we had an oil leak. He took her back to see it and she saw oil all over. It was splattered on the underside of the car hood, on top of the manifold, and basically everywhere else. The oil was not dirty or grimy. He explained that there was a leak in the valve cover gasket. They wanted to charge $500 to fix the leak.

We declined the repair and took it to the place we bought it. He told my wife that the leak was so bad, she would likely not make it home without ending up on the side of the road. The oil was seeping from the side of the valve cover. When he would wipe it off, more would immediately flow out, almost like wiping blood from an open wound. He expressed his opinion on what happened and repaired the leak for $40. He also showed me the valve cover gasket. It was split cleanly in half.

After the repair, I've driven 500+ miles and have not lost any oil.

I've intentionally left out his opinion and have only included absolute facts because I want to hear unbiased, third-party thoughts on what may have happened.

I know very little about automotives, but I had no reason to think anything was wrong with my car prior to taking it to Mechanic. The oil light was not on, there was no obvious indication of oil under the car where we park, and there was no smell of burning oil. In fact, just a few days prior to taking it to the shop, we had driven the car 300 miles in one day with no indications of trouble.

Is it possible that I had a leak before taking it to Meineke?

What does it sound like may have happened at the Meineke?

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    Stories like this make me furious. Treating women like oblivious morons damages our hobby, passion and our whole gender. Please let your wife know that she is welcome to visit the site as well. We will happily answer any automotive question she has like the nerds that we are. – Bob Cross Nov 30 '14 at 3:56
  • Seconded. Lots. – user2808054 Dec 4 '14 at 14:26
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I think Meineke was taking you for a ride (pun intended). Here is my reasoning:

  • If it was leaking as bad as they say (or showed you) it was, you wouldn't have had any oil in your vehicle when you got to their shop.

  • If the car was having the massive oil leaks all over the engine compartment as they showed you, there would have been VOLUMES of smoke from it as you were driving the car.

  • While women are just as capable as men, many of those who work in such shops don't see it that way. They will see a female come in and tell all kinds of stories in hopes that they will bite and pay for a repair they don't need, or in this case, possibly causing an issue which will need to be fixed.

  • I don't know how easily they could have done something to your car in under 15 minutes, but I wouldn't put it past an unscrupulous shop.

You did the right thing (obviously) by taking it to the place where you bought it from. It sounds like they treated you correctly and got your car back on the road for a minimal amount of funds.

If I were you, it would thus be my word of mouth advertising to tell all of your friends not to frequent said Meineke shop. Do I think all Meineke shops are like this? By no means. It seems this one sure has taken the low road, though.

  • My wife mentioned this morning that she asked Meineke how much oil had leaked (assuming at the time that they hadn't yet changed the oil when she saw it), and they avoided the question. She also mentioned that it was literally dripping off of the hood of the car -- the oil had to have sprayed up there just minutes prior. – Anonymous Nov 29 '14 at 15:48
  • Before taking my car in anywhere I pop the hood and take a good look around for anything odd... Leaks, unconnected hoses, and any other sign of an issue. Then once at the shop should anything strange popup I know it happened in the 5 min on the way to the shop, or in the shop. Sadly I've watched enough 20/20 type specials where scams have played out I find 30 seconds of effort on my end to be worth it when I can't otherwise tell a scam from just a sucky situation. Don't get me wrong I've got faith that most places and people I meet will be reputable but I like to be prepared. – scunliffe Nov 30 '14 at 1:05
  • While my hunch is similar to yours, could you think of a method that an unscrupulous person could use to break a valve cover in half using only 10-15 minutes in the shop? The only one that comes to my mind can't be done subtly. – Bob Cross Nov 30 '14 at 3:53
  • @bobcross ... I think it was just the gasket and not the entire cover. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Nov 30 '14 at 12:18
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    @Paulster2, I mispoke and left out the word gasket last night. – Bob Cross Nov 30 '14 at 14:59
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I can't say for sure what happened AT the shop, but that much oil would have caused a very strong oil smell coming out of the air ducts. Probably lots of smoke from the oil on the manifold too. Which leads me to the conclusion that whatever happened, happened at the workshop. I can't think of a hypothetical way in which one can cause the gasket to break by doing something covertly in 10 minutes. I could probably make your head gasket blow by draining your radiator and letting the car run for 10-15 minutes, but that's a totally different scenario.

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The part of your question mentioning doing a trip before the 'oil leak' coming to anyone's attention may be important. Did you check and top up the oil before the trip, or even during the trip? The point of this is: Was the oil filler cap secure or secured properly if the oil was topped up?, if not you will get oil blowing around under the hood. The second part of the matter is, was the $500 strictly and only for the gasket change, or was it a bill for other work and a cam cover gasket replacement? Motor vehicles generate a surprizing amount of emotion in thier owners, with many just not believing that thier vehicle has a fault at all. This usually means the technician is portrayed as a villian in the piece, but usually, on critical evaluation, is merely doing his job.

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    No I didn't check the oil before the trip. I had no reason to think I needed to. (no light, no dripping under the car, no smell, no history of leaking...) In fact, no one had been under the hood of the car for at least two months prior to taking it to Meineke. I drove the car earlier that morning and didn't smell oil, but my wife said there was a strong smell of oil when she left meineke. It seems obvious to me, as it was to my friend, that Meineke left the cap off and started the engine. What happened after that is only conjecture. – Anonymous Nov 29 '14 at 15:43
  • No real way of knowing. But in passing, it is always a good idea to check lights, levels and tyre pressures before a trip. Takes minutes but some times will save hours. – Allan Osborne Nov 29 '14 at 18:18
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I dont see how valve cover gasket can get broken in that way unless the valve cover was loose or removed or they pushed in a screwdriver to break the gasket. Maybe there was a small leak and somebody in the shop decided to check it out using a screwdriver? It is impossible to tell how much oil per mile you were loosing so can't tell if the leak was already there or not. Of course it is easier for a person who saw the original problem to have a guess about why this happened. I hope you would eventually put the opinion of your mechanic to your post.

BTW Oil change every 5 months? I think it is way too often. If you are using syntethic oils, you can do 1 year/10,000 mile changes. Here is a thread about this on Toyota Camry Here is some info about oil changes intervals

In my VW with long life oil I am able to do 2 year/18,500 mile changes.

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