UPDATE3: See below. TL;DR They found the problem. They say the plastic guides on the timing chain came loose and jammed the timing chain, making it seem like the engine seized. $3,100 repair. Don't need a new engine.

I brought my RAV4 in for regular scheduled maintenance at the dealership over the weekend. At 140k miles, the maintenance schedule starts over and they basically do the 20k mile maintenance. It included a number of things (that I don't have in front of me) like oil change, new air and oil filters, rotate tires, safety inspection, clean out the AC system, etc. They ended up replacing some sort of links on the front wheels too. Total was $929 and change (approx. $500 of which was for those "links"). I picked up the car that evening and got barely 3 miles and the car died while idling at an intersection. All the dash lights came on. I put it in park and tried to start it and it just made a whining noise. I had to push it out of the road.

I called the dealership and they had me use my AAA to tow it back and said they couldn't get to it until Monday. Well, they called me back today (the following Monday) and said the engine is seized up and there's no way to know what the problem is. They can't get the engine to turn over at all. They had checked to see if someone had forgotten to put the plug in after the oil change and the plug was there. They said that there is oil in the engine. They gave me 2 choices: tear down the engine to find the problem for about $1600 or swap out the engine for $6600!

So what are the chances that they screwed something up during the maintenance versus just a coincidental freak random issue? I check the oil regularly and get it changed regularly. It doesn't leak. In fact, the sticker on my windshield shows that I was due for my next oil change at 139.9k miles and the car is currently at 140.?k miles, so it ran completely fine since the last oil change and I thought I was being good to get it changed and get the scheduled service.

I called another garage and discussed the issue with them because I no longer trust the service department at the dealership. I've had issues with them in the past. The guy at the other garage said he thinks they forgot to put oil in the car and are being dishonest about it.

Personally, I feel like it's just too coincidental and am very suspicious. What could have happened? And what's a fair and reasonable way to approach this issue with the dealership? How can I make sure I'm not getting taken advantage of? What would you do in this situation?

Update: They just called me and said they did a bunch of simple checks. They did not find any metal shavings. They took off the spark plugs and checked under them. There are no indications of what the problem is. Everything looked good. They said that the only thing left to do is do an engine tear-down.

Update2: I just used google maps to measure the distance from the dealership to where the motor stopped. I even added distance to the parking spot where I first started it. The distance is 1.9 miles! Everyone I talk to tells me they either forgot to put oil in and are lying about it or they forgot to plug the oil drain and are lying about it. When I last spoke to the service advisor, he tried to tell me I drove 32 miles after picking the car up and I said no way, it was barely 3 miles. Then he called back to ask when I last had an oil change and I referred him to the sticker on the windshield that said next oil change was due at 139.9k miles. It seems like they’re looking for all sorts of reasons that it’s not their fault. I’m a scientist. And it seems to me that the chances of a random coincidence seizing the motor to happen within under 2 miles of a service intervention are minuscule.

So can anyone tell me how far you are likely to be able to drive a car without oil before it seizes up? Is 2 miles a likely number? Are there any unrelated problems that an oil change or oil filter change would cause a motor seizure other than obviously a foreign body dropped in with the oil - like dislodging of a rust chunk or something? (Note, they found no metal shavings.)

Update3: My wife and I went into the service department last night and insisted that the dealership cover the cost of the repair because the chances of a random mechanical failure (as they were claiming) happened within 2 miles of driving right after a service intervention were way less likely than them screwing something up. The manager called me today and we pretty much came to an impasse, so I ended up speaking to the service director to complain. He offered to take the engine cover off and look, no charge. He mentioned that the timing belt was really tight and that it looked like the engine stopped suddenly because there were no metal shavings in the oil.

They called me back at 2:30 and said they found the problem. They said the plastic guides on the timing chain wore out, came loose, and jammed the timing chain, making it seem like the engine seized. $3,100 repair. Don't need a new engine.

Normally, they say that a timing chain replacement costs $3,454, but they said they would give me a deal and do it for $3,100. I'm still suspicious that they may have caused the problem. They said it was a coincidence that it just happened to get jammed when I retrieved the car after service.

So given the things I had done, is it likely or possible that they somehow did something that caused the timing chain to get screwed up? They did a multi-point safety inspection. Shouldn't they have found a timing chain issue in the first place?

  • 1
    If you had AAA membership you should have called them "because you had a breakdown" not just to tow it back to the garage. If they operate like the AA in the UK, you would then get a (free) written report of what the AAA guy found at the scene, and the garage would be foolish to try to dispute those facts in court. As it stands, you don't have any independent evidence of anything, since the garage could do and say whatever they liked once they had the car.
    – alephzero
    Jul 29, 2019 at 19:44
  • 1
    I would NOT spend $1600 to find out what the problem is on a 10 year old 140K miles auto. That's money down the drain and also NOT what it would take to fix the problem. As far as cause? Well, I also don't believe in coincidences. Unfortunately, the car was taken back to their "care" and you don't know if they are lying to you or not. My take is that they forgot to fill it with oil and your engine seized up due to lack of lubrication. Proving it is another matter.
    – jwh20
    Jul 29, 2019 at 22:28
  • I got a quote from another garage on replacing the timing chain mentioned in update3. It was about the same. Apparently replacing the timing chain on an all wheel drive vehicle is 19+ hours worth of work.
    – hepcat72
    Jul 30, 2019 at 19:31


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