Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2013 Toyota Prius V with 55,000 miles on it. The full warranty is good through 60,000 miles. During an oil change, the dealer said I have an engine defect causing a small oil leak. But he said he can’t replace it under warranty unless it’s a provable oil drip. He said it’s seeping, but is not dripping yet. He said the repair would cost at least $1,600, and it would have to come out of my pocket. Would you pay to repair it, get another car, or invest in Advil? — Athena
I’d invest in a subscription to the New York Times crossword puzzle, Athena. That way, you’ll have something to occupy your time while you’re waiting on hold with Toyota Customer Service … and the various supervisors you’ll probably have to go through to get this resolved.
This doesn’t sound right at all. If the mechanic says it’s a defect, and it’s causing the engine to lose oil, and the car is under warranty, then Toyota should fix it. End of story.
When we’ve seen oil leaks on Priuses of your vintage; they’re usually caused by a faulty sealant that’s used between the engine block and the timing chain cover. And it is a $1,500-plus job to redo the sealant. But under no circumstances should you have to pay for it. I’m guessing Toyota used some inferior sealant for a period of time — and if we know all about this problem, I’m sure Toyota does, too.
So, what should you do? First, make sure you get an estimate in writing. Ask the dealership to write up what needs to be done and the cost estimate. That’ll be your proof that the leak began, and was diagnosed, while the car was still under warranty. That should be all the proof you need, even if you have to go to small-claims court someday to get this resolved (which we sure hope you won’t).
Next, call Toyota. Explain to them that your car is under warranty, that the dealership’s mechanic identified some oil seepage caused by a defect, but that the dealer suggested that you should pay for it. And tell them you’d like to know why. After all, isn’t that what the warranty is for?
If they stonewall you, keep pushing, politely but firmly. And follow up in writing, with a copy of the repair estimate you were given. But in no case should you pay for this.
It’s possible they’ll argue that it’s such a small leak that it could seep for years without ever causing you any trouble. And that may be true — we haven’t seen the extent of the leak. But if that is true, why was the dealership trying to get you to spend $1,600 to fix it now?
In any case, if they argue that it’s not leaking enough to fix now, then they should agree to fix it for free down the road if, someday, the “seep” does become a “drip” or a “downpour.” Get that in writing, too, Athena. Good luck.
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