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What Happens When A Mechanic Breaks A Part on A CAR

Published on September 11, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

You have heard the horror stories,

I took my car to a mechanic and they broke this part.

Today I want to dive in a little deeper into what goes on behind the scenes when a mechanic breaks something. Generally you read about the situation from a customers point of view. That is the one that counts. But it is not all hearts and flowers from your mechanics point of view either. I am sure that the owner, or dealer is not too pleased. Basically it is lose lose all around.

When I had first planned to write this post, I was going to tell you all a story about something that happened to another mechanic in the shop. As luck would have it, I broke something yesterday, and I want to tell you guys about it.

I was replacing a front differential in a 2007 VW Touareg. This is a job that I have done before, but not something that I do often. Replacing this part takes a fair amount of finesse. There is about 5mm of extra space needed to remove the part. It’s a hard job, just one that needs care.

Just about the time I had the differential out, it slipped just a hair. Next I see a connector swinging near the steering rack. It seems that when the differential slipped, it hit the connector on the steering rack, and broke it. Now just a broken connector is not a big deal. I can totally fix that. The bad part is, the part that broke is part of the steering rack.

I got to a good stopping point and evaluated the damage. Knowing how VW builds parts I was pretty worried. I got with one of my parts guys and we confirmed my fear. The part I broke was not a spare part. Even though I could remove the part, it is not available separate. We even emailed VW parts headquarters with no luck. 🙁

So what happens next? Well, first things first, I get to go and tell my boss that I potentially damaged a $1000 steering rack on a Touareg. I don’t break things that often, but when I do I go big. That is the part price only. After the shock of possibly buying a $1000 part pasted, we brain stormed on an alternative.

  • Repair the part
    This was built into another part. I tried to find a way to make a repair, but no such luck. It was just a mass of copper inside the sensor. Repairing the part is a no go
  • Shop aftermarket
    We spend a good amount of time trying to find just the part I broke. Unfortunately there was no luck in this department either
  • Just get a new one
    This is definitely the easiest option.  But we are not talking about a $10 part. This would require a little more thought that just “Go order it”
  • Junk yard part.
    Odd are this is the route we will take. It will save a ton of money over a new part. This can be a slight dice roll. It may take a few tries to get a good part.

Once we have a solution for the part, someone needs to install it. Since I am the lucky one that broke the part, I get to install it. One of the worst parts about breaking something is having to install it for free. When a mechanic breaks something, they have to replace or fix it. The bad part is they will not get paid for it. That is only fair, you break it you fix it. Only seems fair right?

 So let me just sum up how much breaking stuff really stinks, 

  1. Customer is not happy, and may be with out their car for a while
  2. Service department might be buying a really expensive part.
  3. Not only will the mechanic have to replace/fix the part for free, they feel really bad about it.
This doesn’t even go into what happens when a mechanic is shady and “fixes” things. That I will have to save for another day. 😉
If you are an mechanic in training, or still fresh, don’t worry. These things happen, I don’t care how good you are. Even the top techs make mistakes. Remember “A Bad Day For A Mechanic“? It can and will happen to anyone!

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17 Comments

  1. Stephen

    that definitely sucks…. but it makes me feel better it happens to the pros too. i always liked the saying “if it breaks, it needed replacing anyway” of course a customer who needs a new steering rack probably wouldn’t share the same sentiment. at least on your/my own cars it can be bandaid’d back together 🙂

  2. Jessica

    Don’t feel too bad about the part you broke, a technician at the dealer I was at backed an RV into my car. Was I mad? No.
    The paint on the trunk lid was messed up from a cheap dealer sticker being left on for years by the previous owner. Service dept was floored when i was calm when they made the dreaded call to me. They de-badged it when they fixed it for me though. Things happen for reasons, I guess. 🙂

  3. D

    I had transmission replaced on my car and now they are saying the axle needs to be replaced. I’m 100% sure it was broken during trany replacement. Shop is charging me for the parts & labor. I can’t prove they broke it – what should i do?
    Northeastern Transparts Co., Inc. is the place i’m referring to.

    1. Charles

      This is a tough spot. What are wrong with the axles that they need to be replaced? I have seen guys just let axles hang when doing similar work. The joints come apart and wreck the axles. If it is a bigger company, I would recommend calling the general manager and having a talk with them.

      Would you mind keeping us all posted on what happens?

  4. kristin

    My saturn wouldn’t start so had it towed to the dealer I use for all my repairs. Turns out the ignition switch failed, fuel pump went bad, and flooded the engine with gas. They fix this, and in the process they somehow snap the brake line. After fixing this, they break a wheel cylander. They repair THIS and as they’re backing it into a parking spot, they blow the transmission (don’t ask me how). At this point I’m at my wits end. A $400 repair has turned into them saying I owe $1000 for all the current repairs and $1500 for a new transmission. Does this sound correct? Am I being ripped off? Why do I have to pay for all these parts they broke? I could see maybe going halvsies and paying for some while they pay for some, but they’re charging me the full price.

    1. Charles

      Hi Kristin,
      WOW! Let’s try and break this down a little.

      You brought the car in and they replaced the fuel pump and ignition switch. If those were the things that were causing the no start, Then we are good there.

      Them breaking the line may not be your responsibility. I would want to know how it broke. Were they working in the area of the line? Was the wheel cylinder a result of the line getting broken? Is this an issue because your car is older?

      I am not sure what the heck is up with the transmission!

      I don’t think charging you full price is right.

      Is this a small shop or a big dealer or chain type place?

  5. Kat

    Please help!
    I’m in a bind, situation similar to Kristen. I brought my car in because it was running rough and sometimes stalling at idle.
    Shop replaced fuel filter and pump, bill was $453.
    I get in my car to leave and the car makes a horrendous sound. I haven’t even left the lot, I’m in front of the shop. The mechanics come over and try starting it, pop the hood and tell me I need a engine. I think they told me it’s the valve, 1 is shot and 2 are strong. I was too upset at this point to remember exactly what he said. I am a regular customer there.
    And you should know it’s an old car, but it was reliable and well maintained 95 Buick. I knew sooner or later I would have to replace but my question is does the shop have any responsibility?
    Partial refund? Anything?
    I have quite a few new (less than 2 years) parts radiator, tires, battery, alternator. I have a really great stereo in it. Should they charge me to pull it? What would you do? What should I do? Thank you for any advice.

  6. Blake

    Are you kidding??? U go to a wrecker and buy a used part to fix something you broke! How has no one else caught on to this!
    I would be furious ! This is why we take it to the pros , so we don’t break parts fumbling around our selfs.
    I’m in appliance repairs and would at least have the customer the option of paying a partial amount for the new part or a free used 1& fit it for free which you would do reguardless.
    People are pretty understanding but it’s shit like that , that makes us all doubt car mechanics and feel like we are getting taken for a ride!

    1. Charles

      @Blake,
      I would go to a junk yard for a part if I had to. Would I do it without tell the customer? HELL NO!

      I may not have been clear about that in the article. If so, I am sorry about that.

      As you know in a repair field, sometimes things break. You can be all kinds of careful and go to hell on you.

      I agree with you 100% that keeping a customer informed and letting them know what happened and what you are doing to make it right is vital. It is something that I make a point to do when things get stupid on a repair.

  7. Katie

    I took my 2001 Kia Sportage to a mechanic shop for an oil change, ac check, spare tire and to fix the tail pipe. After 1200 bucks, I was told it was all good. My daughter (16) got in the car, drove it about 2 miles to the house (while I was still at the shop) and turned around to come to the shop when it left her stranded at an intersection. The shop illegally towed it to the shop (about 1/5 mile) and have been working on it ever since. They sent it to the dealer who told them that the computer was shot due to the rewiring and all they would do is put in the new computer and rewire according to factory. They don’t know I called the dealer. They are telling me they checked EVERYTHING and if they don’t have it fixed in a couple of days they will have to come up with some “resolution”. What does that mean? It’s my daughter’s ONLY mode of transportation. She can’t drive my car as I am “on call” all the time with my chronically ill youngest child and can’t always take her to work or pick her up.

  8. Shirley

    have a 98 Honda Odyssey, took it in for oil gasket/valve replacement, flush transmission, reseal power steering. Wrong gasket was used for the oil pan, took van back. Correct gasket “supposedly” installed. Still leaking, took van back…was told there was a “bubble” on a valve and the leak was coming from the power steering pump so they were going to reseal it. When they went to do that, was told a “hose” broke and that part is no where to be found in the Denver metro area. Part being overnighted but NO guarantee this will be the right part since the van is so old. I have been furious with them…was told I have NOT been INCONVENIENCED! That increased the “furious” level. I am a senior citizen, have some physical issues BUT MUST work..this is NOT an inconvenience??? Excuse me!! They did loan me a vehicle on visit #2…which was way to big for me to drive. Visit #3 they loaned me a different car and yesterday was scolded by the owner for NOT BEING A NICE person! I could not pay for the original repairs…took 6 weeks to raise the funds. I know there are other things wrong with the van and will have to raise $$ for those repairs but will NOT go back to this place. TOP repair is the driver’s window stopped working…told it will be roughly $1300 to fix it.

    Any words of wisdom or encouragment are greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

  9. Bridget

    Hey! I read this article and found it very interesting! My partner has two ute. His 1988 ford Courier (engine on has 180k on the clock!) failed its warrant so it was sent into the maniacs, and He said can you fix what you need to so that it could get its warrant. They found that it needed to new turbo (2k) and they put it and fixed the rest and they told him it will need a new piston as it has one small broken part. They said the piston would be fine for now but would eventually need fixing. He then got it back and it was running like shit and took off on him and he had to wait for it to roll to a stop and was very very lucky he didn’t crash into anyone! so he took it back. They have just come back to him saying, the air pressure from the tubro didn’t fit in with the semi broken piston and Now the ute won’t start at all and need a whole new engine! They hadn’t matched the turbo to the pressure correctly when they installed it, is it partly there fault? What should he do?

  10. Karolina

    Hello! This article made me more confident about my situation. The mechanics that worked on my car did a poor job in the first place but few months later I’m finding out that there are issues with my car that were most likely caused by them. One part is completely missing, having been replaced by a pipe that was so badly welded on that it was pushing exhaust into my car. A break pad broke off almost immediately after I left their shop. I wasn’t compensated or even talked to about what was happening, but language barrier. Is it too late to try to get my money back? I’m been upset thinking about this for a while.

  11. Byron

    Just leased a 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX turbo from a dealership back home. Twelve hundred miles later my clutch went out…Being a used vehicle I was ok with replacing it right away! Went to a local mechanic who agreed to replace it for me..i didn’t do it myself due to harvest time hours being so crazy n long. Go pick up the car and pay for it. Drive not even 200 miles and the worst and most annoying sound screeching from my transmission….ThrowOut Bearing I thought instantly. Take it back to the shop. Car sits for 4 days without being touched. so I reschedule. take the car back and sits for two days and Finally they pull it in. Long story short, they pried the transmission away by the point of prying on my turbocharger…get the bill and its over 1000.00 and more broke. Replaced flywheel and need starter now.Driving home which was only 5 miles away and half way there and my turbo blows! Mechanic says he isn’t responcible for any of the damage caused at his shop and still wants me to show up and pay my bill..Havent paid a dime to the shop until my vehicle is in te same condition as when I drove into the shop minus the clutch that was paid for. Any info on how to go about getting info on what I can do in this situation??

  12. klara

    Great article. I guess its really hard – from my customer point of view – at least you admit it and either fix it or discuss. Today I picked up my car from a regular check (WOF) and when they want to back it up from garage – it wont start. Fuel pump leaking or broken, but they didn’t touched it they say. Many times I just wish I knew more about cars, but that’s why we all have different professions… unfortunately many car mechanics are cheeky (in many countries) and that’s why people being suspicious. I guess, in your instance it would be good to be insured, if any type of insurance like this exists. I am a designer – if I send files to print with a mistake which I made, i have to pay a correct reprint, cant go secondhand print:) and It can be more expensive then $1000… but accidents happen. We just need to acknowledge them, be honest and learn from them… Cheers for post

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