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« Did You Lock Your Car? It Might Not Be Safe Enough! | Main | Bret Michaels shares his “Endless Love” for Nissan Vans »

August 08, 2014

Dealing with an Oil Drip

Fresh_oil_leak-20140801_161542I discovered a messy puddle of oil under my car last week.

This is where I confess that -- even though I’ve spent nearly 30 years in the automotive industry -- I didn’t know what to do next.

It’s okay: You can laugh and point at the “car girl” who doesn’t know how to repair her own car. I know about these things in theory. I know how to check my oil level and tire pressure and could jump a battery or change a tire if I had to, but when it comes to real life, I rely on mechanics (and Auto Club) for the practical application of most of my car’s care.

So, when I saw the brown splashes beneath my beloved 2011 Ford Fiesta -- which has just passed its fourth birthday and has barely 45,000 miles on the odometer -- I kinda panicked. I’m a writer, not a mechanic, and I’m okay with that.

“Sunshine” had been parked for more than a week while I was testing a 2014 Lincoln MKZ. I discovered the oily mess on the ground when I moved her out of my garage to give my parking spot to a visiting friend.

“Oh $&!%,” I lamented. “It’s been 5000 miles and nine months since my last oil change, and this is the first time I’ve noticed a drip.” My friend suggested we check my oil level to ensure too much hadn’t leaked out, and then teased me because I hadn’t thought to do that myself. The dipstick showed the level was fine, and the oil was nice and clean, so beyond the mystery of where the leak was coming from, there was no other immediate cause to be alarmed.

Overnight_oil_drip_20140801_142344The next day, I measured the size of the fresh drip under the car, which just overnight had spread to more than an inch across on the clean patch of concrete. Then I called my mechanic brother-in-law, who had changed my oil for me as a favor when its 40,000-mile service interval came up last November. Because it had been nine months since he changed my oil, he said that if something hadn’t been properly tightened, it would have demonstrated a leak long before now. He lives more than an hour away, and it didn’t make sense for me to drive the car all the way out to him for a look, so I called the dealership to schedule an appointment. The good news was, because of its age and mileage, my Fiesta would still be under its original powertrain warranty if there were some mechanical problem with my engine.

Now, if you’re a handy person, there would be things you could do yourself to figure this out on your own. The internet is full of suggestions, including this illustrated step-by-step guide at Wikihow on “How to Troubleshoot an Oil Leak.” I also found a helpful story at About.com that helps readers identify the various liquids that could be leaking under a car. Any of these stories would be super useful for a person with the proper tools and a functioning jack, but as I said earlier, “I’m a writer, not a mechanic, and I’m okay with that.”

Oil_leak-20140804_220323I took pictures of the puddle and the overnight drip, and brought them with me to the mechanic a few days later. I was surprised when he told me there would be a $105 diagnostic fee to find the leak, but he assured me the charge would be paid by warranty if the leak was a result of a mechanical issue. (My brother-in-law’s words echoed in my head: “It’s been nine months and 5000 miles since I changed your oil,” he said. “If it wasn’t properly tightened then, you would have seen a leak long before now…”)

Those words came back to haunt me a few hours later when the service advisor called me up to tell me -- wait for it -- that it appeared my oil filter was loose, that they could find no other source of leaking oil, and I could come pick up my car anytime. Oh, and that’ll be $105. And then he suggested they could give me an oil change for $40 bucks, and add some dye so that if the leak returns, it will be easier to find, thank you very much.

WaitwaitwaitwaitWAIT! What was that again? That I had to pay $105 for them to tighten my loose oil filter? (What did my brother-in-law say? “It’s been nine months, blah, blah, blah...” he said. “If it wasn’t properly tightened, blah, blah, blah…” Hmmm….) And the mechanic wants me to pay $40 on top of that $105 for an oil change I don’t need? A HUNDRED AND FORTY FIVE DOLLARS TO STOP A STUPID OIL LEAK? They couldn’t possibly really expect me to pay that... could they?

Money_thinkstock-122486570This is the dealership where I purchased my Fiesta. And it was the second car I have purchased there. They have performed all but one of its scheduled maintenances. And they want me to pay A HUNDRED AND FORTY FIVE DOLLARS TO STOP A STUPID OIL LEAK that probably took them 20 minutes to diagnose and resolve? At that moment, I was not happy.

I told the service advisor to do nothing yet, that I needed to check on something, and would call him back. And then I called my brother-in-law to ask him what he thought about the situation. I had brought him a factory filter. Did he use the crush washer? Why, after 5000 miles, is it loose now? I’m upset, because I trusted my brother-in-law, a handy mechanic, to do the job properly: It’s not as if I could have checked the tightness of the filter myself before taking it in, and now I’m on the hook for $105?!?!?!

While we were talking, my call waiting clicked in. It was the service advisor telling me he had discussed the situation with the mechanic and they agreed not to charge me for the diagnostic time. He said I didn’t need the oil change. They added half a quart of oil and some fluorescent dye in case the drip returns. They even washed my car.

Maybe somebody somewhere realized that goodwill to a loyal customer was worth much more than the $105 they wanted to charge me to tighten my loose oil filter, especially in today’s environment where online commentary -- good and bad -- is so easily accessible via such social outlets as Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook. Could they know I would be likely to comment about it in all those places, as well as here at AskPatty? Is there a note in my customer file about the many times I have commented on Twitter about service I have received from @VistaFordLinc?

Fiestagrrl_twitter_shoutout_vistafordlincWe already know that women are more vocal and more persuasive than men when it comes to our word-of-mouth recommendations. In fact, Forbes Magazine has reported that when it comes to advocacy, “Women’s WOM is more influential. What’s perhaps most noteworthy of all is that men and women alike agree that women give better advice than men do.”


So, here’s the happy ending: It’s been several days since they tightened my oil filter and I’ve seen no additional oil under my car. Thank you to @VistaFordLinc for solving the oil leak on my Fiesta, at no cost, even though it was not a warranty issue.

And, that was the last time I let my brother-in-law change my oil.

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