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  1. #1

    Default Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: Minnesota

    I recently was asked to do a repair on a neighbor's car. I normally don't do mechanical work for anyone but family and friends, which is very seldom. I am not a licensed mechanic, but I am experienced and I work in my home garage. I was approached by the customer in September of 2014. He asked me if I could install a bumper,which he had purchased on his daughter’s 1991 Honda Accord LX. I agreed and inspected the car. After inspecting the vehicle, I noticed it was missing a few parts to complete the repair. I also noticed the valve cover gasket was leaking oil. I showed this to him and I quoted him a price of around $120. This included putting on the bumper, installing the valve cover gasket, and buying all the necessary parts. He agreed and I ordered the parts. After several weeks, the parts arrived and I called them up to deliver the car. While I was changing the valve cover gasket I noticed that the timing belt was severely cracked and worn. I showed this to his wife and her daughter and told them the timing belt was likely to fail soon. They then asked me if I could change it, since the daughter was going on a long trip in several days. Despite the fact I had other responsibilities, I agreed to do this as a favor. I quoted them $150 for parts and $150 for labor, which is hundreds of dollars less than a mechanic shop would’ve charged.
    I then asked them if I could drive it to my friend's shop since I did not have an air compressor in my small one stall garage. They agreed to that also.
    After driving the car a mile or two, it began to sputter and die and would not restart. I called my brother and we towed it back to my house. Fearing the worst I inspected the timing belt and verified it was loose. I showed them this before starting any repairs and told her that there is a chance the valves were bent due to the belt slipping. I also visually showed her the problem. I said there was a chance the valves weren't bent and I could try installing the new timing belt. She agreed that it was worth a try.
    I had to borrow an air compressor from my brother to begin the task. I completed the repair after several days. Upon start up, the car did not run well. I assumed the valves were bent, because I am confident the timing belt was installed correctly. If I had installed the timing belt incorrectly, the car wouldn't have started at all. I told the wife and her daughter my suspicions. The daughter came over paid me and I told her I would look at it when I was back, as I was leaving town for a week.
    About a week later, I got a threatening text saying I had destroyed her engine and she wanted a refund of $210. I tried to call her and she wouldn't respond. They also gave me no chance to repair the problem, which I would've gladly done. Now they're trying to sue me in small claims for almost $3,000. The car in question is maybe only worth $500-$800.

    Any advice?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Location
    Pennsylvania
    Posts
    806

    Default Re: Am I Liable

    My advice - do not be friendly. Do not be "the nice guy" and stop repairing vehicles that are not your own. You should have stopped at just working on the bumper. It would have been easy for you to argue "hey look, I was simply doing body work and that is no way would cause the issue with the engine". Because you did tear into the engine, and because you are not a licensed mechanic, I think they have a good chance making the argument that you are at fault. I would speak to a local lawyer and start figuring how to settle this claim so it doesn't go to Court. I believe they have a better chance than not at holding you responsible in a Court.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
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    OH10
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    17,019

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    That said the value of a 91 honda accord is likely very low in the rust belt. I would get 2 online car valuation quotes, offer them the difference plus a refund, then take the car.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
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    18,015

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    Quote Quoting JoshtheCarGuy
    View Post
    Now they're trying to sue me in small claims for almost $3,000
    There is no "try", there is only sue or not sue.

    Have you been served with a summons and complaint?

    Or are they just threatening to sue.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    Yes, I was already served.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Posts
    38,867

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    If I had installed the timing belt incorrectly, the car wouldn't have started at all.
    Not necessarily true.

    They also gave me no chance to repair the problem, which I would've gladly done.
    they are not required to allow you to repair it.


    Now they're trying to sue me in small claims for almost $3,000. The car in question is maybe only worth $500-$800.
    all you will be liable for (and I do suspect you will be found liable) is the market value of the vehicle or the cost of the repairs, whichever is less.


    .
    While I was changing the valve cover gasket I noticed that the timing belt was severely cracked and worn.
    but not loose?

    I then asked them if I could drive it to my friend's shop since I did not have an air compressor in my small one stall garage. They agreed to that also.
    After driving the car a mile or two, it began to sputter and die and would not restart. I called my brother and we towed it back to my house. Fearing the worst I inspected the timing belt and verified it was loose.



    so, what did you find that caused the belt to be loose?


    and their claim to the value appears to be closer than your claim. Obviously I don't have all the info required to run a value on Edmunds or NADA, a very quick check on NADA on a 1991 Accord LX is around $4000.

    it looks like you need a license to operate an auto repair shop as well. Not having one isn't going to make a judge very happy.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    New Jersey
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    3,663

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    Being that this may go to court, I would claim what was made as income on this repair on my 2014 taxes, just incase Uncle Sam were to get involved.
    I'm not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.......

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
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    OH10
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    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    A KBB on a 92 came in at $1000. for St Paul. It is likely rusted out underneath and on the body.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Posts
    1,988

    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    KBB puts the value at 800- 1300, but NADA puts it at 2400-6400 average of all of the above at 2725 so suing for 3K does not seem outrageous.

    generally I find NADA to be more realistic as KBB will list perfectly functional cars with no problems at very low values only because they are old or have a lot of miles.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
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    OH10
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    Default Re: Back Yard Mechanic Sued Over Engine Damage

    In the rust belt, that is the usual scenario. Cars that have high miles and are that old are junk. You are pricing it as a classic car, not applicable unless it is in fact a low mileage, excellent condition collector type of vehicle. For example, My wifes great aunt's car Samantha, is a 1993 Old Cutlass Calais. It has 33,000 original miles and was always garaged. That would be the type of car NADA value would apply to.

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