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Ask Joanne

Help! My oil change went horribly wrong Add to ...

I recently purchased my first new car, and upon its first oil change I brought it to the dealership for their "expert" service. After I left the dealership, and drove 40 km running errands, the oil light came on. Within four km, I checked the oil and to my horror it was empty.

I had the car towed back to the dealership where, after their shameful apology, they "looked" at the car. On checking the oil release bolt, it was discovered it had never been tightened. Within two days they deemed it "fine," having shown me compression test results, saying they were normal, and offered me my money back on the failed oil change and offering the next one on the house.

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I still believe there could be unseen damage that will present itself in the course of time.

Frankly, I have lost much confidence in the car, as I had hoped to have this car for more than the standard five-year/100,000-km warranty. I do not find their compensation satisfactory, and when I suggested a free extended warranty, they refused, but offered it to me at half price.

What are your thoughts and what would you deem fair compensation?

- Nicole in Toronto

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The confidence that came with your new car purchase has been dented by an error, for which your dealer has accepted blame. The extent of compensation depends on the damage done, so let's start there.

Auto mechanics I spoke with share your lack of confidence in the vehicle. "The oil light comes on at 10 psi, so it ran for four km below that pressure. There is undoubtedly damage to the vehicle," says John Broek, a Porsche Goldmeister Technician in Vancouver.

"It's the damage to bearings, the cam shaft - all the stuff that's rotating that I'd be worried about. Compression tests won't necessarily show the damage right away."

Which checks were performed during the two days your car was at the dealer? According to Broek and other mechanics, your car's engine must be stripped to determine the extent of the damage. If your car ran without oil, the consequences could manifest in days, weeks or even years. The resale value will also be affected.

So, what is fair compensation?

Your dealer should buck up for the full price of the extended warranty. Broek takes this one step further. "Personally, I would ask for a new engine - it's damaged, and won't last the typical 200,000 km you'd expect," he says.

Have another conversation at your dealership. If you meet resistance, consult another mechanical expert, and get the diagnosis in writing. Present that to your service manager. I'm sure the warranty manual in your glove box clearly states that your satisfaction is the manufacturers number one goal. If your concern cannot be resolved at the dealership level, contact the manufacturer's Customer Relationship Centre.

As a consumer, you should be aware of organizations that may be able to help. In this case, the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services will advise you to seek legal counsel. There are, however, a couple of options you may want to consider first.

You can apply to the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan ( CAMVAP.ca). "They're an award-winning organization that brings the manufacturer and consumer together to resolve consumer complaints," says Huw Williams of the Canadian Auto Dealers Association.

"Another avenue is the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council ( OMVIC.on.ca), a government body with industry representation. If a customer has a dispute involving a registered car dealer, OMVIC works with both parties to reach a satisfactory solution."

Joanne Will welcomes your questions. E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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