The dealer says I should just learn to live with this little oil leak. Should I?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an 87 Ford Tempo which has had oil leak problems during the past year. Some leaks have been fixed, but there is still a small engine oil leak identified by the assistant service manager as an engine oil seal adjacent to the transmission. He is reluctant to replace this oil seal because the oil leak is so small and because it requires removal and reassembly of a large number of parts which could bring on new problems. I knew you would want to know "how small is small," so I did not clean the garage floor for 93 days and the oil pattern on the floor was 394 square inches. This amounts to an oil leak of 4.23 square inches per day. My engine warranty runs out in ten months and the car has 35, 000 miles on it. Since I plan to keep this Tempo another five years, do you think this oil leak is apt to get much larger? My real question is should I insist that they fix this oil leak or would you recommend that I just try to live with it?

TOM: It?os a little known fact, Jim, that oil leaks tend to get worse, not better. And you should absolutely, positively, and emphatically insist that they fix this one.

RAY: Your car is under warranty. The reason you get a warranty is so that if something goes wrong, it gets fixed for free, and you don?ot have to worry about it. So it?os unconscionable of the dealer to try to weasel out of fixing the oil leak by telling you "it?os not leaking very much."

TOM: If he?os concerned that he might break something else while he?os doing it, that?os his tough luck. He can fix THAT stuff under warranty, too.

RAY: But the truth is, the manufacturer is as much at fault as the dealer. The manufacturer doesn?ot give the dealer any incentive to do warranty work. In fact, there?os a disincentive. The dealer gets paid less when he fixes cars under warranty than he does for normal repairs. So it?os no wonder that he?od rather not do warranty work...especially work like this oil leak, that is mostly labor.

TOM: It?os not just Ford, it?os all the manufacturers. And they?ore really being short sighted here. YOU don?ot care why the dealer doesn?ot want to fix your car, do you, Jim? All you know is that your Ford Tempo is leaking 4.23 square inches of oil every night on your garage floor, and that no one will fix it for you. And how are you going to express your displeasure about this? You?ore going to go out and buy a Toyota next time, right? And when they treat you the same way, you?oll go out and buy a Chrysler etc. etc.

RAY: If the manufacturers were smart, they?od pay their dealers much more for warranty work. They?od make their dealers happy--even anxious--to do warranty work.

TOM: Then dealers would want to fix their customers?o cars. And customers would be happy and buy more cars from that dealer. Can you imagine that? A world where people didn?ot hate their car dealers?

RAY: My brother?os getting a little glassy eyed here, folks. But listen, Jim, until the system changes, you have no choice but to insist that this dealer fix your car. Don?ot feel sorry for him. Say "look, I know you don?ot want to do this, but it?os covered under warranty, I?om keeping the car for another five years, and I want it fixed. Where?os the coffee machine? I?oll wait for it."

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