More often than not, cars are taken to mechanics so an issue can be fixed. However, sometimes cars can leave the shop with more issues than what they arrived with! These mechanics recall the embarrassing times they made a mistake while working on a customer’s car. Hey, mistakes happen, right? Content has been edited for clarity.
“It Still Makes Me Want To Crawl Under A Rock Today”
“In 2005 I had just gotten out of prison and was looking for work. Unlike my past, this time I was determined to do the right thing and live the remainder of my life in the free world.
A friend, knowing my good intentions, let me do some work for her daughter’s Acura. Before going to prison, I was employed at a Honda dealership. I was familiar with working on both Hondas and Acuras. However, it had been almost five years since I had picked up a wrench, so I was a bit rusty.
Anyway, while I worked on the Acura, I replaced all of the mounts. I had a difficult time with the rear once, so I had to jack the engine up to install it. After spending all day working on the car, a friend who had helped me with the job and I took it for a test drive.
After driving the car for about a mile, everything seemed fine and the car ran great. When I began to drive the car back to the owner’s house, my buddy turned on the stereo. The car speakers had a bass loud enough to rattle the license plate frames!
So as my buddy turned on the stereo, I noticed a small flash go off under the hood. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I continued driving. After about four more blocks, I suddenly noticed smoke billowing out from under the hood on the driver’s side.
I freaked out and pulled over to the curb.
I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be good. She’s never going to let me work on her cars again.’
When I pulled on the hood release cable, the lever pretty much fell off in my hand. So now, I couldn’t get the hood open. The fire now burning underneath the hood had melted off the release cable. I was in panic mode attempting to ring all of the neighbor’s doorbells asking if anyone had a fire extinguisher I could use. The problem was, I was pretty much covered in grease and grimy looking. If I were in the neighbor’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t have opened the door, either.
One of the neighbors wound up calling the fire department. All my buddy and I could do was just sit there and watch the car go up in flames. The fire department arrived just before the flames made it to the car’s interior. However, at this point, the car was totaled. If it wasn’t after the fire department was done ripping the hood open and dousing the flames, the car was a total loss.
Needless to say, calling my friend was a phone call I dreaded having to make.
When my friend answered the phone, she asked with anticipation, ‘Cool, you’re done with the car. How much longer before you make it back to the house so I can pay you?’
I replied, ‘I was almost to the house, but I can’t make it anymore. On the way home, the car caught on fire and completely burned to the ground.’
My friend laughed and replied, ‘Very funny. When are you going to be here?’
‘I’m serious,’ I sighed, ‘Just come to where the car is.’
When my friend arrived, she was quite surprised to see the car. I felt like an idiot, and it took my friend a while to get over the loss of the car. I had no money, but I did get to pay her back by installing head gaskets on a V-8 Dodge truck she had, along with a few other things.
I figured while lifting the engine, I must have stretched one of the power cables going to the amp from the battery. In turn, it exposed the wire, which was then laying on metal. Once the stereo was turned on, poof!
It still makes me want to crawl under a rock today.”
“I Felt Something Knock Me In The Head”
“One time, I didn’t just ruin one car. I ruined two cars at the same time.
It was 1995, and I was going to do a carburetor overhaul on a 1985 Toyota pickup truck. It was a base, no-frills, model with a four-speed stick transmission, no air conditioning, and plastic seats. It was a real plain Jane!
I took the air cleaner housing off and manually set the auto choke to monitor the pull-off diaphragm when it first started cold. Back in the day, there wasn’t a clutch safety switch, and I didn’t realize the truck was in gear. I reached the window after setting the choke and fast idle by hand. Then, I turned the key to start the car. I didn’t realize the mistake I had made!
The truck being in gear, it took off across my shop in first gear and on fast idle. I grabbed the door handle and opened the door to jump in and stomp the brake pedal. And I did just that. Or so I thought.
I was in a panic and my heart was pounding. Between the screeching, smoke, and other loud noises, I felt something knock me in the head. Hard. The major hit I took to the noggin was a Chrysler Lebaron convertible coming down onto the roof of the Toyota after it fell from the lift which was being steadily ripped from the floor.
When I came to my senses, I realized my foot was on the gas pedal rather than the brake pedal, hence the loud banging around noises. The smoke? It was the tires smoking up from doing a burnout.
The truck? Well, it was totaled and about six inches shorter than stock. The Chrysler? Well, it was a convertible so we took out the seats and several of us jumped on the floor to flatten the hump I custom-made all by myself. The owner never knew anything happened because it was as good as new after our custom frame and bodywork.
The guy had his truck from day one and loved it, even though it had a gazillion miles on it. The owner was a really tough guy, so I was freaking out about ruining his truck knowing I was half of his size.
The didn’t have a phone where he stayed, so I went to his house and told him the situation while groveling and apologizing profusely. I drove there with a 1987 Toyota with air conditioning, auto transmission, new tires, and many fewer miles on it I purchased from a local dealer I knew. I paid twenty-five hundred bucks for it a half hour after the incident and gave it to him. The owner was in shock but said it was all good. He was still angry though, I could sense.
A week later I saw him coming up to my shop and my stomach knotted up fast. He wasn’t smiling. Well, when he came into my office with his wife, I thought he was going to stomp me.
The guy questioned, ‘Do you remember what you did to my truck?’
I replied, ‘Of course, how could I forget? Again, I’m so sorry.’
He asked, ‘Could you do the same to my wife’s car? I’m dropping it off for an oil change today and it’s also a piece of work.’
At this moment, I knew all was good between us. He is still one of my clients to this day.”
“It Ended Up Costing Over One Thousand Bucks”
“Around eight years ago, I worked for a major computer chip manufacturer as a temporary hire, but I had always worked on cars as a hobby. About six months into my one-year assignment, I met a guy who had recently moved from his hometown where his ex-wife and daughter lived. All he had left in his life was his Volkswagen GTI VR6. It was his pride and joy.
I felt bad for the guy because he had been unemployed for over one year. He lost everything and had to move several states away to find a decent job. As we talked, the guy mentioned how he went to the mechanic and they said he needed new brakes, front, and rear.
I replied, ‘Come by my house on Saturday, and we can change your brakes in my garage. It should be easy, and it will save you about four hundred more bucks than what you were quoted.’
At the time, I lived in an older house, but it had a big garage leading out to a sloped driveway. When Saturday rolled around, we put the car in the garage.
I told the guy, ‘Put the car in first and set the parking brake. We can break loose the lug bolts.’
I jacked it up, removed the wheels, and disassembled everything. However, when we got to the rear rotors, I realized the parking brake was still set which wouldn’t allow us to remove the rotors. He jumped in the car and released the parking brake.
It wasn’t a big deal, the car was up on jack stands and had no wheels. We got everything replaced and put the wheels back on, removed the jack stands, and went inside to wash up with a job well done.
Not even one minute later, we heard a knock on my front door.
It was the kid across the street, and he told us, ‘Your car rolled out of your garage and through our garage.’
My stomach dropped. I looked outside, and sure enough, the Volkswagen was literally inside their garage, almost like someone had parked it there, except forgot to open the door first.
What happened was that when the guy had gotten in the car to release the brake, he also put the car in neutral because he thought it needed to be. Plus, we never reset the parking brake. After we went inside, the car started rolling down the steep driveway and across the street. It was at such a perfect angle, the car managed to miss a fence and roll straight through the neighbor’s garage door. With the weight and momentum of the car, it ripped the garage door off the tracks and folded it around the car. The car came to a complete stop in the middle of the garage.
The guy’s insurance covered everything, the new garage door, his new bumper and rear hatch, window, tail lights, and of course, repainting the back of the car. The attempt to save four hundred bucks ended up costing the guy over one thousand bucks.
To make matters worse, a new family moved into the house a few months later with a brand-new garage door. Allegedly, they were making illegal substances in the garage and ended up blowing it up. The entire new garage burned to the ground.”
“We Tried To Contact Him In Every Way Possible”
“At the time of this incident, I was a young apprentice working in a repair garage. It was just before lunch, and I always took off for lunch with a friend. I was hungry on this day, as I didn’t eat anything for breakfast.
Just as I was getting ready to leave for lunch, a customer walked in. He wanted an oil and filter change, along with a lubricant job. This meant I would have to grease all of the fittings, plus check and fill oil levels in the transmission and differential. This would cut into my lunch hour, and my boss wanted it done before I left for lunch.
I changed the oil and filter, then I checked the transmission and differential oil. Afterward, I took off for lunch about forty-five minutes late, and the customer immediately left on a trip hundreds of miles away. When I got back from lunch, I discovered I had left the differential fill plug out. I forgot to put it back in after checking the oil level.
The shop tried getting in contact with the vehicle owner so we could replace the plug, or at least stop him from continuing to drive so he could get it replaced. However, this was long before the time of cell phones. We tried calling his house, and his parents answered. We let them know, hoping they could find a way to get in contact with him.
We heard the customer had gotten to upper New York state before his rear end decided to blow up. I heard it happened around midnight.
The customer went out and hired an attorney when he got back from the trip. He then came to the shop and showed us the bill of repair. The shop owner paid him on the spot for his repair. The owner also admitted fault for my failure to put the oil plug back in. We tried to contact him in every way possible, but without cell phones, it was difficult.
The moral of the story is, always give the shop owner benefit of the doubt, and don’t wait until the last minute to take care of car troubles before a trip.”
“The Door Broke Into A Million Pieces Of Splintered Wood”
“My dad previously owned a major autobody shop. When I turned eighteen years old, he sent me to work at the shop as an apprentice. Every Friday, all of the cars were put in the garage for the weekend, and on Monday mornings, the apprentices had to move them all out in advance of the work day.
On Monday morning, we went out into the shop to move the cars out for the day. I jumped into an old Ford Falcon sitting right in front of one of the shop’s big overhead doors. I hopped in, leaving the car door open, doing the old one foot out and one in on the gas pedal. I gave the pedal a couple of pumps on the accelerator then cranked it over to warm it up before going around to open the big door.
Then, the old Falcon with the sloppy, pre-safety-lock transmission, started up and dropped into reverse. The car did a one-wheel peel and went flying into, and through, the overhead door. The car door was still open, and it crashed against another vehicle. The vehicle the Falcon crashed into was a freshly painted ride. The Falcon’s door bent back and ruined the entire side of the other car.
I managed to hit the brakes just in time to have the overhead door come crashing down, landing right on top of the car. The door broke into a million pieces of splintered wood. It was awful!
Since it was early in the morning, everybody was in the coffee room right next door. About twenty-five technicians and managers came streaming out of the room to see me with a dumb-struck look on my face. Needless to say, I stayed on well past midnight fixing the shop door and repairing both customers’ cars.”
“I Was Glad She Didn’t Place Blame On Me”
“This wasn’t one hundred percent my fault, but I still felt bad.
I had a lady bring in her Subaru Forester for its second timing belt. She had just over two hundred thousand miles on it. While removing the drive belts, I noticed the tensioner pulley for one of the drive belts sounded a little dry.
So, I called the woman up and asked, ‘Do you want me to replace this tensioner pulley? It’s no extra labor, it needs to come off anyway. However, it might take two or three days to get a replacement.’
Being an older Subaru, the only choice to purchase a new tensioner was from the dealership or online. Regardless, it would still take a few days. At first, the woman agreed. However, the next day, the woman called me back and asked if I could put her car back together because she needed it back. She picked her vehicle up and said she would return in a few days to
So two days later, here comes the Forester on the back of a tow truck. Now as most mechanics would tell you, it’s one of the worst feelings. A vehicle you just worked on coming back ‘on the hook.’
The woman called me and said, ‘It just stopped running on me.’
I opened the hood and found the tensioner had locked up, the belt slipped under the crank pulley, and it threw out the timing. I removed the heads and found bent valves on one of the cylinders. So with over two hundred thousand miles, this motor was done. I felt bad. I explained what happened, and she was ok with it.
Luckily, I was able to work something out with the local junkyard, and got her a motor with under one hundred thousand miles on it.
I asked the woman, ‘Do you mind paying for the motor? I would be more than happy to put it in for free. No markup on the motor, either.’
She agreed, and we still joke about it to this day. Plus, she still has the old Forester. She just won’t get rid of it. Even though the problem with her car was one in a million, I was glad she didn’t place blame on me.”
“The Shop Ate Almost Ten Thousand Bucks”
“I never ruined a vehicle, but I did damage an engine.
I was doing an oil change on a truck with a Cummins engine. Usually, when I did those, I didn’t torque the oil plug down until the oil level was good. This particular engine was not one I was familiar with, so I went online to look up its capacity. The problem was that I found two different capacities, and I couldn’t figure out how to tell what the difference between the two was.
I filled the engine to the lower capacity, checked the level adjusted, and checked again. The issue was, during this entire process, I kept being called away for various reasons. It also didn’t help I got distracted when filling it one time and it went a bit over, so I had to drain some oil, which normally wasn’t a big deal.
When combining the constant distraction with the atypical oil change procedure, I ended up only having the drain plug in my hand tight. It came out about ten miles down the road and the engine duped all of its oil. Luckily, Cummins engines were smart enough to know they actually can shut themselves down when critical conditions were detected, like no oil pressure.
On the bright side, while there didn’t appear to be any damage, the shop replaced all of the lower-end bearings and had the truck towed at no cost to the customer. They also put two people in it, so in total, it only took three hours.
Afterward, I took my torque wrench down into the pit with me, and anytime the drain plug came out, I torqued it back in.
I have also seen a rebuild go bad when a piston punched its way out of the block.
We had two truck tickets get swapped, so the one coming in for engine work went to the transmission guy, and the one that needed transmission work went to the engine guy. The worst part was, they both needed work from the wrong place they went, and some of the work somehow got approved. The shop ate almost ten thousand bucks on this one.
Mistakes happened. Good mechanics tried to make them as few and far between as possible, and good shops did whatever they could to make it right, but it still happened.
Luckily, most mistakes never left the shop.”
“It Completely Destroyed The Engine”
“I messed up a customer’s car once. I was changing a lower-intake manifold gasket on a Chevy 3.4L engine. The gasket set didn’t arrive before my shift ended, so I would finish working on the car in the morning, no problem.
I wiped my hands and tools off and tossed the tag up by the wiper blades and went home. The next morning, I put it all back together. While test-driving the car, the oil light came on. I stopped and checked the oil level, and everything was all good. I turned around and headed back to the shop to check the sending unit. About a block before I got there, the car started knocking!
I took the intake back off, and I found pieces of the rag from the day before everywhere! It had fallen into the engine. The balance shaft tore it up and it plugged the oil pump and starved the engine of oil. Essentially, it completely destroyed the engine.
I replaced the engine at my expense and returned the vehicle to the customer. Thankfully, they were understanding. He is still a happy and loyal customer to this day.”