Let's say you saw an offer on TV: Jiffy Lube will change your car's oil for a mere $3,975 for an oil change! Before you say "no," wait! With this special offer, the oil change will only take 46 days! You’ll have your car back before you know it!
Of course, they didn't advertise it that way. They claimed the oil change would only be twenty-nine bucks.
It all started last August. My partner took her Chevy Tracker, an eminently practical car with plenty of room to take the poodles to the dog park, in to Jiffy Lube because you're supposed to change your oil regularly. We went to the one at at 10227 NE Halsey in Portland, Oregon. It's an unimpressive-looking place, even by the standards of oil change places:
Doesn't really look like the city's epicenter of gross incompetence, does it?
Changing the oil in a car is not an intellectually challenging task. It's not like they were trying to, say, land a probe on a comet 317,000,000 miles away or anything like that. The procedure is well-documented and almost simple enough for your dog to do it, if your dog had hands and an attention span longer than five minutes. You drain the oil, put more oil in, take off the oil filter (this is the most challenging part of the whole operation), and replace it with a new one. Cooking spaghetti and meatballs is, in all seriousness, a more cognitively challenging task.
They did this, but got a bit hung up on the last step, the bit where you put a new oil filter on. The person1 who performed this entire challenging operation neglected to notice that the gasket wasn't properly seated on the filter. That, as it turns out, is kind of important.
For the next couple of months, the Tracker stayed in the driveway, rarely being used except to take the dogs to the dog park. All seemed well, until October 19, when zaiah took the car to Washington State, the first long-distance trip she had made since the oil change.
All was good right up until the moment there was a loud "bang!" and the engine stopped turning. Just like that, in the middle of the road in rural Washington. Naturally, because this is often the way of things, there was no town around for miles.
So she called for a tow, because the car sure as hell wasn't going anywhere under its own power, and had the car hauled to the nearest small town. She stayed in a cheap motel and the next day had the car brought to a mechanic, whereupon she discovered three rather unpleasant things.
First, there was a hole about the size of a fifty-cent piece all the way through the engine block, where a vital bit of the engine’s interior had decided it was tired of its career as a part of the engine's interior and it wanted to become exterior.
Second, there was no oil in the car, hence the interior bit traveling from the inside of the engine to the outside of the engine with enough vigor to punch right through the engine block.
Third, well...remember the part where I said the gasket wasn't seated on the oil filter correctly? The reason that turns out to be kind of important is the gasket is the bit that keeps the oil from pouring out of the engine and onto the road under high pressure.
The mechanic looked at the oil filter, and the telltale smear of oil that had flowed out of the filter all over the engine, nodded, and said "yep, here's your problem." He took off the filter and pointed to a trail of little tiny bits of metal under the gasket. "Those used to be part of the engine," he said. "See how the bits of metal are under the gasket? That's where the oil was leaking. It's like a trail of cookie crumbs, from the jar to your four-year-old's bed. Not too hard to figure out what happened."
Mmm, cookie crumbs. Honey bits o' engine part.
She ended up spending two more nights in that town, while the mechanic called around for a new engine and put together a jaw-dropping estimate to replace it. Given that the repair was likely to take a week at the least, not counting the time to, you know, find a new engine on account of 'cause the old one had a hole in it, and given that staying in this quaint and no doubt charming but still quite distant little town was apt to create logistical problems re: the entire rest of her life, she rented a U-Haul with a car carrier to bring the car back to Portland.
I'd say that’s when the fun started, but in this tale the fun never starts.
The first thing we did when she got back home was get in touch with Jiffy Lube Corporate, who handed us off to the local Jiffy Lube franchise owner, the dudebro who owns the rather sad-looking commercial establishment pictured above.
The second thing we did was take the car to a Portland mechanic. He looked at the car, looked at the filter, nodded wisely, and said, "yep, here's your problem, bum oil filter gasket. See all the little slivers of metal under the gasket here? Those are bits of your engine. You can tell the oil was leaking here because--" and we said "trail of cookie crumbs, four-year-old's bed, yeah, we know."
He gave us an equally eyewatering estimate to replace the engine. He also told us he sees occasional cars pass through his shop with engines wrecked by improper oil changes from commercial oil-change places, which is something I would not have guessed. Live and learn, I suppose. Apparently, the training, quality control, and meticulous attention to detail that so characterizes the rest of American industry is conspicuous in its absence from the oil-change trade.
Anyway, he started calling around for a replacement engine, and we started talking to the owner of the Jiffy Lube franchise, a bloke named Shawn Corno. Mr. Corno had us jump through a lot of hoops, sending him a written statement from the mechanic as to the cause of the disaster, an itemized estimate of the repair costs, and so on. Now, from one perspective, this all makes sense, I suppose; it’s necessary to keep innocent oil change places from being hit with false bills from, I don't know, the roving bands of mercenary con-artists who deliberately wreck engines and then charge other people for replacing them or something.
In any event, after several go-rounds with Mr. Corno, he finally sent us this email:
Thank you for providing the documents I requested in regards to this claim, after digging into this a little bit further there's a few things that just don't work out, one if the filter was Miss installed the vehicle would've had issues far before the amount of miles and time that have gone bye, based on these facts Jiffy Lube is denying liability of your claim.
All spelling and capitalization verbatim.
In Mr. Corno's world, it seems, defective oil filters all come fitted with a Mission-Impossible style countdown timer featuring a built-in timer that displays how much time is left before they destroy the engine. In this world, an employee who fits an engine with a defective oil filter starts the countdown timer before he closes the hood, so it just stands to reason that if someone calls with a ruined car after the normal time that one might set this countdown timer for, it must not have been ruined by the oil filter!
This is what a defective oil filter looks like, in Jiffy Lube-land.
Now, in real life, as opposed to the weird fairy-tale world of spies and countdown timers inhabited by Mr. Corno, there are many factors that might influence how much time passes between the moment a bad filter is installed on an engine and the moment when the parts inside the engine become the parts outside the engine. Like, say, the fact that the car spends most of its time parked in a driveway. Or the fact that things went kablooey the very first time the car was taken onto the freeway after the oil change.
I'm not suggesting, of course, that there is anything wrong with Mr. Corno’s calculations about how long should elapse between an oil change and the complete destruction of the engine, oh dear me no. I'm sure they are highly advanced and based on careful research, rather than simply being an excuse not to have to pay for the problem he caused. Perish the very thought that he might have been blowing a lot of smoke because he didn't want to pay for something. There's never been a time in all human history that someone has lied to get out of paying for some disaster or other they might have caused, and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
We finally got the car back yesterday. The total repair bill looked something like this:
- New engine, plus labor to replace said: $3,100.
- Tow from rural Nowherestan to the closest town: $390. (With roadside assistance. The bill without it would have been enough to choke a billygoat at five hundred paces.)
- Motel, for three nights: $200.
- U-Haul to tow the car back to Portland: $285.
Total cost: $3,975, not including the initial $29 for the oil change and filter.
Jiffy Lube is proving intractable. Jiffy Lube Corporate has insisted the responsibility lies with the franchise owner, but has invited us to fill out a customer care survey to let them know how they're doing. (Here's a hint, guys: YOU'RE DOING A CRAPPY JOB.)
Mr. Corno, the franchise owner, is sticking with his Mission Impossible Oil Filter Countdown Timer Scenario, insisting that if the filter were defective it would have shown up sooner, regardless of how often the car was used.
In the meantime, ended up stuck with $4,000 in bills just before Christmas, something that does to one’s Christmas spirit what a pail of cold water does to one's mood when one is...well, I'll leave that to your imagination.
A few days ago, this showed up in the mail:
I'll get right on that, you gormless muppets.
Happy New Year. Fuck you, Jiffy Lube. Fuck you in your stupid ear with a jagged metal dildo. And barbed wire.
If you want to get your car changed. go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Hire Bruce Willis and Vin Diesel to come change your oil for you. Have your car flown to whatever factory it came from. Either of those options will be cheaper than Jiffy Lube.
1 I'm assuming it was a person, and not a trained dog genetically modified to have hands. I have no evidence this is the case.