My husband’s Dodge Ram 1500 was starting intermittently and making a clicking noise. He took it to a mechanic who ran a diagnostic test, determined it was the starter, replaced it, and charged us $550 for the entire job.
My husband drove it home, and an hour later it wouldn’t start. In fact, it now made a grinding noise when he tried to start it. The next morning, the same thing happened. He had it towed back to the mechanic, who now said it was the fly wheel and had my husband tow it to a Dodge dealer. Well, it ended up being a cracked head gasket.
My question to you is this:
The mechanic charged us $129 to run the diagnostic test to determine the problem and $420 to install the new starter. In your opinion, do we have a right to ask for our money back? Would the diagnostic test determine if it was the head gasket or the fly wheel? We do not know very much about automobiles and really have no idea if the mistake by the mechanic was a legitimate and/or common one, or if we were taken. Any help you can offer would be appreciated.
Thank you, Lori
Hi there Lori,
Wowowow…I am lost, how did it go from a simple starter replacement to an expensive and drastic head gasket replacement?
Let me say this:
The starter is what turns the engine over when you turn the key. It “starts” the engine…like its name suggests. The starter grabs the flywheel by meshing the metal teeth on the starter to the metal teeth on the flywheel. The starter spins the flywheel and the flywheel (which is attached to the back of the engine) turns over the engine.
So, if the starter is bad, it usually won’t spin at all and thus can’t spin the flywheel or the engine. You usually just have a “click” noise from under the vehicle when you turn the key to the start position.
If the flywheel is worn out the starter tries to spin the flywheel, but the teeth on the flywheel are damaged or missing, IF this happens, you will hear a loud metal-to-metal grinding noise when you turn the key to the start position, and in most cases the engine will not turn over because the flywheel is not turning.
How does the flywheel get damaged? From a worn out starter. The starter breaks off or damages the teeth of the flywheel. So in most cases, if you hear that metal-to-metal noise when starting, you will end up replacing both the starter AND the flywheel.
Your mechanic might have replaced the starter and either did not see the damage to the flywheel (it is hard to inspect the entire flywheel so this could have been easily overlooked) or if the mechanic was unaware that you were experiencing a loud noise when you tried to start the engine, he might not have even been concerned with the flywheel in the first place and did not check it because you presented no reason for him to spend the extra time to do so.
Now….where in the world does the head gasket come in to the story? If there is a head gasket problem, there is almost always an overheating problem as well. The head gasket is internal in the engine and requires some pretty extensive repair to get to and replace. Is there a noise associated with a bad head gasket…not usually. What
is associated with head gasket problems? Coolant (antifreeze) loss, overheating, water in the engine oil, oil in the antifreeze, or steam or water out the exhaust pipe.
There could be a recall or something else that the dealer saw that caused them to investigate the head gasket, but you really need to ask them why…and
what caused the failure of the gasket. This is a pretty serious condition, and you don’t want it to happen again.
Should you ask for your money back with the first mechanic? I think you should ask more questions of him and the dealership first and get the whole story. It is not uncommon to have to replace the starter motor. Three years might be a little premature depending on how many miles where are on the vehicle. But a head gasket failure I would not expect to occur at all unless the engine overheated.
The diagnostic test that was done for the starter would NOT have tested the head gasket, but should have tested the rest of the electrical system like the battery and the alternator. During the starter installation, the flywheel could have been inspected, but that requires a human visual inspection not a diagnostic test.
BTW $550 sounds high on the starter replacement. You should call the dealer and get a quote from them…make sure you add
their diagnostic charge to that quote. An electrical system diagnostic test should really only cost about $55 – $70. You might want to question the mechanic about his charges if the dealer gives you a much more reasonable quote.
Did I clear things up?
Austin C. Davis