Wal-Mart Takes A Page From Jiffy Lube’s Book

Looking to Jiffy Lube for inspiration, Wal-Mart has seen the light: turn-around and profit both are a hell of a lot higher when you don’t actually bother doing the work.

Jessica S. wrote us about a recent experience she had with Wal-Mart’s Automotive department. They just don’t know how to do an oil-change, a day later, her engine blew up in a plume of smoke and gouting crude. Seems the crackerjack Wal-Mart technicians had forgotten to replace her oil cap.

Jessica naturally brought it in to get her oil cap replaced and her oil topped off. Despite the fact that they’d lost hers, Jessica had to buy a new cap at Auto Zone. They topped her off and she went on her way.

Except they didn’t, and she didn’t go along her way for long before her car grinded to a halt again. Jessica’s email, after the jump.

I know you guys don’t need any more reasons to bash Wal-mart, really, and I know my personal experience with them is not nearly as bad as others, but I thought I’d just send you a note telling you about how I found out that, while it’s pretty cheap, an oil change at Wal-mart’s just not worth it.

At the beginning of the summer, I was getting ready to make a road trip from Las Vegas, Nevada over to Los Angeles and back through Vegas up to Nebraska. I was due for an oil change, so on a Sunday I took my car in and had the service where they change the oil and cap off your other fluids, too. Monday (next day) evening, I noticed that smoke was coming out from under the hood of my car. I popped the hood and found out that they’d forgotten to replace the oil cap, and oil was ALL OVER under the hood. So, since the automotive department was closing in about 10 minutes, I called them up and told them what happened. They told me to come over, that they’d top off my oil and replace the cap. When I got there, they told me they didn’t have my cap, and that they don’t sell them. So they sent me to Auto Zone, where I bought a new one. I went back to Wal-mart, and while one worker was supposedly cleaning the oil out from under my hood (he didn’t do too much) and topping of my ! oil, another guy took me through an hour-long process of giving me my requested refund for the oil change, along with a refund for an oil cap that they don’t sell (which was very tricky for them). At this point, I was actually pretty impressed with the service and their willingness to stay open late and give me refunds.

Fast-forward about a week, when I’m driving through the mountains of Colorado and my car just wants to DIE. Any time I come to a stop, it nearly or completely dies. It jerks and jolts climbing hills, and requires pushing the gas pedal to the floor just to get to 55-60 mph some times. By the time we reach our destination, Boulder, it’s died at about every intersection. The next morning we check the oil, and there is HARDLY A DROP. So we dump a bottle in there, and head to the nearest Wal-mart, so I can demand a free fluid check and top-off (for real this time). We found a very helpful young man who took the time to top it off and check the transmission fluid, which also HAD NOT BEEN TOPPED OFF.

Not that bad of a story, I know. It could have been much worse! And it shows that some Wal-mart automotive employees are genuinely helpful, whereas others pretend to be and then just…sit on their ass and don’t do the work, I guess. But I guess I just figured out that next time I’m better off printing off instructions and doing it myself. And I should obviously check to see if a job I paid to get done actually got done. Duh.


Edit Your Comment

  1. mfergel says:

    Always….and I mean always carry at least a quart of oil with you (better to have two).

    I had the same problem happen with Jiffy Lube except it was my radiator cap. Next day on my way to work smoke is rising out of the car. Radiator was bone dry because the idiots forgot to put the cap back on.

  2. Fuzzyman says:

    Luckily for me, my Honda dealer does oil changes pretty quickly with no appointment. It’s $10 more expensive, but every 4th service is free at my dealer. Plus, I figure they have a vested interest in not screwing up the car.

  3. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    …her enginer blew up…

    Is that like a more powerful engine? Engine, enginer, enginest?

  4. Nancy Sin says:

    It’s evident Wallyworld fucked up here, but I think there is another party at fault here.

    I know Jessica now understands the value in learning how to check/top off fluids, and although it’s a bitch, it’s essential if you have an older car. So now that lesson #1 is taken care of, here’s lesson two: don’t go on a big road trip when you obviously have a transmission leak! Especially without extra transmission fluid! Even if your fluids were topped off at one point, you can’t assume they’ll stay that way for long.

  5. Nancy Sin says:

    here here here… pardon my Monday morning writing style. Enginer Ben will understand.

  6. denki says:

    You know how hard it is to change oil? It isn’t. You have 20 minutes? You can do it. AND you don’t pay anyone (except for disposing of the oil and buying new oil), and by doing it yourself you know it gets actually done. Which is better…spending 20 bucks learning how to do it for yourself, or spending a few hundred repairing all the damage done to your car when the shits at the lube shop don’t do it?

    First, consult the manual to find what viscosity of oil you need, etc etc. Then buy as much as you need for your car (depends on the size of the engine). Try to park your car on a flat level surface, put on some dungarees, and get a large flat tray to catch all the oil (make sure it is larger than the amount of oil you need to put it, you need extra space for movement). If you have a normal sedan or truck/van, you can probably do this without a jack, but if the car is too low it will need to be raised, which can make it a problem for changing oil, as not all the oil will drain. If a jack is necessary, make sure you take ample precautions that the car doesn’t fall on you. If you are paranoid about it, after the jack is in place you can stick something under the frame of the car that is just small enough to fit under the car, that way if the jack fails the car will hit the object and not you.
    Depending on the engine (fucking duh) the oil pan will be located in different areas, but if you go under the engine of your car you will probably see a large black cap attached to what looks like a pan of some sort…that is what you need to unscrew. Yes, oil will start pouring out everywhere, but as long as you’ve managed to survive up to this point in life you will probably survive it. Make sure you place your catch pan under the cap, then unscrew and let it drain. It should take a little under 20 minutes, but can vary. Eventually, it wil be done. Check under the car to see that no more oil is dripping out, replace the cap (if it fell in the catch tray, find it), and slowly drap out your catch tray. Now open the hood (or trunk if it is mid or rear engine), and find the oil cap, and start pouring your oil in. You also need to find the dipstick to make sure you don’t over or underfill your tank. All that should be in your owners manual, but if it isn’t, it’s not hard to find.
    Now comes the hardest part, disposal. Hard because you need to find some place to take the oil. First, you need to have a recepticle that is large enough to take all the oil, or you can use two if you can’t find one (a 2 gallon milk carton is good). If you don’t have a funnel handy you can cut one of the oil containers in half and use it as a funnel. Now slowly pour the oil from the catch tray into your container. If you have to you can clean up the tray with a rag. Now you need to find a place that will take used oil waste; sometimes hardware stores might have receptacles for oil, but it is best to look in the yellow pages for waste disposal and make a few phone calls.

    Next time on “it’s so god damned easy I’m surprised you people can even fucking breathe” theatre I’ll teach you all how to CHANGE A LIGHTBULB.

    *Cept for the people that don’t really have any place to change their oil..it can be done with some success in parking lots (though highly frowned upon), but doing it on public property is illegal in most places. The other thing to do is find a small, locally owned placed that has a good standing and use them. Because they aren’t a big chain they have more to lose if they get sucessfully sued over damages, but still, you never know.

  7. Triteon says:

    I’ll co-opt Fuzzyman’s take on this and say the cheapest place to get auto work done is not necessarily the best.
    Other advice: oil and fluids are not the only things you need to check prior to a long road trip. You should have the brakes, tires (including spare) and bulbs checked, and have stocked oil, transmission/brake fluid, antifreeze and flares. Part of your problem (and pardon me if this trip has been made before) may have been in your air mass meter; vehicles that live at sea level sometimes have a difficult time adjusting to higher altitudes. With this knowledge a seasoned mechanic can test the AMM and make a recommendation based on the results. Yep, it certainly costs more, but I find peace of mind invaluable.
    Look for an honest mechanic in your area at http://www.cartalk.com.

  8. xboxishuge says:

    “Not that bad of a story, I know.”

    Uh, lady? They fucked up your car, not just once, but AGAIN when you took it back in to fix the previous fuck-up. What the hell qualifies as “bad” in your book?

  9. UASteph says:

    Oil cap, heck. The one time I got my oil “changed” at Wal-Mart, they forgot to put the new oil *in* after draining the old. Good thing I noticed my oil light on while I was still in the parking lot.

  10. JMC says:

    Who in the name of holy hell gets their car fixed at Wal-Mart?

  11. Nancy Sin says:

    Gee denki, that DOES sound like a breeze! Or for virtually the same price I can sit on my duff and let somebody do it for me.

    Granted, I’m lucky enough to have an oil change place that not only has proven reliable for the past 7+ years, but charges me only $15 if I pay cash.

  12. brokenboy says:

    If her engine really did stall and die, she needs to go after wal-mart for a new engine. When an engine siezes due to lack of oil, you can’t just wait for it to cool down, throw some more oil in there and continue on your way. There’s all sorts of internal damage when that happens.

  13. timmus says:

    A couple of thoughts:

    (1) Most of the “quick lube” places here in Texas leave all of the garage doors open, so you can stand there and watch over the work without it being any big deal. It doesn’t look like such a layout exists at Wal-Mart.

    (2) I can see a need to deal with quick-lube places because some vehicle manufacturers (such as Honda) make the oil filter and plug extremely difficult to get to. Plus you’ve got to figure out what to do with the used oil… one can take it for “recycling” but dealing with a tub full of black oil sloshing around is not appealing.

    (3) My one Wal-Mart automotive experience was when I went there with a Chevy van to get the transmission fluid replaced and they said they didn’t know how to do it… WTF? Transmission fluid is one of the services they sell!

  14. I’d say there exists the very real possibility that substantial, permanent, expensive damage was done to this woman’s engine by wal-mart’s negligence. Running any engine with less oil than required – especially on a long trip, with climbing, will overheat and degrade valve seals, piston rings, and the engine’s moving parts. i’d be in Wal-Mart with my documentation, asking for a new engine to be installed at the dealership.

    That said, she’s not totally absolved:

    Any car made in the past 30 years has what are called “idiot lights”. If, say, there’s no oil in your engine, the “Oil press” idiot light is illuminated. If your car is overheating, the “Temp” idiot light switches on – and these lights usually are accompanied by a startlingly irritating buzzer.

    They’re called “idiot lights” because they are designed to let even the most idiotic driver know that there is something gravely wrong. She should have stopped at the first sign of trouble, cheked her fluids, and recitifed the situation. Now, she most likely has an engine with blown seals that burns oil – and she’ll have to get Wal-mart to pay for the fix.

  15. amazon says:

    Many years ago, when I was working at a wal-mart, someone came in for an oil change and the “technician” (they get quotes because there is no way that they could have been qualified) didn’t put any oil back in after they took the old oil out.

    So the customers engine completely froze up. In perhaps the only show of goodwill from a wal-mart ever, the store bought a new engine for the lady.

  16. Frank Grimes says:

    I had a colleague who had a break job done at a BJ’s wholesale club in Vermont. The oil cap has nothing on this, they forgot to put his lug nuts back on his rear tire (ALL of them) and he found this out quite rudely speeding down a back road at about 50 mph while he was on his way to his wedding in a few days. Luckily for him he wasn’t killed and they fell all over themselves fixing his car to his satisfaction and I think gave him $2500 for his troubles.

    The lesson here is never get your car fixed by a place that thought is was good to call themselves BJ’s.

  17. tonycontento says:

    Honestly, I’d rather do it myself than let JiffyLube touch my car. WalMart/Sam’s Club is still okay for tires. But, with any repair, take 15 minutes and just drive around town close to the repair shop. With an oil change or any fluid service, after the 15 minutes hop out and make sure that the level and clarity is what it’s supposed to be. If you’re not sure how to do that, get a copy of “Auto Repair for Dummies” by Deanna Sclar.

    It’s a pain, but if you’re going to pay someone $30 to do auto maintenance, you should at least check their work.

  18. I’ve had a similar experience with Oil Express and Jiffy Lube. In one instance with oil Express, they told me that I needed to replace the oil drain cap because the last time it was changed it was cross threaded. They were ready to charge me for it, but luckily I had the receipt from my previous visit and I explained that if the cap had been crossthreaded, it was in fact Oil Express that had done it.

    These days, I change the oil on our cars myself. As much as I hate to shop at Wal-Mart, they consistently have the lowest price for a full synthetic 5W30 SAE…that is if you’re lucky enough to find it in stock.

    My recommendation for Jessica is to get a pair of ramps, a socket wrench, an oil drain pan, and change it yourself.

    Also, watch out for the supposed “disposal fees” for used oil at oil change places. These oil change places are actually selling the oil to recycling facilities, not disposing it. Furthermore, most local fire departments offer a hazardous waste disposal service for free, check it out.

  19. Another reason I’m glad I don’t own a car.

  20. DeeJayQueue says:

    Denki: Wow.
    1.) use ramps or jack stands, not something “that is just small enough to fit under the car” to hold it up while changing the oil. If a jack falls on a cinder block the cinder block will break.

    2.) Don’t do this right after coming home from the auto shop. Most cars operate at about 200 degrees F. That’s pretty dang hot, and not something you want to have pouring over you. Wait like an hour.

    3.) When you buy the oil, buy a new filter. Replace it every time you change the oil. Also, get a strap wrench. It will save you time and frustration getting the filter out. While you’re at the autozone or pep boys or whatever, get a drip pan. I got one for like $5 and it holds 5 gallons, and has a spout for pouring the oil/antifreeze/whatever into receptacles. This, the wrench, the jack stands/ramps are one-time costs that will pay for themselves after about 3 oil changes.

    Not all cars built within the past 30 years have idiot lights. Some have gauges for pressure, and some have nothing at all. Only cars built after ’95 that have the ODBU sensors installed will have true ‘idiot lights’ since they have the computer controlled emission systems and onboard computers in them.

    I do agree though that the people who can’t be bothered to learn how to do simple routine maintenance on a car deserve what they get when the minimum-wage-monkey forgets/doesn’t feel like doing their job right.

  21. AcidReign says:

    …..Count me among the incredulous that the car was dry on oil and the driver unaware. Sounds like the engine got damaged around the time the smoke first appeared. Walmart probably topped it off, but it all leaked out again. I have yet to see a car, even dating back to the 1950s, that doesn’t have an oil pressure light, or at least a gauge. If you don’t look at your gauges, well, expect to be stranded.

    …..I’ve never trusted auto service places, but that’s probably just paranoia. I get out at the oil change place and watch, despite the “no customers” signs. Yeah, I could save a boat-load by doing self-oil changes. My sister-in-law’s father gave me all sorts of grief about this, till he put an oil filter into her Chevette with only one blade threadded. That $2000, crappy GM engine would have paid for a whole lot of drive-thru oil changes…

    …..I’m unwilling to deal with the oil-change chore. I’ll happily pay someone $35 bucks or so to do it. And if they screw up, I have some recourse. It’s bad enough to have to drain the lawnmower every year. I’m not getting up under a several ton object to save $100 a year.

  22. bitplayer says:

    If a politician wants a can’t loose issue they should choose auto repair as an industry to clean up. Every person on this board has some sort of car horror story whether it’s something serious or something minor, like them NEVER putting hubcaps on properly. For most people the time, and aggravation with doing their own upkeep is too much. Not to mention that people who aren’t homeowners often don’t have a place to actually do the work.

  23. denki says:

    DeeJayQueue: Yeah, you’re right. But how many people own jack stands or ramps, or are even contemplating doing this themselves? I was thinking something more substancial than a cinderblock, but that is because I also have very large and dense cubes of wood around that have been used to prop up cars before (note to idiots: don’t be an idiot). It’s also assumed that the people doing this woul jack the car just enough for them to squirm under and take care of this, and whatever blocking the car would either be a) actually physically in contact with the car (like a jackstand) or with a 1-3 mm gap inbetween the car and object. If your jack is well situated then you should even really be worried, buy an ounce of prevention…

    For example, if you need to change a tire and only have your road jack (like most commuters), once you jack the car up and take off the wheel you have, place the removed wheel under the frame of the car (center of the wheel, where the actual metal wheel is). While you aren’t going to be under the car, if the wheel is placed there, in the event of a mishap, the car won’t smash itself against the ground, posibly damaging whatever. Once the spare is on, then you remove the old wheel, jack, and go on about your merry business-hopefully to the nearest tire place or someplace that handles car difficulties you can trust because I sure as hell don’t trust your ability to put on a spare tire.

  24. Mr. Gunn says:

    I hope she has kept all the records of this happening. Not too far down the road, her engine’s going to blow up, and Wal-Mart’s going to owe her a new engine.

    Yes, everyone should know how to change their own oil, but sometimes, especially if you live in the city, it’s a goddamn pain in the ass. Also, someone who doesn’t know how to check their own fluid levels isn’t going to be equal to the task.

    I can’t believe you guys saying she’s at fault for not changing her own oil.

  25. factotum says:

    Yes! Change your own oil, but don’t buy ramps, oil pans, oil absorbtive pads, etc. Just purchase an oil extractor like this to suck the oil out of the engine. You’ll get more of the old oil out and lessen the risk of an oil spill. Also good if you live in an apartment complex where they forbid you from doing auto repair onsite.