Inside Frank's Workshop

Frank Massey shows how engineering evidence never lies

Published:  03 August, 2012

An Audi A3 was towed into our workshop as a non-runner recently. Once it had arrived in the workshop we set about it with our usual diagnostic processes to find what the fault was.

It didn't take very long to find out what was wrong with the vehicle. For a start, a vacuum hose had split in two but this was not the cause of complete failure. In fact, we discovered that the timing chain had actually come off the sprockets. The question was, why?

Our suspicions were aroused when I noticed that the camshaft sprocket appeared to have been incorrectly aligned. We had found out that the engine had been stripped down and rebuilt by another firm at some point in the recent past and on further analysis, it was clear that the camshaft sprocket had been removed, worked with a file and refitted without the correct spacing. The chain was not able run true, causing it to come off, with the sort of carnage you might expect from a chain failure on one of these engines.

he good news was that the motor wasn't so badly damaged it was beyond repair, but the moral of the story is that approximations have no placeon high performance vehicles with very fine tolerances.

Occasionally, I am sent out to examine cases where there has been a dispute between a customer and a garage in order that I can act as an independent 'expert witness'. On one such occasion, I had to go and see a fine example of Italian engineering, namely a Ferrari F430, which had been supplied as a used vehicle to a customer by a prestige car dealer.

The owner claimed that he'd only had the car a short while and was driving normally when it suffered catastrophic engine failure. The dealer claimed that the car had been struck from underneath causing a loss of oil which resulted in the engine's destruction.

Clearly someone was being economical with the truth but what was the physical evidence? On the ramp, the first thing I noticed was the lack of an underbody tray. When I asked staff at the dealer what had happened to it, they replied that it had been 'lost'. This would take some doing as the tray has roughly the same length and width as a bathtub - losing it would take some real effort.

Underneath the car, it was obvious that the oil drain plug was indeed missing and there was some impact damage immediately around it. However, all was not as it seemed. For one thing, the impact damage was nowhere near the lowest points of the car, as was easily demonstrated when I held a straight bar up to the engine.

Closer inspection of the damage revealed that it was inconsistent with a single impact, as the multiple indentations revealed it had been hit several times with a blunt object - most likely a hammer. The missing drain plug was also a red herring - while at first glance it appeared to have been ripped out, closer inspection revealed that the thread on the sump was in fine condition. Even odder was the 'mayonnaise' that surrounded the area. While this was undoubtedly oil with water, it wasn't fully mixed as you might expect from a fluid that was supposed to have been in an engine.

I presented my evidence to the authorities, who ruled that the dealer had made the vehicle look as if it had been in an under body collision to avoid paying for repairs on a car that had a pre-existent engine problem.

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