Engine Failure Analysis:  Why It Is Often Not Fair For Insureds

This article will highlight why engine analysis is so complicated, why most ASE Certified Engine experts for the insurance industry are mostly guessing, some alarming statistics of engine claims, and an introduction to our handy Engine Claims Reference Chart Infographic.

In the course of any one year we analyze hundreds of engines for insurance carriers.  Engine failure analysis and automotive forensics on a wide variety of claim types has always been a strong specialization of Tech Check employees.  Since 1993 we have performed over 1,000 engine investigations for insureds in the Northeast.

I personally performed many hundreds of engine investigations for Chrysler in my early career (20 – 25 years ago), and all of them I had to directly handle for the National Director of Chrysler Service Contracts, Mike Weiss, and his #2 engine engineer, Susan Golpie .  Yes, a woman is one of the top engine analysts for Chrysler, and today she is the National Director of the division.  Way to go Suzie!!

Those early years working for Chrysler, and an intense college education in engines from Mount Wachusett College, is what I use on every engine claim we handle.  From vandalized fuel and oiling systems, to excessive water in the gasoline, improper workmanship and collisions.  Engine claims can come in a wide variety of types.  Without a doubt proving why an engine failed is just about the toughest claim a mechanical inspector can handle.  This also means that it is very difficult for insurance carriers.  Any engine analyst must have a college education in advanced engine failure analysis to do it right.  There are just too many variables, and that is why every employee of Tech Check has a college education in advanced engine analysis.

To go along with this article we have created an Engine Claims Reference Chart for insurance adjusters.  Please download or print out a copy of this chart and keep it handy.

This article is designed to give insurance adjusters a preview into some of the complexities of engine analysis.  Why it can be so hard, and how misdiagnosis can cause insureds to pay out a small fortune on a wide variety of engine claims.

ASE Certified Engine Mechanics Cannot Perform Engine Failure Analysis

In the course of any one year we compete against many other regional mechanical inspectors handling the other side of an engine claim who are ASE Certified in engines.  Also, on almost every engine claim, there is a technician at a repair shop claiming to know why the engine failed.  These people make statements like, the engine is severely damaged from driving the vehicle through a deep puddle, or the fuel system is vandalized, or the recently installed oil filter is defective, etc…  Their statements are always the same.  They analyzed the engine and spoke with the vehicle owner, and the engine has become damaged due to some scenario they believe occurred.

The absolute truth of failure analysis of engines is that it is not diagnosis and repair, and ASE does not certify anyone for engine failure analysis.  That’s right, ASE does not test anybody for why an engine fails, so its a mystery to us why anyone would be using those credentials.

A mechanic at any shop that claims to work on engines is involved daily in diagnosis and repair.  Not failure analysis.  There is a world of difference.  There is no information in a factory manual about how to read a set of damaged bearings, how to analyze a connecting rod, how to prove if an engine has been overheated, etc…  So, a mechanic stating why an engine failed is not something they even normally do, have reference data on, or receive any training in from the factory.  We make this specific statement because less than 10% of the automotive industry has a college education in engines or any type of education to include failure analysis of engines.  That’s why they are almost always initially wrong.

But, what about other companies performing failure analysis or automotive forensics of engines.  Look very closely at their CV and you will find that over 90% of them have no education in engines either.  That’s right, they have never in their life sat in a classroom at a college as a student and learned everything you need to know about engine design, function, theory, diagnosis, repairs and failure analysis.  In fact, to make things worse most never even worked on cars, or if they did they never performed major engine repairs.  Keep in mind that even if they had performed some engine repairs early in their career it was diagnosis and repair they were performing.  Not failure analysis.

Think of it like this, would you hire someone with no college education in Forensic Pathology, with not even an education in nursing to prove why someone died.  Someone who had passed an entrance test to be a nurse, but was actually trying to perform Forensic Pathology.  Of course you wouldn’t.  But, when you hire someone to analyze an engine, and his credential is an ASE Certificate, your doing the same thing.  This severe problem is also why the National Academy of Sciences a few years ago gave the complete field of forensics an F.  If you want to find out more about the dire straits of Forensics, read our in-depth article, “Adjusters Be Cautioned: The Downfalls Of Automotive Forensics.”

By now you should be saying, “How can someone who never worked on engines pass an ASE test on engines.”  Well, if you really want to see how pathetic ASE is, and how easy it is to obtain one, read our in-depth article, “How ASE Automotive Certification Hurts The Insurance Industry.”

One of the biggest misconceptions is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes for someone to become an ASE Certified Engine Mechanic, and how does it relate to the necessary qualifications of someone performing Engine Failure Analysis.  ASE tests are simplistic, they are in multiple choice format and they do not ask questions about failure analysis.

They don’t ask one question like, look at the following pictures of damaged rod bearings.  What are the characteristics consistent with?  How does an oiling system work?  How do you prove someone drove the car through deep water, which damaged the engine from hydrolock?  How do you prove which part in the valve train failed first?  In fact, there won’t be even one question related to advanced engine failure analysis techniques, which is what you need.

The way someone can pass an ASE test with no background in engines is easy.  You can purchase test question pools from ASE, and from many other aftermarket companies.  This is how everyone passes those tests without an education in engine.  Purchase the question and answer pools, and just keep studying them.  You won’t truly understand all of it, but you will be able to pass the exam.  Voila, you’ll pass.

Alarming Statistics:  Engine Infographics Chart

In the past 20 years we have handled over 1,000 engine failure claims for insurance carriers.  During that time we tracked these claims and were able to categorized most of them into 4 different groups.  We then created a helpful Engine Failure Analysis Infographics Chart which shows some alarming statistics.

Whenever you have an engine claim refer to the chart.  It will demonstrate that no matter how obvious the cause of the engine damages might seem, there might be other mitigating circumstances.  The chart is designed for adjusters to print out and use.  The 4 classifications are:

·         Improper Workmanship

·         Collision

·         Vandalism

·         Contaminated Fuel

The real reason for the chart is because we know how some claims may initially seem.  You receive some information, and think to yourself, “I know what happened.  The mechanic sounds very confident, and it sounds really simple.  I’ll just pay it.”  But, don’t be fooled.  No matter how simplistic or obvious it may seem, there are always other situations that may have occurred that are causing what the mechanic is seeing.  In fact, it is more  likely that the initial allegation is just completely wrong.

So, let us give you one quick example we run into very frequently.  Several days after an oil change the oil light comes on, and there is no oil on the dipstick.  There is little oil in the oil pan, and the engine is not leaking any oil.  Sounds simple right?  The mechanic that just did the oil change didn’t add enough oil back during the oil change.  However, your probably wrong.

The truth is that if this type of claim is being presented to an insured, lets say for improper workmanship, the engine likely did not fail from an improper oil change.  Many times the engine is starting to unknowingly fail and suddenly consume and burn a lot of oil.  But, you will never know that unless an engine expert analyzes the engine.  Sometimes another reason for no oil on the dipstick can be related to carbon sludge that has built up in the cylinder head and is blocking the oil  returns.  This is suddenly keeping most of the oil in the valve covers, which has nothing to do with an improper oil change.  Maybe someone tampered with the oil level after the service to defraud the repair shop or their insured.

Sometimes we hear, “But the car is at a dealer and under warranty, so the dealership would have no benefit to tamper with evidence to defraud an insurer.”  Hold on for a minute.  Most dealers cannot defraud a manufacturer for an engine because the damaged engine will have to be sent back to the manufacturer for a core charge.  Many times these engines are analyzed to determine why they failed to make sure there are no common malfunction trends.  They also do this to make sure the dealership is not trying to stay busy by replacing engines often that don’t need replacement.  But, dealerships have learned that too often they can say just about anything from the oil filter is loose, to the gasket is missing, to the shop that just changed the oil didn’t add enough back.  What they have learned is that it is almost inevitable that someone will come out from the insurance company who is an appraiser, or investigator, or adjuster, etc.  The dealership has learned that these fine individuals do not have the training or equipment to prove what happened.  Frankly, it is incredibly easy to defraud an insurer for an engine if an engine analysis expert is not hired to handle the claim from the beginning.  So, never listen to an initial alleged scenario and think that it sounds simple and reasonable.  They are never simple, and our Engine Infographics Chart shows differently.

Tech Check provides forensics and automotive failure analysis in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, .Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island.   We provide insurance companies with failure analysis of braking and antilock systems, event data recorders (EDR), engines, transmissionssteering and suspension systems, electrical systems, safety restraint and air bags,  and hydraulic systems.

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