If you have ever driven your vehicle with the oil light on for a while and your car drives normal you should count your lucky stars. Low oil can easily brick an engine or cause a number of issues.
Maintaining clean oil in your engine is the cheapest and simplest form of preventative maintenance you can do to your car. Most people wait to change their oil when in reality spending $20 on an oil change can add hundreds of thousands of miles to your engine. It really is a commonly neglected service. But how do you know if your engine is damaged without oil?
What Happens If You Run An Engine Without Oil?
If you run an engine without oil a number of things may happen:
- Crack the engine block
- Blow a manifold
- Crack a cylinder, bearing, crankshaft, or many other interior engine parts
- Worn cylinders and rods
- Seize the engine
Imagine sliding down a waterslide and you reach the bottom and there is no water. There is no water. You will land in a pool going 25 MPH on a dry pool bottom. Your skin will just… you get the idea.
Running your car without oil will eventually lead to a seized engine. The head and friction will cause the engine block and the cylinders to stick together and possibly even weld together. Seized engines could possibly be unseized but not without some expensive repairs down the line. I discuss this further below.
How Long Can An Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage Occur?
Your engine can run for approximately 30 minutes maximum without oil before damage occurs. If you have absolutely no oil your engine can seize in under one minute. Your engine is a highly precisioned collection of metal moving incredibly fast. Oil lubricates and cools your engine so it can run in optimum condition while causing very little wear.
Most people do not realize their engine is low on oil for a bit of time. Ideally, your engine should warn you but turn on the oil light on your dash. Once you see this light on it is imperative you add oil. In an emergency, you can add oil not suited for your car.
Watch this video to see how 3 different cars perform with their engines drained completely of oil and redlined. I was shocked by the differences in times between each car and how little or how long each lasted. It makes me more proud of my old Honda Civic I was determined to drive into the ground. I ended up selling it 100,000 miles later because the thing just would not die:
The weight can cause damage if it is much lighter or heavier than what your car allows. But if you have no other options you can add a different weight. If you have the option I would go with weight as close as possible to your recommended weight aiming slightly higher than lower.
Pro Tip: When your engine wears it is common practice to add a slightly heavier weight oil. As with ring wear a heavier weight oil will compensate for this wear.
Later when you can, get an oil change and add the correct weight oil. Flushing the engine is also a good idea to get as much of the incorrect weight oil out of the engine block as possible.
Then you will want to find out why your engine has little or no oil and get that fixed so you don’t have this happen again. An engine running without oil for as little as 30 minutes or an hour can cause it to seize and ruin it completely.
How Far Can A Car Go Without Oil?
A car can go many miles without oil. If it is an emergency you can drive for 20-30 miles without oil but you risk completely ruining your engine due to the excessive rubbing and heat caused by a lack of oil in your engine block.
If you drive slower and keep the engine’s RPMs low you can drive farther without oil. This will minimize the stress put on your engine though any time your engine is running and it has no oil, every single mile counts as hundreds of miles in terms of wear and tear to your engine.
If you have a manual transmission you should coast when possible, this will keep your engine idling and lessen the severity of the damage.
What Does A Car Sound Like When It’s Out Of Oil?
Your car will make a lot of sounds when it’s out of oil. It will run very rough. It will make clunking, knocking, and sometimes grinding sounds. With time your rods will break. A broken rod or two will cause your engine to sound like a sword fight under your hood.
Your crankshaft will start to rattle and will bang against the bearing. Then your engine will stop working and it will eventually stutter and seize completely. Watch this video of a fun experiment and listen to something you will hopefully never hear in real life.
Can You Fix An Engine That Ran Out Of Oil?
Yes, you can fix an engine that ran out of oil. If the engine is not completely seized and it was not driven for too long you have a great chance of fixing the engine and using it as a daily driver again. If the engine block is not damaged i.e. no cracks, no excessive wear, no pitting, you can rebuild the engine and replace what is damaged.
If the engine is seized you may be able to salvage it. All parts are replaceable in the engine. If the block has damage you may also be able to weld material on the block and work it until it is in a useable condition. This takes a lot of know-how and special tools. You will have to get the block within very tight tolerances for it to function normally.
You would take advantage of the damage by increasing the bore of the cylinders. The bore is the diameter of the cylinders and if there is damage you can increase the bore until you have a smooth cylinder chamber.
There are many upgrade kits for engines to increase power by increasing the cylinder bore. Of course, this takes advanced knowledge and is not easily done. A professional is needed and the cost of this type of upgrade can be much more expensive than simply replacing the engine with a low mileage used motor.
Can Seized Engine Be Fixed?
Yes, a seized engine can be saved! Not all seized engines can be saved but if the damage is not severe then you can certainly save it. Fill the sucker with B’laster or lighter weight engine oil and let it sit for a few hours (or more likely a few days). B’laster is expensive and to fill an engine with it would cost a lot. But if you can this is your best chance of unseizing your engine.
Then take a breaker bar, the longer the better, and try to turn the crank. You will need a lot of elbow grease to unseize it but is it is possible it will come unstuck. If it starts to move you’re in luck! If the crank moves your engine is salvageable and you won’t need to repla e it (most likely). Just get ready for a lengthy and pricey rebuild.
Can Marvel Mystery Oil Unseize An Engine?
Yes, you can use Marvel Mystery Oil to unseize your engine. Depending on the severity of the engine Marvel Mystery Oil can work in many ways, and using it to lubricate a faulty engine will be a great start. It will not be a long-term solution, of course, but for single really tough uses Marvel Mystery Oil can be a marvel to use. Using more than you think is a good idea.
If you cannot use this stuff B’laster is an excellent choice as discussed earlier in this article. If either does not unseize your engine you will most likely have a giant paperweight instead of a salvageable engine on your hands.
How Much Does A New Engine Cost?
$1,000-$10,000 and up. A new engine varies wildly. A Honda 1.8L VTEC engine straight from Japan can be bought for under $800 shipped. While a Dodge Viper 8.3L V10 SRT10 engine with 700 HP goes for over $20,000 used. So the range on engines is great. But you can always find a deal, and the best deals can be found at your local junkyard or on eBay.
Why Does My Car Run Out Of Oil So Fast?
A car will leak oil any time there is a leak in the engine. The two most common ways for an engine to leak oil is with worn piston rings and a leak in the cylinder head gasket. Other leaks to watch out for are:
- Oil pan gasket
- Oil drain plug
- Oil filler cap
- Oil filter
Work piston rings leave small spaces in the cylinder cavity and oil can leak out and burn up with the exhaust. If your car is smoking out of its muffler regularly you may have at least one cylinder that has worn rings and is leaking oil.
This is a pricey fix, but it can be done easily at most auto shops and it can keep your car running for many more years. The investment can be worthwhile assuming your engine is not prone to other pricey fixes in the years to come.
People learn quickly if their engine is damaged without oil. Engines can run for a while, or seize within seconds of running without oil. There are many factors at play. But the most important thing to remember is once you realize your engine has low or no oil you will want to stop driving immediately. Pull over and turn off your engine as soon as you can to minimize the damage.
Thanks for reading and stay dirty