What Happens if Your Car Runs Out of Engine Oil

February 16, 2012

Engine oil is the life blood of your vehicle. It's essential for the function of your engine. Any lack of engine oil in the system, or even dirty oil, will lead to extreme engine wear, and driving a car low on oil can lead to some pretty bad situations.

Running Out of Oil

If you run out of engine oil, your engine will fail. Inside of the engine, there are fast moving parts, with a lot of potential friction. The engine oil is the lubricant that keeps parts sliding against each other smoothly, instead of grinding each other down. If the engine runs out of oil, it will start to grind, and then seize up, stalling the vehicle. Your engine will be damaged and possibly ruined. Many drivers will not get a warning about the lack of engine oil until it is too late. Newer vehicles do have more diagnostic tools like an engine oil pressure sensor unit and dashboard tools that may help to identify low oil situations. In older vehicles, drivers often need to manually check the oil themselves, as the "check oil" dash light will not be sufficient to warn them of a low oil situation.

Engine Maintenance: The Role it Plays

As mentioned, even dirty oil can have a negative impact on your engine. Over time, particulate matter may build up in the oil. These particles can contribute to scoring of engine parts. That's why manufacturers recommend routine oil and filter changes to make sure the oil in your engine is clean. Lots of drivers also do a manual test by pulling out the dipstick and rubbing the used oil between their fingers to see if they can feel any grit or hard particles. Changing the oil filter is important because most of them are only rated for 3000 miles, the recommended mileage for an oil change. That's why most shops change the filter with every oil change for a vehicle.

Oil Maintenance on Older Vehicles

Running out of oil is a much more common concern when a vehicle is getting older. Vehicles older than 10-15 years may develop one of two problems: the oil will leak out of some part of the engine block, or it may actually burn off during combustion. Either of these will lead to a depleted oil tank, and that can spiral down the path to the problems mentioned above. Drivers of vehicles that leak or burn oil need to be vigilant about checking and replacing oil, even between the 3000 mile changes. It's easy to forget about checking the oil, but it's critical, especially before and after longer trips, to make sure you don't unknowingly contribute to destroying the engine.

In the end, keeping the engine full of clean oil is one of the most important aspects of owning a car. It's critical to merit a log or check list to be sure that your car or truck will function well and long into the future.

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