Car won't start. Makes "click click click" sound. Out of oil. Engine dead? 2001 Saturn SL 1



This is pretty embarrassing to post about, but I’ve got to do it.

I noticed that the change oil soon warning came up on our car in the past few days, and my plan was to change it next week. (we just moved to a new place so I don’t know any of the folks around here yet…different story.)

After I get a ride this afternoon I’m going to the store to get some oil to put in there and hope (pray) it will start up and be good for us for a bit longer.

Is this a fruitless effort? Have I killed my first car?

Thanks for any info.


More details please. Did you check the dipstick? No oil at all? Any obvious leaks or oil on the ground? Filter still on? Engine smoke at all when it was running? It’s pretty hard to run out of oil without an obvious problem. What would I do? Get a catch pan . . . take off the oil pan plug/bolt/nut . . . drain the old oil out. Measure it, like in an old milk jug. Betcha you have some oil. If you have Take off the old filter. Does it look “plugged up”? Put the oil pan nut back on. Spin on a new filter. Fill it up with the required capacity of oil, usually four quarts on a four cylinder. Try to start it again. If it won’t spin, post back. You might be able to get this to tun a bit by turning the crankshaft with a big socket, then try again to start it with the key. Good luck! Rocketman


Yes, get some oil in there. The click-click result is unrelated to any engine problems, which may or may not exist. You will find out once you get the starter to turn the engine.

In all likelihood you have a dead battery. Get the battery charged, put in a new one, or have a friend give you a jump start. If you can get the engine to turn over we can then address the low oil situation. Provide more details of how low, your last oil change, and how often you check the oil.


Let me guess. That 2001 Saturn has the original battery in it. If so, chances are all it needs is a new battery.

Good Luck


Thanks everyone for all of your info. Also, thanks for all the technical stuff, but unfortunately I am completely illiterate when it comes to cars.

I didn’t think it was the battery b/c the radio and lights still come on. The connections looks fine, and I’m still searching to see if there is water in the battery.

The battery isn’t the original. It’s been replaced once before. There is an after market radio and I run the headlights all the time (habit), so that may be a drain on it.

Last oil change was about 6,000 miles ago but just three months ago. No one around here to give me a jump, and I’m parked in our garage so I’m not sure how easily I can get it out of there. Someone will be over here later to help with that, I hope, though.

Also, the dipstick is bone dry.

I think that’s it for everyone’s questions.

Thanks again for your help.


The dry dipstick is not good. Fill it up and try again. I am concerned you have driven with no oil and fried the engine. I HOPE you have an electrical problem though.


I am not convinced that these two problems are related. First if your car is 2 quarts low on oil the dipstick will be dry. You will still have 2 1/2 quarts in the engine. It sounds like you have a weak battery. It takes a lot less current to run the headlights then the starter. Turn the headlights on and watch them when you try to start the car. Do they dim or go out? If they just dim the motor may be seized. If they go out it is probably the battery. So as not to waste money I would put oil in it 1 quart at a time until it reaches the full mark on the stick. Then see if you can get a jump start from someone.
Is the car a manual? If it is you might try rocking it back and forth in first gear with the brake of and see if the motor spins a little.


Rocketman–No offense meant, but I think that you should read the original posting again. Based on the questions that were asked, I think that it is pretty obvious that this is not a person who would be able to, or would be inclined to, remove the oil pan and/or the oil filter. If someone demonstates this level of automotive naivete, they are probably not up to the task of removing an oil pan.


Headed to get some oil now. A friend came through with a spare care for us to drive. I’m wondering if it’s not the alternator at this point. There has been no indication at any point that the engine or the car is about to blow up, so I’m not completely worried about the engine right now.

I’ll report back later.

Thanks again for the info.


The first thing I would do is put the transmission in NEUTRAL and attempt to turn the engine over by hand (hand tools).

If the engine is locked up then everything else is a lost cause.
An engine can lock up even with oil remaining in the engine. Much of the oil is in suspension (oil galleys, pooled here and there, splashed on surfaces, etc. and if the oil level is low enough there will not be an oil supply in the pan for the pump to draw from. It then sucks air and that’s it.



Alright, folks, here’s the latest.

I put three quarts of oil in there, and wet the dipstick to the “full” marker.

I backed the car out of the garage, and I tried to jump it off with another car. I couldn’t get our car to start up at all.

I turned the headlights on, tried to crank it, and they just blinked dimly.

Since it’s a Saturday I don’t have much choice here. In the middle of nowhere, so now I’ve got to find a tow truck.

Thanks to everyone for the help. It may just be the batter, but I don’t have the tools to fix that myself.

Thanks again.


You can check for a locked engine with a small pipe wrench.
Put the car in neutral and grasp the edge of the crank pulley with the pipe wrench adjusted down enough to grab hold. Try to slowly rotate the engine. If you cannot seem to budge it then the engine may be seized.


This hasn’t been mentioned yet. Let’s get something down pat here. The oil light is NOT a “change oil soon” light. The oil light is a “oh CRAP we’re out of oil, stop the engine right now” light.


I don’t know about the saturn, but some cars do have a “change oil soon” light and some cars also have a “low oil level” light in addition to the low oil pressure light you are referring to


Thats what I was thinking that this year Saturn had an Oil Life Monitor. But once the low oil level was established, it seemed to be oil light indicating low oil pressure. I was just reading the other day of another Saturn owner running on 1 quart of oil with no oil light showing until the end. Some motors will survive this, some will not. This Saturn website will be a great resource whatever the outcome:

Luke just went over 500,000 miles July 6th in his 95 SL2. But he checks the oil and tops it off. It would probably be good to read your owners manual. It will give you guidance in basic items. If your is like mine, it will say to check the oil level every fill-up. I have a 99 SL2 that keeps running stronger as it ages (but it gets a lot of TLC and oil).


OK, but I said oil pan PLUG.


OK . . . you have the car out of the garage, fresh oil up to the full mark. The “jump-start” approach may not give you sufficient power to turn the motor over. If you have the mechanical ability, remove the battery and take it to Wal-Mart or Sears or whoever and get them to fit you up with a new one. While you are there, ask them to sell you a battery terminal cleaning tool. This will allow you to clean the battery terminal connection things that attach to the new battery. Clean up the terminals and install the battery. Try to start it again. You may have to break the engine loose by either the aforementioned “rocking” method or by turning the crankshaft via the crankshaft pulley, the latter being the preferred method for me, as I believe that rocking won’t work with an automatic transmission, but I defer here to those more learned in automatic transmissions. Post back, the folks here are pretty handy and this may save you some time and money. Good luck! Rocketman One more thing. Careful when handling a car battery. The white stuff is dangerous and can eat your clothes and hurt your skin.


It’s Sunday, now. If you haven’t called the tow truck, there’s are a couple of things to clarify, and do. The “oil light”, does it have words, or is it a symbol of something. If it’s a symbol which looks like Aladdin’s lamp, it means “low oil pressure” …which is bad. Anything else, gives you plenty of time to do it (oil change). ++ When you get a jump start, turn BOTH cars off, connect the cables, start the donor car, and let it run (to charge your battery) for 15+ minuets. Can you look to see if the “fan” belt which drives the alternator is there. It’s not impossible that it could have “left the vicinity”. If you get it running, many auto parts stores will do an alternator and battery check in the car. Call ahead, to confirm.


This may be just a moot point, but the engine oil light designates ‘low oil pressure’, not low oil level.


Sorry, me art12,
I should have read your post before I posted a repeat.

Right on with the dead battery boost charge for atleast 15 mins.