Did botched oil change cause head gasket to blow? Please help!

I drive a 2012 Ford Fusion. I took my car to a chain car repair store for an oil change on In June. At the time, a full inspection was done, and the only recommended services were an air filter replacement and wiper blades. The inspection report showed that said that “Coolant Level/Flush” and “Coolant Hoses” were both good. Apparently, the technician accidentally forget to replace the oil cap when finished. Over the next month, oil spilled all over my engine. No light ever came on. I am not a car person, so I only took the car in when I noticed stains on my driveway and an odd burning smell. I took the car back to the same store on Wednesday. They explained what had happened and cleaned the engine and replaced the oil for free (they reported that 1.5 qts of oil came out, but the oil light never came on). A new inspection was done, and this time they noted the coolant level was a little low. They did not recommend to me that I do anything, but looking back at the inspection report it said a pressure test was recommended (but not required- the options were ok(green), recommended (yellow) or required (red)- In the past, any time I rejected an advised service, I was required to sign a quote that said I declined the service- that did not occur). The next day, on the way home from work, my car stopped in the middle of the street. Best guess is that it overheated- the check engine light was on, but there was no smoke, smell or other issues (other than the car not driving). The car turned on and off without issue. The same car repair shop agreed to pay for me to be towed back to the shop. They did another inspection, and said that the head gasket is blown and needs to be replaced. The coolant was completely empty. They quoted me about $2600 for the repair. I need to know whether the botched oil change could have caused the head gasket failure. I will likely have the car towed to another shop for a new inspection, but may save myself the hassle if there is no correlation between the oil cap incident and the head gasket problem. Any insight would be much appreciated!

This is not making a lot of sense but I’d take it to a Ford dealer for a check and diagnosis.

Being down 1 1/2 quarts would not be of particular concern-if that’s all it was but you don’t know because you never checked the oil level. Maybe they never filled it completely in the first place which is why the cap was off.

Being low or out of coolant would not have just caused the car to stall unless it way over-heated and fried the engine. But then it should not have just started up again and run fine, if that’s what its doing. If the engine was fried, you need a new engine, not just a head gasket.

So while I don’t think the oil change issue caused the rest, I don’t feel comfortable with what you are being told. For that new a car though, I would think you’d be going to the dealer instead.

Low oil should not cause a head gasket to blow unless there was engine overheating involved. However, an engine struggling to run because of low oil and trying to seize up can overheat if kept in operation.

That 1.5 quarts of oil remaining is not enough to protect the engine. The oil pressure light will go out with as little as 3-5 PSI of oil pressure but that small amount is not enough to protect the engine. It may keep it from locking up but it’s being damaged in the process.

This may be tough to sort out about who’s going to be responsbile. What would I recommend as a first step?
Get it out of the hands of the people who botched the oil change and have a vested interest in this.
Have an oil pressure check performed along with a dry and wet compression test. Those tests will determine (sort of…) the extent of any damage.

It makes no financial sense to invest money in a head gasket job if the engine lower end is damaged due to lack of oil.

“I took my car to a chain car repair store for an oil change in June.”

When I read that…it made me shudder. I would never believe for one minute that your car was only 1.5 quarts low. How do I know that? The chain shop told you that information. I think they just covered up the fact that the oil level was a lot lower than that.

“Get it out of the hands of the people who botched the oil change and have a vested interest in this.”

ok4450 is right on the money with that advice.

I wonder if they installed the cooling system cap after the inspection. If an oil cap can go unnoticed for a month a misplaced radiator cap might go unnoticed until the engine overheats and becomes damaged.

Got to learn how to open that metal lid on the front of the car.

Unfortunately, much of the OP’s post is muddy when it comes to clarity.
For instance, “they reported that 1.5 qts of oil came out” could be interpreted to mean that only 1.5 qts escaped from the engine as a result of the missing oil cap, or it could be interpreted to mean that only 1.5 qts came out of the engine when they drained the oil.

Perhaps the OP can clarify this point, as the first possibility isn’t too bad, while the latter possibility is essentially the death knell for the engine.

However, no matter which of the above scenarios is true, I am having a hard time connecting a low oil level with a blown head gasket–unless…possibly…the engine was overheating (despite no mention of a “hot” light or an elevated temperature gauge) for an extended period of time because it was running extremely hot as a result of low oil pressure. However, the fact that the engine is apparently running…okay…at this point makes everything…muddy.

Take it to an different mechanic or to a Ford dealership for an independent evaluation!

Thanks for the help. Some clarifications- I was told that the 1.5 quarts of oil were missing as a result of the oil cap being left off (not that 1.5 quarts were left). Second, the car did not run properly after it broke down. It turned on and off, but could only travel a few yards (into a parking lot, then onto the tow truck). I have had it towed to the dealership. Was just trying to get an idea of whether the two incidents were related.

1.5 qts of low oil isn’t going to make a difference. If it were low enough to be a problem, you’re oil lamp would have come on. I suspect that the head gasket went first which cause to water to be burned in the cylinder head. Also, the engine coolant light should have come on to let you know you were low on coolant or overheating. If by chance, your cars has gauges, its up to you to watch the gauges. Either way, It sounds like the engine got hot enough that it caused it to seize up. If keeping the vehicle, I think a reman engine is the prudent way to go.

1.5 qts low on oil might not make account for this problem in normal driving condition, but if the engine was put through its paces by high speed driving or stop and go city driving, driving up steep hills etc, that would be a different matter. 1.5 quarts low could make a difference then, enough to cause the engine to overheat. And you don’t know by your own measurement how much the oil was low, that is the shop’s measurement, and they have a conflict of interest.

hmmm … I’m thinking , well an educated guess, the shop that replaced the oil probably did cause this problem. But it is going to be hard to prove I expect. Head gaskets can pop on their own, bur only rarely unless the engine has overheated.

Do you know if the engine has ever overheated, either before this service, or after? That’s the key question that needs to be answered. Does your car have a dashboard coolant temp gauge? If it overheats, does it produce and audible alarm? Have the diagnostic trouble codes been read out from ECM memory? If so, what do they say?

While the missing oil fill cap wouldn’t cause your head gasket to fail it would indicate less than professional service which would lead me to suspect they might have overlooked some other detail while servicing the car. A loose radiator cap, for instance.

Car has no temp gauge? No low coolant light? many cars have low oil light but not all have low coolant light. Yes, most cars have low oil pressure warning too.

Having 1.5 quarts missing oil is not as critical as having 1.5 quarts remaining but it’s still not good on an engine to run one like that. The remaining oil runs much, much hotter which then makes it more prone to coking and which then leads to premature engine wear.

The engine being 1.5 quarts down on oil should not cause a head gasket fault though unless there are a few fluke circumstances involved.

The coolant was said to be completely empty so the cause of any coolant loss needs to be sorted out first. The temperature gauge should have showed something but at this point but the overheating comment was said to be a “best guess”.


@PriusGuy-Are you even on the right thread ?

Thanks for all of the responses. I took the car to the dealership. They said the head gasket appears to be just fine, but that the oil is still at least a quart low. Makes absolutely no sense to me. Hopefully they will figure out the problem and get it fixed.

Regardless of this specific issue, it appears that you normally go longer than a month without checking your oil. I do suggest that you check it more frequently in the future. If your car starts leaking or burning oil, you might kill your engine before you notice that the oil level is dropping.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to check your oil immediately after an oil change. Shops do occasionally make mistakes in refilling the oil (more often at chain shops). If you don’t catch it right away, the shop might try to claim that something happened later and that it wasn’t their fault, which would turn the situation into a major hassle to resolve. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this type of thing happen to many posters here over time.

Kudo’s to you for not believing a repair chain and seeking a 2nd opinion. Also for questioning why they were related.

Just check the oil every few fuel fillups as a habit and top (hopefully never) as needed. Your car will live a lot longer.

I would love to hear how this worked out. I just had my oil changed at Valvoline, and less than 2 weeks later I had a blown head gasket. My car never overheated prior to that. I suspect a botched Oil Change, but as previously commented, how do you prove this?

A botched oil change will not cause a head gasket failure…

The one caveat might be that the engine is trying to seize which in turn is causing it to overheat and that in turn can cause a head gasket failure. That is really grasping. A lot.


My head gasket wasn’t actually blown. It was a bad diagnosis. What I believe happened is that when I first took my car back to the original place that did the oil change, the forms were improperly filled out, and they hadn’t actually re-filled the oil that came out due to the cap being off. Because the oil was so low, it heated up quickly and caused my car to overheat (it was also a hot day with heavy traffic). This same shop blamed the issue on a blown head gasket. When I brought the car to the dealership (a different shop), the dealership changed my fluids, and the car worked just fine. There wasn’t actually any problem with the head gasket.

But, from this experience, and the recent experience of a friend, I learned to always take engine issues to the dealership (or a known, respectable entity) for a second opinion. My friend and I were both quoted thousands of dollars in repairs by our oil change shop, but the dealership fixed the problem for a few hundred.

Good luck with your issue!