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Did I kill my VW Bug?

I was just leaving work in my 2006 VW Beetle when the oil light came on. I turned the car off, coasted into a spot and took my husband’s car home (we work together). Later that day, my husband and a co-worker bought 2 quarts of oil for the car. After putting it into the car it did not register on the dip stick. The light did go off. My husband put another 1 1/2 quarts in and it finally registered. The car holds 5 quarts of oil which makes me assume that there was next to no oil in the car at the time the oil light came on. My question is- did I do lasting damage to the car? I assume that I must have been driving around for a long time with very little oil. I am troubled by the fact that the car is not leaking oil and since there is no residue around the tailpipe, not burning through it quickly.

I love this car but my husband hates it and wants me to sell it. Should I take his advice?

It’s damaged goods at this point. The only question is the degree of that damage. No matter, it’s not a vehicle I would go far from home with even if it seems to run decent with a full load of oil. The damage is being masked is all.

If it’s not leaking it’s burning it and the converter is catching the oil residue. This is why you see little residue around the exhaust pipe.

Should I ask how often you check the oil level, if at all?

Im going to have to agree with OK to a point…Did you happen to hear any unfriendly noises at the time the light came on? There is a rather good chance that you didnt cause any damage at all…the oil pump would have been able to pump oil in your engine protecting it UNTIL the light came on…if you stopped RIGHT AWAY…then you are most likely OK and wont notice anything wrong…IF you didnt stop the engine IMMEDIATELY then yes you are looking at damage…also please let us know if there were any crazy knocking sounds…if so …its done…or close to it. SOMETIMES they survive this but its rare esp when noises are involved.

I dont know which engine you have but am guessing its the 1.8T…the reason I guess this is bec these engines With their Turbos have a perfect way of burning up that much oil…thru the Turbo. If you didnt leak it and you dont have the 1.8T engine then I am afraid of what used up that oil…bec that would suggect serious engine issues. Hopefully you have a 1.8T and it needs Turbo seals…that would be best case…If you shut down right away and heard no nasty sounds…YOu may just be surprised that you will make it out of this. The low oil condition you have HAD to have had for a while…while VERY BAD…still lubricated your engines parts…albeit with 1-2 Qts of oil… This is def bad but survivable…I pray you shut dwn IMMEDIATELY and hope you had no noises…if this is true you will make it out of this…if not…OK45 would be right on in his assesment.

This is a pretty hard thing to do…I fear to ask you when you checked your oil last…how often DO you check it… This all has a bearing on whether you need a new car or not…

You didn’t kill it, but it is mortally wounded. Running it will very little oil has done some damage, it is just not apparent yet. Wear damage is cumulative, meaning that it adds up over time. Doing this has taken time and mileage away from the engine, meaning it will begin to display signs of being worn out much earlier than it otherwise would have. If the resale value of this car is a concern, as you would use it to trade up at some point, it would probably be best to consider trading it in pretty soon. Even with the correct amount and type of oil in it now, the wear damage has been done, and it will affect the resale value of the car greatly when the engine begins to show signs of advanced wear.

This is the same question my husband asked me. I haven’t checked the oil level at all between changes! I have never owned a car that went so long between oil changes and since I’m diligent about regular oil changes I’ve never been worried about the actual level going down. Not a good excuse I now know.

I did hear, as you say it “unfriendly noises” while driving the car but they didn’t sound like the noise that I associate with the clicking of no oil in the car. But this engine sounds different from anything I’ve ever owned so that could explain that. I did stop the car immediately- didn’t leave the parking lot but that sounds like it’s all moot at this point.
I’m crying as I write this because I truly love my car but it sounds like it’s time to trade it in. The question at this point is what can I expect to get as a trade in or if I sell it to Carmax?

The good: you turned off the motor quickly when you saw the oil light. That means the motor didn’t overheat and literally melt all the metal parts together.

The bad: not checking oil levels between oil changes. The manual often states to check oil at every gas fillup. Since nobody really does that, a more practical approach is to check the oil every month, say on the 1st. Personally I check the oil monthly and prior to any long trips, ie 200+ miles.

The prognosis: the oil light coming on meant the oil level was too low to circulate oil to the top of the motor. Also the little bit of oil in the motor was stressed to the max, very hot, and likely not lubing well. This adds up to some damage. Kudos for shutting off the motor. More Kudos for adding enough oil to get a dipstick reading before starting the motor again. This means new, clean, oil was quickly restored to the upper and lower end of the motor. I think you did the best you could to save the motor.

If it starts, and runs normally with the same power you had before you are going to be OK for the moment. Some metal parts might have been worn, but hopefully they are still within tolerances allowable for a good running motor. This means you might not get another 100K from the motor without some oil burning, or bearing noises or failure. But you are ok for now.

The other issue is did the little bit of oil turn to varnish and cause oil passageways to be blocked? No way to know without a motor teardown and inspection.

At this point drive on. Check the oil level closely for a few weeks, and then go to monthly if all is OK. An oil change in the next 2000 miles would be a good idea. You should get a few more years from the motor, but I wouldn’t expect this motor to go more than 100K miles from the miles on it now.

How does the car sound now, with an engine full of oil?
Does it sound just like it did before the no oil incident?
Does it drive the same?

If it sounds and drives the same, then either keep driving it if you like it, or trade it in.
No point explaining the oil situation if you are giving it to a place like Carmax, just tell them you are looking for a new car, and trading in your old one.

If you love your car like you say you do, then just start putting money aside from now, and build up enough to buy a new motor. Then have your mechanic install it whenever is convenient for you, and then you get to continue owning your car for as long as you want.

Don’t forget the new timing belt, tensioners, pulleys and water pump when you swap in the new engine.


Thanks guys for all the great info and advice. I think I will trade my baby in and buy a newer one. I’ve learned a valuable lesson about regularly checking my oil in addition to regular oil changes. Hopefully I’ll be able to at least get what I owe out of the car when I trade it in.

Anyone know where I can find a 2008 red, white or cream convertible bug with manual transmission, heated seats, low miles and good service records under 16,000?

You should be able to find another one with some footwork. I would advise to try if at all possible to buy one in your area instead of purchasing one sight unseen from eBay or something like that.

As to the oil light coming on keep this in mind. The oil light will normally turn off at around 3 PSI of pressure. This is not much at all.
A running engine can generate 2000 PSI of cylinder pressure so while that 3 PSI may operate the oil pressure switch it’s not doing much to cushion crankshaft bearings and crank journals against that 2000 PSI of cylinder pressure.
This leads to wiping out the overlay on the bearings, followed by oil pressure loss and eventually engine knocks or catastrophic failure.

This is why I don’t buy used cars.