Did I really kill my Volvo S60?

I have a 2002 Volvo S60 with 92k miles.

For years and years I had the oil changed every 3000 miles at a 3rd party shop, who put a sticker on the windshield with the mileage so I’d know when to change it again. When I moved, at 83k miles I took the car to a Volvo dealer, who changed the oil and said that with new synthetics I could change it only every 6000 miles. I asked about a window sticker, and they said they’d program the computer to tell me when it needed an oil change.

Fair enough. However they also told me I was ahead on my service schedule, as I was getting the 90k service at around 83k miles (or some such, I don’t have the actual mileages available). They warned me that the next service would be expensive as the timing belt would need routine replacing.

So I drive the car. After about a year, I get a message saying that it’s time for routine service. I figure this is the car asking for the next routine service, ie for the new timing belt. So I basically ignore this message, thinking I will keep going until I hit the true mileage required for the timing belt replacement. I never get a message about an oil change. Maybe you see where this is going.

So I keep driving. A few days ago I get a message saying there’s no oil pressure. I take the car in. Volvo looks at it and tells me the car is 3 quarts low on oil. The engine and filter are sludged up. It’s now been 9000 miles since an oil change. They ask if they can try and desludge it for about $1700, I agree. They call back a few minutes later and say they found metal filings in the oil pan and that there’s no point in doing anything else, that the bearings are likely stripped and the engine’s days are numbered. They changed the oil/filter and told me to pick up the car. They did not perform any other service, routine or otherwise…

Obviously this is my fault for not putting oil in the car, I am not blaming Volvo for that, though I wish I had just kept doing my usual routine. My question is: is the car truly toast? They basically advised me not to put any more money into it. Is there anything to do to extend the remaining lifetime of the engine, maybe put in an oil desludging additive and have the filter changed frequently? Are things as dire as they indicate?

Any advice would be very appreciated!

I am pleasantly surprised to see a post from somebody who admits his/her own negligence, as that is very rare nowadays, and I congratulate you on your adult sense of reasonability.

That being said, no matter what your oil change regimen might be, it is extremely important to check the oil on a regular basis, and to add the proper specification oil as necessary.

What constitutes “a regular basis”? If you were driving a car that only had…let’s say…30k miles on it, checking the oil once every few weeks would probably be sufficient. On a 12 yr old vehicle with over 90k miles, my definition of “a regular basis” would be every week, and–if on a road trip, at every gas fill-up. By being aware of this, hopefully you can get more miles/years from your next vehicle.

As to the condition of your engine, since you ran it for an unknown amount of time with a very low oil level, then–yes–the engine is undoubtedly “toast” at this point. Even if you were able to de-sludge the engine, you can’t undo the excessive wear of bearings, cylinder walls, and other parts that were deprived of adequate lubrication for…an unknown…but probably extended period of time.

Dealerships are frequently criticized for “overselling” maintenance and repairs, so if they are urging you to not repair this poor abused beast, I think that they are probably being honest with you. However, you might want to take the car to an independent foreign car shop for a compression test, and to have a main bearing cap removed in order to assess the amount of engine damage. That will cost you a few hundred $$, but if you really want to try to keep driving this car, it is the only way to tell just how bad the situation actually is.

You might want to consider installing a “junkyard” engine, but that is only practical if everything else on the car has been excellently maintained. For instance, if this car has an automatic transmission, the trans is on schedule to fail in the very near future if the fluid was not changed every 3 yrs. Has that been done?

If the answer is “yes”, then a junkyard engine might be a good course of action. If the answer is “no”, then you should just cut your losses at this point, as investing money in a replacement engine would be very poor economics if you then have to overhaul the transmission in a few months.

And, if you do decide to have a junkyard engine installed, make sure that you have its timing belt changed when the engine is installed. Timing belt replacement is done on the basis of odometer mileage and/or elapsed time, with the proviso of “whichever comes first”. So, even if the number of miles on that junkyard engine is less than 90k, if the car from which it came is more than 7 years old, then the timing belt is due for replacement.

Good luck!

What is the oil capacity of this engine? I take it the oil pressure warning light came on, which initially, at least, means the oil pressure is low, not necessarily zero.

I’m a little dubious of the claims of a sludged-up engine. Is the engine making any unusual noises now? While you certainly did the engine no favors allowing the oil to get so low, as long as you didn’t continue driving after the low oil pressure light came on, you may get a few more years out of the engine. But keep a close eye on the oil level!!

" as long as you didn’t continue driving after the low oil pressure light came on, you may get a few more years out of the engine"

Overall, I agree, but somehow, the statement below from the OP does not fill me with confidence that he/she didn’t continue to drive the car. Unless the dealership in question is conveniently located about a mile from where he/she saw the low oil pressure warning, then damage is likely.

“A few days ago I get a message saying there’s no oil pressure. I take the car in. Volvo looks at it and tells me the car is 3 quarts low on oil.”

Can the OP tell us how many miles (and minutes!) elapsed between the low oil pressure warning and when it was “taken in”?

Hows it running now? If it is running good and not making any unusual noises such as grinding, rattling or ticking noises, I’d go ahead and do the timing belt and keep her running. Check the oil consumption.

As for the timing belt, have you had it changed before? It has a time as well as mileage interval and if you have never had it done before, you need to do it ASAP. If it was done 6 years ago as it should have been, you could go a few months longer and see if your engine starts to burn oil.

You may have dodged a bullet on this. You may have gotten the warning just in time so if the engine still runs good, does not use oil, then proceed with your normal maintenance. Do NOT let the dealer desludge the engine, just go back to 3k oil changes with conventional oil and check the oil level at least twice a month for awhile. Once you determine the oil consumption rate, then adjust how often you need to check it.

And lastly, find a good independent mechanic, this dealer doesn’t seem to be taking care of you very well.

“metal filings in the oil pan” = toasted engine

My advice is to go car shopping

“metal filings in the oil pan” = toasted engine

True, but I wonder if the dealer was being straight with him.

Did you drive it at all after the warning light came on? How did you ‘take it in’ to the dealer? You must NOT drive it or even run the engine once you see an oil pressure warning.

Did you?

Thank you everyone for all the responses!

Here is the actual chronology, which I originally omitted for brevity: the evening before I took the car in, I was driving home and the oil light blinked on about 3 miles from home, and then almost immediately blinked off. I kept driving. It blinked on and then off again maybe 4 times before I got home, spending most of the time off. The next day I drove the car a distance of 5 miles to the dealership. Initially the light was off. About 1/3 of the way there it started blinking on again, and 2/3 of the way there it was solid on.

The engine sounds normal to me now. I don’t hear any knocking or clicking and detect no vibration. But those filings are reportedly there so I suppose there’s definite damage of some degree.

I have AAA, so as long as the engine is likely to fail gracefully, ie not explode or cause loss of control or anything else dangerous, I am happy to try and see how long it lasts. So I guess the question becomes how much more routine maintenance to do, and what economical things might keep it going. The blue book value of my car for the lowest, “Fair”, condition is $2700. Somehow I think “Fair” is a stretch at this point, but they don’t have a “Jacked Up” category. Labor to replace the engine will probably cost more than that right? I will go ahead and keep changing and checking oil very frequently as everyone recommends… and on future cars I will follow a similar pattern to prevent such disasters. I believe I replaced the timing belt one time in the past, and this was to be the second time.

Metal shavings in the oil pan means that you have shortened the life of the engine, but it doesn’t always mean that the engine is totally used up yet. Instead of getting 250k miles out of the engine, you may now only get 150k. At your rate, that could be another 6 or 7 years.

If you changed from regular oil to a synthetic just prior to this occurring, the oil type swap may have contributed to the problem. Switching from dino oil to synthetics can cause oil leaks and sludge formation b/c synthetics are better at cleaning the gunk out of the innards of the engine. But gunk built up over the years might be preventing an oil leak, or the gunk that gets cleaned out ends up circulating in the oil and causes problems elsewhere in the engine. B/c of this, if I were switching to a synthetic from a car that had routinely used regular oil, I’d be inclined to change the oil even more frequently than I had been, not less frequently.

@GeorgeSanJose - I heard of problems changing to synthetic 20 years ago, but wasn’t aware of any now.

Changing to synthetic will not hurt an engine. You can go back and forth. Now they make synthetic blends.

Yes, the problems from switching to synthetic from non-synthetic oil were solved many years ago.

It wasn’t even a problem 20 years ago, or 30 years ago because I used to do that back then and never had an issue.

My guess is that this engine always lost some oil, but with the 3k schedule, it was not a problem. It became a problem when the dealer suggested a longer interval and the OP was not in the habit of checking his oil periodically.

I don’t blame the OP that much, on vehicles that I have that do not have a problem with oil consumption, I don’t check the oil very often either, sometimes not at all between changes (except for the week after the oil change to make sure that nothing went wrong). On vehicles that do lose, I check based on the oil loss history of the vehicle, once I have established what that is.

I don’t use synthetic oils myself, but here’s where I read that there are some things to consider carefully before making a switch.


Dated 2.21.2014

Except … “Synthetic oil cleans even better than conventional oil. This means it will get dirtier. Extending change intervals are false economy. A few final concerns involve higher mileage vehicles that have not been well maintained. Such engines are prone to oil leakage. In some cases, the build up in the crankcase may be disguising leaks. Synthetic oil is an excellent cleaner. It will go to work cleaning any build up. This can reveal oil leaks that did not show up prior to the use of synthetic oil. I feel another concern could be filter restriction. The oil filter will attempt to remove contaminants broken free by synthetic oil. This could plug the oil filter on older engines with considerable build up.”