Do engines really "up and die"?

After buying a dodge durango with a hemi and broken exhaust bolts, I’ve become very aware of engine sounds and as such, I can’t help but notice the number of cars out there with some pretty severe sounding problems. Seems like every time I am in a parking lot, I hear at least one car that sounds like it could throw a rod at any moment.

This makes me think back to researching used vehicles, and it seems that, no matter what car you’re looking into, there are tons of horror stories about how one day, without warning and despite an impeccable service record, the engine just exploded, seized up, or threw a rod. Now I know engines get tired and worn down over time, and sometimes you just end up with a bad engine, so I’m not necessarily doubting people when they say they’ve taken good care of it - eventually an engine will go out if the transmission doesn’t first.

But I have to wonder about the “without warning” part of this. It’d seem that the engine should make some kind of noise before catastrophic failure in the vast majority of cases, and being that so many cars out there sound SO bad, I have to wonder if people just don’t know the warning signs of a worn engine. So, what do you think, will a car really just “up and die” one day without any warning?

No. A worn engine has symptoms. An engine that suddenly “up and dies” has been abused or neglected.

99.9999% of the time when and engine fails prematurely…it’s because the engine wasn’t maintained properly…Doesn’t matter who manufactured it.

What does it mean by “Impeccable Service”. Is that the quick-lube place who uses iffy parts and maybe not the right oil? Or the unscrupulous dealer who charges you $50 for an oil change, yet they never changed the oil…they just charged you for it?

Do engines fail without warning…even ones that were REALLY maintained extremely well. YES…But those are extremely rare. I’ve only heard stories…never witnessed it. And the couple I heard about it turned out that they weren’t really that well maintained.

Ignorance is bliss and most “up and died” engine failures were from blissful drivers.

Sure, the situation does exist. Metal fatigue can cause a spontaneous break of an important part like a rod bolt or a connecting rod with no warning whatsoever. The resulting failure basically goes BOOM, the engine is a now a boat anchor. This happens for 2 primary reasons. 1) the part was operated way beyond its design range - over revving the engine past its redline for example or 2) a part defect in manufacturing

Far more likely is the driver killing the engine or transmission by ignoring an obvious noise, vibration or leak until the resulting BOOM. I’d agree the vast majority of cases are this type.

I’ve heard numerous stories of engines “just giving up”. In all cases (1) the driver was not very knowledgeable about cars, (2) was not a great driver, (3) did not do the required maintenance. The “reason” given was to escape responsibility.

The wife of an acquaintance is a bit of an airhead, and burned the engine out of her car by just keeping on driving when the engine started overheating; she wanted to get home quickly.

The engine overheated due to lack of coolant which had been leaking for some time and suddenly got worse.

In Spanish, when a person breaks something they say: " Se rumpio", or “it broke itself” in English.

Needless to say, Spanish speaking countries are not up to the pro-active level of the maintenance culture of Sweden, Germany, Switzerland or Japan.

See, our previous car was a toyota that we inherited from my MIL. It never was taken very good care of. She drove it commercially, and then we had it for a while. Did basic oil changes, but that’s it. Had some freaky sounds coming from the transmission for years. Finally it was slipping and sluggish to shift. Leaked oil like crazy. I knew it was dying, and we just let it go - wasn’t really worth fixing. Naturally it finally gave up most of it’s life, we just couldn’t keep up with the oil leaks and finally ran dry (when least convenient, naturally) - but it still runs! I can’t imagine driving it around with the sounds it’s making now. But it seems a lot of people do drive cars in similar condition, and they don’t seem all that concerned by it.

Same with my Volvo. Had all sorts of symptoms before it finally blew a head gasket. Symptoms that all make sense in retrospect. But I KNEW something was wrong with it for years before it finally went out (after 50 miles of slow driving on the shoulder, it hydrolocked just as we pulled into the junk yard the next morning - I loved that car!).

Well @shawn_kearney two great examples of “killed” cars. I know many people who had it in their heads that cars can’t last past 100,000 miles (20 years ago) that they just stopped doing any repairs or maintenance on their cars at about 80K so they could stand back as say “See, I TOLD you it wouldn’t last past 100K” when they blew it up from lack of oil or overheating or a simple repair that would have prevented the catastrophe. And there are others just to oblivious to noises that they just don’t even notice.

Two vehicles that had assisted suicide .

Well, the only engine I had a problem with was my diesel at 200k. Developed a pretty goo knock on a 200 mile trip. Drove it to the dealer for a new engine before the 200 mile trip home. But that’s the only one.

Assisted suicide indeed! I can’t blame Toyota because I couldn’t justify thousands of dollars in repair on a car with 240K miles and shot suspension - that’s a problem with my budget, the fact it was too small for my family and the rough life it had. Can’t blame Volvo for an undiagnosed problem, that is a better reflection on the mechanic who replaced my MAF and didn’t check the head gasket like I asked him to - and I’m to blame for not insisting. I’m not going to post reviews about how terrible Volvos and Toyotas are because of what I didn’t do right as an owner to keep them going longer.

Nonetheless, I had PLENTY of warning before these vehicles were not driveable, and my guess is the majority of these online reviews of cars that fail suddenly did too.

The only expierience I have had with an engine up and dying was my dads pontiac tempo wagon that threw a rod. Many cars have a sludge problem with the radiators or engine oil that give some warning, but few are listening. Now I only have 170k on my current car but would expect an engine failure to be out of the norm but not impossible. Stuff happens, but sometimes it happens needlessly due to freak events, or poor maintenance and/or ignoring a situation.

I have had two cars that destroyed their engines without warning. Both were well used before I got them and rec’d 3000 mile oil changes. Both threw rods. Nothing mysterious, I had been running at the cars top speed for a while. American cars of the 50s were not really designed to do that.

It’s been my experience that engines usually run their best and fastest right before they blow up. At least on the drag strip or a deserted highway.

Most people say their car is “well maintained” when the only maintenance the car ever sees is filling the gas tank once in a while, running it through a car wash occasionally, and changing the oil when something else breaks and the car is in for maintenance anyway.

We see that type of denial/falsehood on an ongoing basis in this forum.

In the course of telling his/her tale of automotive woe, somebody will state that his/her vehicle was “well maintained”, but when pressed for details it turns out that the only actual maintenance that the car ever received was an oil change on rare occasions.

I never had one up and die. But my Vega was burning a lot of oil after 40k miles. That was a design flaw of that engine. I rebuilt it at about 50k miles, but with steel sleeves. Engine lasted another 100k miles and wasn’t burning a drop of oil…but it was rusted beyond fixing.

I agree that most…99%…of engines that “just up and die”, do so because of poor maintenance.

It may not be from the current owner, maybe the past owner had poor maintenance habits.

Then many people like my wife couldn’t hear a problem because she has no clue, and never will about listening for a problem. She has never blown one up, but could have had I not heard a problem when she drove in.
Plus she has such poor luck that in the past five years she has had three pin hole leaks in oil filters. Each time I was the one who noticed the puddle where she parks and checked it out.

One person I know blew one up because they forgot to put the oil filler cap back on and on a long trip enough oil had been thrown out to starve the engine. The fact that this person always has the radio blaring helped hide any noise from the driver.

Another person I know blew two engines in 16 months. Both times because he ignored the oil light and ran the engine dry. He was young, but after the first time you’d think he’d learn what that oil light means.


@Yosemity That person’s sense of smell must have been poor too! Leaving the oil filler cap off will result in the engine covered in oil with a foul smell and soon smoke billowing out from under the hood.