Engine damaged from low oil level?

So…I was changing the oil on my aunt’s 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer, which has somewhere around 100k on it.

Only about 1 and a half quarts of oil drained out…and it was really dark. I asked her when the oil was last changed, and she wasn’t sure, said maybe 8 months ago (!!). She had been adding some oil here and there. Not sure how the oil light wasn’t on!

I noticed a lot of oil on the undercarriage, it looked like it was coming from the oil filter, but hard to tell…filter wasn’t double gasketted.

After the oil change was done, we started it up and I noticed a loud clicking sound at idle, sounded like sticky lifters? Not sure if the sound was there before. Oil level was checked, and it was at the full mark. After a bit of idling it quieted down a bit, but definitely still there and didn’t sound pretty.

Question is, did she damage the engine by running it so low on oil? Is that clicking sound usually evidence of any specific damage/problems? I know it’s water under the bridge now, and I gave her a scolding, but just curious if she might be looking at some engine trouble in the near future.



It sounds like she left the oil change too long and also did not top it up when required. In oher words, forgetfulness or neglect; you decide. It sounds like the valve lifters may have experienced excessive wear; how bad, I don’t know.

This vehicle should be checked out by a knowlegeable mechanic to get to know the true condition. It may need a cleanout with Seafoam to get all the crud out of the oil galleries.

Are there any comparable conditioners to Seafoam? I’ve never seen it on shelves around here (Ontario).

Oh, and I’d say a combination of forgetfulness and neglect. :slight_smile:

Seafoam gets all the best publicity but some enthusiasts believe Mopar Combustion Chamber Cleaner (MPCC) is just as good if not better. See here: http://www.dsm.org/archives/1998/12/19981217.txt/2.html. You should be able to buy it from a Chrysler dealership.

To avoid this type situation, I put my mother in law on a quarterly oil change interval. It was easier to track and in general a quarterly change eliminated the possibility of running the engine without about the proper amount of oil in it.

The clicking sound may be from the valve lifters sticking, or not pumping up. If it’s still there after using the SeaFoam equivalent, it may be camshaft lobe(s) is/are worn.
You can remove the valve cover, and measure (and compare) how much each intake valve stem rises, and how much each exhaust valve stem rises as the engine is rotated by hand. The figures will be the valve lift. Compare to each other, and to the specs in the repair manual. If the wear is excessive, the camshaft and valve lifters will have to be replaced.

i bet the ‘sound’ wasn’t sticky lifters, but just plain noisy lifters, worn out from lack of lubrication.

some cars (i don’t know if this applies to aunties lancer) will ‘take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ so it may be no worry. but, since your aunt MAY be left on the side of the road at some point to remove doubt, why not take it in to get it checked out?

Haha, I like that…“take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’” - how appropriate!

Aunt’s the type of person who doesn’t see the value in preventative maintenance, hence the overdue oil change, and why she probably won’t take it in to get checked (appreciate the procedure, hellokit, but I have to realise my limits and probably shouldn’t attempt that one).

So, I’ll try to do the Seafoam thing (found out it’s available at Carquest) and see how it goes…and I like the quarterly oil change interval, that’s probably better than what she currently does.

Thanks all!

As long as the engine wasn’t starving for oil under load (i.e. the oil pressure warning light did not come on), she won’t have done immediate, catastrophic damage. I would worry more about the cumulative effect of five years of chronic neglect. After the car is fully warmed up, does the light come on at idle? If it does, the engine is on its last legs.

At this point, your aunt has two options:
(1) Since it still runs, trade the car in on something better. This will only work if it isn’t obviously in distress.
(2) Continue driving the car until it dies. Expensive repairs, that would be a justifiable investment in a well maintained car, would be a waste of money with this one. Your aunt should get a AAA membership, always carry a charged cell phone and avoid lonely places late at night.

With only a quart and a half in there, and dark to boot, my feeling is that some engine damage has occurred. It takes more than a quart and a half to fill up oil galleys along with pooling and oil clinging to various areas so this means the pump is drawing some air.

The clicking in the top end could be caused by the valve lash adjusters suffering some damage. Mitsubishis, and some other vehicles that use the same adjuster, have been prone to the ends of the lash adjuster wearing through anyway even when the oil has been kept full. When very low on oil the disentegration process is even faster.
This is what they look like.

As you look at the pic, they usually fail on the left end there. When removed from the valve train any damage is easily noticed.
The SeaFoam or Marvel Mystery Oil treatment is something to be considered before tearing into it anyway on the offchance an adjuster or two could be sticking.

(Failure of these adjusters is pretty common anyway. I tore into 3 Mitsubishi engines (total of 24 adjusters altogether) and there was about 6 good ones out of the entire lot.)