Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

How long will a car last without oil?

I work at a shop doing general service, im new to this kind of work i’ve done it for 3 months now. Last week a woman came in saying she needed an oil change and inspection so i pulled it in, popped the hood and raised it up for our tech to see underneath to inspect it while i drained the oil. They seen that she needed tires because cords were out and they were ready to blow, while our csa went to try and sell tires I lowered it, put oil in it, started it and checked the level and for leaks and closed the hood. A week later she called saying the motor blew and theres no oil in her engine, im probably going to lose my job for it. Its not my only source of income, i just got the job to learn about cars really. Is there anyway to prove I put oil in it?

Any way to find out how many miles were driven since the oil change?

Great idea

A couple of things can cause the engine to lose oil after an oil change.

The drain plug wasn’t tightened is one.

Or, the gasket from the old oil filter was stuck onto the engine when the new oil filter was installed.


I strongly suggest that you only talk about this with your supervisor . Any efforts to find out anything that happened after you did your work will just cause your employer more problems. If all that happens that you lose a part time job just count that as part of life.

I’ll go a little off-topic . . .

was the oil level in fact very low, when she brought it in?

WHY did she think she needed an oil change?

Because x number of miles or x number of months had elapsed since last time?

Or because the red low oil pressure warning light was on . . . ?!

Another rather ugly possibility comes to mind . . . and I’ve seen it a few times. A customer brings in a car which they KNOW has an extremely expensive problem, and they don’t mention it. The goal is that the part will fail for good very soon after the shop does some repairs. And then the shop is blamed for the failure, and hopefully they buy a new engine, transmission, etc. for the customer

If you feel confident that when you released the car the oil was topped off correctly and there were no leaks there is nothing more you can do. If the filter failed it wasn’t a brand that you chose. If the engine leaked or burned oil quicly enough that it caused the engine to self destruct the problem is the owners and not yours. As alwasys be careful to take care of your end of the bargain and leave the rest to the person who makes the decisions.

@db4690 Could be any of those. IF there was no oil in the engine, it would seize up in 7 miles or so. My father in law sold his Buick V8 to someone at work, who took the car to a chain for an oil change. The drain plug was tightened and a new filter installed, but on oil was put in. The guy’s girlfriend may have called him just before he was about to add oil, and he forgot all about it.

An engine without oil sizes up very quickly, so I suspect the plug was not tightened or the filter not screwed on right. And it took longer. I’ve experience the latter and it caused an engine fire out on the highway. I got the shop to acknowledge their mistake and pay for towing and a new oil change. I did not charge them for the old blanket I used to douse the flames.

@Brogan depending how long it took the engine to fail, the oil could have been leaking out on the highway. A loose filter will not leak oil when the car is parked.

Hope this info is useful.

Good Luck!

I doubt OP doublegasketed the filter, because that often leads to an immediate and extreme oil leak

I don’t think OP would have let the car drive off with such an obvious leak

I’ve seen doublegasketed oil filters not leak at idle.

But raise the engine RPM’s, and oil leaks out.

I’ve done this with my own vehicle when I was young and stupid.

And you only make this mistake once.


If they were driving around on tires with the cord showing then I wonder if this car is essentially an abused, rolling wreck?

People have been known to hit a facility up for a service and then intentionally trash something so they can use the service facility as a scapegoat. Just something for consideration.

A guy in my area bought a new Subaru.
Six months of payments and he was tired of the Subaru so he quit paying.
Eventually the bank called for him to surrender the car so he said come and get it.
He drained the lube out of the trans and trashed the trans before the repo truck arrived.
He played dumb for the repo driver.
The car had a measly 15k miles on it.

I tore the trans apart on that one and as the Brits would say; it was a right hash of things.

There is another possibility not yet mentioned… the wrong filter.
Some shops use generic filters, and the part number could have been one that had the same thread but a different diameter gasket.

I’m only pointing this out to make the OP aware of the possibility to add to his knowledge base. It’s always good to visually check the new filter against the old. It only takes a split second and can save an engine.

In truth, there’s no way to know if you made an error at this point. All you can do is be very aware of the possibility of an error in the future and make sure you don’t make one then. Make sure the new filter is correct, make sure the old gasket is removed with the old filter and the surface is clean (I just wipe a finger over it in case something is stuck there), make sure the new filter installs and seats cleanly, and make sure the plug is firmly installed but NOT overtorqued. I accomplish the last task by using only a “stubby” wrench for installation. It’s too easy to strip the threads with a regular size ratchet or wrench.

I feel your pain wish you the best, Now have heard stories of putting oil in trans, unlikely, stutff happens live life and go on and learn, probably will have the gig with maybe a little grumbles from the boss.

Tester: 2,500 rpms for 30 seconds is the normal leak check.

I feel the pain of the OP. This seems to be one case that the “costumer is NOT right”, but it is difficult to prove.

Here’s a story from a friend of mine, who is a store manager for a large, nationwide tire and auto service chain we’ll call “BurningRock.”

A guy knows his engine is worn out and starting to make some lower end noise after fully warmed up. He takes the car to BurningRock for an oil change service and has some brake work done as well. Spends a few hundred dollars there. A few days later he crawls under the car, loosens the drain plug, and heads out for work. Halfway there the plug falls out, engine loses oil, he drives it until it stops on the freeway and calls a tow truck. Before the car is back at the shop the guy is already on the phone with “corporate” complaining how they ruined his engine. Of course the company agreed to install a good used engine at no cost.

If the guy hadn’t been bragging to his drinking buddies about how he got a free engine and one of the buddies called the store, no one would ever have known.

I see people trying to manipulate and abuse the system all the time in my line of work. I now inspect computers and such coming in for obvious damage after a few incidents. One person called me to have a relative minor job (virus removal) done on their computer. It was a laptop. I picked up the unit from them and didn’t bother to look at it or open it up. I got home and the screen was broken so badly that glass was falling out but you wouldn’t have known without opening it up and looking at it. I had handled this gently and there was no way I had done this.

I called the woman and she IMMEDIATELY accused me of breaking her screen and now I was going to have to pay for it. She already knew that the office supply chain charges about $600 to do the work. I told her there was no way I had broken this and that I wasn’t going to replace her screen for free. She then threatened to take me to court and I said “go ahead.” I told her I wanted her laptop out of my hands and that I wasn’t going to touch it. She never came and got it so I ended up sending it off for scrap a few weeks later.

Stuff like this is actually quite common. Then there are the people who are unwilling to pay for their repairs and accuse you of theft when you don’t return their equipment. I am pretty much going all commercial these days and my drama and stress level have dropped dramatically. Individuals are a real mess sometimes.

@8rogan, did anyone besides you check the oil level after the service was completed? The manager at the place I take my cars for oil changes does that every time. If someone did check, then it’s not just you on the hook.

A little update, the lady claimed to have drove 300-400 miles before it blew up. My manager knows about it but still hasnt even talked to me about it and from what ive heard he said hes not buying her a new car. Im thinking someone just wanted a new car.


If the drain plug was left off, or if no oil was added to the crankcase, she wouldn’t have made it 300-400 miles

If the filter was double gasketed, or if the filter was loose, or if the drain plug was loose, she might have made it 300-400 miles

BTW . . . what kind of car does this lady drive, and how old is it?