I am trying to understand how there is no oil in my sons car?

I am trying to understand how there is no oil in my sons new car and it is still running?

He completely screwed up and didn’t get his oil changed on time like he should do. To my understanding the last time his oil was changed the mileage was somewhere around 55k. His car now has 71k on it.

He has been taken his car to the local Valvoline Instant Oil Change, the one where you don’t even have to get out of your car. Apparently he had a huge issue with them when his car had somewhere around 30k miles on it. They changed his oil but either the oil cap worked itself loose or they never tightened properly. But somewhere around 6k miles after they had changed his oil last he was going down the interstate and another car got his attention and his car was smoking really bad, almost on fire he said it looked like.

So he pulled over and there was no oil cap on top of the motor and oil was everywhere. So he instantly called Valvoline and they agreed to tow the car back, clean his motor and take care of any issues. He told me they added oil car to his car and then drained in front of him through a coffee filter to show him there was no damage or metal in his crank case. I am not sure what all was going on but he said he felt good about how the handled it.

Then he tells me he has had his oil changed twice since then with the last one being around 55k. Last night he is coming home and his engine light comes on. When I walked out to his car last night the fan was still running and the keys were in my pocket, odd as hell. The temperature gage was showing normal. So I started his car and the motor was shaking pretty good. But not really any noise or a loud ticking that I remember hearing on cars 20 years ago that needed oil. So I checked his oil and there is barley anything on his dip stick. The car is not smoking and there are no leaks anywhere.

How could this be, No leaks, not smoking, no oil showing and just drove home from work that is 64 miles away?

How long can a car run with very little to no oil ?

If there is any oil on the dipstick then there is still a couple of quarts in the oil pan. I can’t really see if there any oil on the dipstick in the pictures. I’d suggest getting some cheap oil and putting it in the motor until you see there is oil showing up on the dipstick. See how many quarts it takes.

On many motors when no oil registers on the dipstick it takes 2 to 3 quarts to get oil reading at the the “add” mark on the dipstick. That means there is 2 to 3 quarts still in the motor.

Ok I will do that. To answer your question, no the stick looks dry to me. now at the top of the grey silver part of the stick. I guess the area where it shows you if you are low or not there is some oil on the back side of the stick at the top of this area. Seems like the oil that is there is from sliding it in and out of the hole it belongs in. But the bottom couple inches of the stick is dry.

Maybe this is a dumb question, but I have to ask, if the car is not smoking or dripping oil from a leak, where is the oil ? I mean could his motor have burned the oil out in such a slow manner that one would never see any smoke of any kind ? If this is possible what would be some of the reasons for a newer car to burn oil like this ?

Thank You for your input above. I was really hoping to get some feedback as soon as possible but I didn’t think it would be this quick, THANK YOU…

I would first suspect an issue resulting from using ANY quickie lube place. There are more horror stories emanating from those places than can be counted. If your engine is burning oil at a high rate of speed then there certainly SHOULD BE telltale signs of this happening. None of us will be able to know what has happened here so we would all be guessing. Since the engine is not fried at this point LUCKILY you get to try a few things and see what happens.

At this point there is no point in guessing. However you can simply change the oil yourself and write everything down on a note pad and put it in the glove box. Note the number of quarts added to the engine and the date of the oil change…and then go from there. Paying close attention for any leaks or smoke from the tail pipe. Also it would be time to frequently check the dipstick…See what you get. You got lucky this time…dont expect this to happen again.

Change the oil and be vigilant…See what happens You may notice a leak and or a high rate of oil loss on the stick. But at least you will be on top of the issue much more than before. I would check that dipstick pretty much DAILY…or after every significant running of the engine.


Oil burns off in a small amount normally. Some cars use more oil than others, and some oils burn off at a faster rate than others. This is why your son should check the oil level in the car periodically, ie. once a month at a minimum. If you see the oil is at or below the add mark you add a quart of oil to bring the level back up to the full mark.

What happens when the oil gets below the level where is doesn’t register on the dipstick at all? instead of 5 quarts of oil in the motor you have 2 to 2 1/2 quarts doing the job of 5 quarts. This means those 2 quarts are not resting in the oil pan, but being circulated back up into the motor. This means those 2 quarts get hotter, and burn off faster. Soon you have only 1 quart in the motor and it is even hotter and burning off faster – until you have so little oil that the oil pump can’t pull up any oil at all and that red “oil” indicator light comes on.

In order to answer your main question, you need to tell us how much oil needs to be added now and what the mileage was the last time the oil level was checked. If it hasn’t been checked in 16,000 miles, it would be no surprise at all to be low by several quarts.

As others have said, the dipstick doesn’t go to the bottom of the oil pan. It only shows the top few quarts.

When he changes his oil this time, it might start dissolving the sludge that’s likely been building up. I’d change the oil again in 1,000 miles or so.

He needs to be aware that between the low oil level and the unchanged oil, he’s probably done some permanent damage to the engine. Maybe he’ll get lucky, but this could turn into an expensive (and totally avoidable) lesson.

For the check-engine light, we need the code. Most auto parts stores will read that for free (except apparently in California from what I’ve heard). Did the oil pressure light ever come on, by the way?

As for the oil cap, that usually results in a big mess but not enough lost oil to damage the engine, so that’s the least of the issues here.

Quick-lube shops generally have the highest rate of errors. I suggest using a real mechanic from now on.

Am I reading correctly that the oil was changed twice between 30k and 71k miles and it has been 16k miles since the last oil change (55 to 71k miles). Was the oil level ever checked between changes?

As for oil usage most manufacturers consider 1 qt/1k miles acceptable. I use a 5k interval for oil changes on my cars. My daughter’s (formerly my Dad’s) 2003 Taurus uses about a quart between oil changes, there are no smoke or leaks. It’s an ex-city car whose had a hard life before my daughter got it.

I have two Chevrolet with Ecotec engines (2.2 and 2.4). Going by the Oil Life Monitor the 2.2 could go 9k and the 2.4 could go 6-7k between changes. I can’t imagine any circumstances where oil could last 16k miles.

Ed B.

“He needs to be aware that between the low oil level and the unchanged oil, he’s probably done some permanent damage to the engine.”


If the OP’s son doesn’t yet have a adult-level sense of responsibility, then the OP will need to oversee the maintenance of this now-damaged car. Hopefully sonny will learn from his mistakes and won’t abuse the next car.

If the car was driven 16,000 without an oil change or even checking the dipstick any engine failure at this point would likely be the direct or indirect result of running deteriorated oil at a dangerously low level.

You have to understand that the dip stick does not go all the way to the bottom of the pan. If you have ever done an oil change…no oil will show up on the stick until you have about three quarts of new oil in the engine.
Oil level should be checked every month at least or 800-1000 miles.

I hope your son paid for this car and not you. If you paid for this car, it’s time to raise hell with your son that he is ignoring the regular maintenance.
I doubt that with the poor maintenance this car had, that it will still be on the road at 125,000 miles.

Just to bring you and your son up to date, the transmission should have had two filter and fluid changes by now.
The big one coming up is a new timing belt at around 100,000 miles, if your engine has a belt and not a chain. If this is an interference engine, a broken belt can do major damage to the engine and cost $4000-$6000 for repair and replacement.

It’s time to get that owners manual out and do some long over due reading.


Do we know what model & year this car is?

The OP didn’t give that information.

With no make, model, mileage or year we just have to speak in general terms.


Well, the pictures show it’s a Chevy Ecotech. Would that be a Cavalier or Cobalt?

I’d say get the oil changed ASAP. Why add more at this point just as an experiment to see what it takes? If it’s already damaged, a couple of miles to the Iffy Lube, OK Valvoline place, probably won’t hurt it any more.

I’ve seen engines that were down 2-1/2 quarts be fine after a change.

I think you have much bigger problems than oil depletion. It seems that you’re doing everything for your son on his car and he’s doing nothing… and doesn’t care. If my impression is correct, than IMHO you’re doing him far more harm than good.

The engine probably has permanent bearing damage, but if you lead him through the process of cleaning the engine out with Seafoam or something similar and getting the oil properly drained and refilled, he might get some good use out of it yet. But if you continue to “enable” him and do everything for him, the car has no chance. But my biggest fear is that your son also has no chance. You need to begin to teach him responsibility.

If my impression is wrong and there’s more to the story than is in the thread, you have my sincerest apology. If my impression is correct, your son has my sincerest sympathy.

I have to disagree with @MG McAnick.

What if there is no harm done to this engine YET, but they are so low on oil that it barely is above the pickup tube. Yes they would have pressure enough…until they stop for that RR crossing on the steep hill and as those 60 noisy train cars go past they are sucking air.

Then there would be damage.

Sorry @MG McAnick, I just reread the post…engine shaking…oooopppsssss.
Yea it damaged goods.

At least fill it until the oil shows on the dip stick.


An engine with say a 4 quart capacity that is down 2 quarts does not have 2 quarts in the pan when running. Most of that remaining 2 will be in suspension; pooling in cubbyholes, filling galleys, and generally slopped all over the inside of the engine while being flung into a mist inside the crankcase.
Most oil pressure senders close at 3-5 PSI so it doesn’t take much of an oil/air mix to shut the light off. Pressure that low will not protect an engine when cylinder pressures in a firing cylinder can easily reach 1500 PSI or more.
It’s kind of like stomping on a cockroach. The boot will win that battle.

In my opinion the engine is damaged goods and the entire thing was preventable, as most are, by raising the hood regularly and making sure the oil level is fine.

It wouldn’t be unusual if the oil level wasn’t ever checked and at least topped off in16K miles for the dipstick to show no oil remaining. When the engine was running, did you notice if the oil pressure warning light is on?

One time I ran down the oil on my Corolla so there was nothing showing on the dipstick, but I must have caught it in time. I failed to realize I had a valve cover gasket leak. But since you are hearing unusual noises from the engine now, I suspect you may be looking at some serious engine damage. Don’t assume that’s the case though, ask a pro to check it out for you. You might get lucky and just an oil and filter job will fix the problem.

I’ve seen at least one engine (5.0L Ford) survive being driven for several miles with NO oil pressure. Not that I’d recommend it, but a friend’s wife drove home after the shaft below the distributor that drove the oil pump snapped. He replaced the shaft and pump, and drove the car another 20K miles before trading it off. That’s why I suggested changing the oil and driving on. Maybe it’s damaged, maybe it’s not, but the OP has to try it.

" It seems that you’re doing everything for your son on his car and he’s doing nothing… and doesn’t care. If my impression is correct, than IMHO you’re doing him far more harm than good."

I can tell you from my experience of 35 years as a high school educator that when kids are given material objects–rather than earning them or paying for them with their own money–they do not value them very highly. On more occasions than I can count, I saw adolescents abuse cars, clothing, and electronic goods that were gifted to them. Most of them actually verbalized something along the lines of…If I wreck it, Mom & Dad will buy me another one.

Nowadays, adolescent-like behavior seems to extend into the late 20s-early 30s with many young people, so my comments should not be interpreted to apply strictly to high school or even college-age people.

If Mom & Pop are “gifting” their son with a new car, that could well be part of the son’s problem with an apparent lack of responsibility toward this very expensive possession.

If mom and dad paid for the car and have to pay for the repairs too because the son has no job or is still in school I sympathize with you. But if that is the case this is what I’d do.

Find the ugliest wreck that’s on it’s last leg, and for sale. Buy that for a temporary vehicle for the son to drive while he gets this one fixed. I might even buy it and do a little repainting with some spray cans…pinks a nice color!!! “The Hulk” on one side “Chick Magnet” on the other. Then I’d dent every fender with a sledge hammer. Really make it an embarrassment to drive.

Then explain to the mechanic to take his good nature’d time in replacing the engine.

In the mean time the son can experience what it’s like to NOT have his nice new wheels.
While he is hiding from all his buddies…by staying home so the car is not seen…he can read the manual.

Give the son back his good car and scrap the “Hulk”.

Danged I’m mean.