Implications of metal chips in motor oil

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Here’s the sich! My girlfriend Pilar has a 2002 Audi A4 tubo with 81,000 miles and has been more or less very responsible in having regular oil changes (she uses synthetic oil) since she owned the car circa 2003. Recently there was a noise coming from the motor and it was discovered that there was almost no oil. Oil change time was almost here. Upon taking the car to the shop (immediately) they advised and showed us the small metal chips in the oil. Even we know that this is not a good thing! The metal flecks were very small, but viewable to the naked eye and there was a silver hue in the bottom of the jar of old oil. The oil and filer were changed and no more noise from the motor now. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t know what the extent of any damage might have been without tearing down the motor for a look inside. He suggested driving, gently, with the new oil for a short time and then check the oil again. We went about a week later to another shop specialing in foreign vehicles and they drained the oil also opened up to oil filter and found no sign of metal. So we are encouraged. Here is the question. We understand that there must have been some damage. There are some additional repairs needed, CV boot and timing chain and now we are wondering if, given the metal in the oil, is it worth making extra repairs now, or think about getting a new or used car for fear that we’d spend the additiona couple thousand $ in repairs and the motor would poop out anyway? Replacement motors are quite expensive, something like $6,000 and the vehicle blue book is around $8,000 Pilar loves her Audi and until this incident was thinking along the lines of having the car for a long time. But, if it’s time to move on, to a different vehicle, I think she’d like to know feedback about that. Of course of the next vehicle is used, she might not know the complete history of that vehicle and she at least has 6 years of good service with this one. Thanks for feedback!!

It seems Pilar has been good about changing the oil on a regular basis, but not so good about CHECKING the oil on a regular basis, and this is very important with VW and Audi turbo engines, because they use oil as part of their regular operation.

This car has a timing belt, not a timing chain, and replacing it is part of normal maintenance. It’s good that it has been done already. Same with CV joint boots. They wear out and have to be replaced. Neither of these things is out of the ordinary.

There are no “repairs” you can do to compensate for the metal dust in the oil, short of rebuilding the engine, and that would be foolish.

If this were my GF’s car, I’d teach her to check the oil every couple of weeks and make sure the engine always has the correct amount of synthetic oil. I would also recommend changing the oil every 5,000 miles or less. Then I’d suggest she keep driving it and hope for the best.

In the meantime, I’d suggest she start saving for the day when the Audi will have to be replaced. It may be a long way in the future, and it may not be, but I don’t think you, or she, should give up on it right away.

If, on the other hand, you start to see more and more metal dust, it’s time to sell or trade for something else.

Thank you! So, there is (potentially) life after chips!! The timing belt and CV joint boots are not yet replaced but we’ll make a quick decision on that.

Since it’s still currently running, the chances are good that it has usable life left.
Since there’s clear evidence of internal damage and clear cause, the chances of it living a normal life hereinafter or lasting it’s full life can be assumed to be pretty much zero.

If it were me I’d start looking to replace it. McP might be right, it may have lots of life left, but I personally would be inclined to not want to put the money into a new timing chain and half-shaft (if the boot is torn, the whole shaft should be replaced) and whatever else it needs knowing that it has internal damage.

I based my recommendation on the assumption the timing belt had already been replaced. My mistake. This is not an inexpensive job, and it really can’t wait if she intends to keep the car.

Maybe it’s time to think about trading before things get worse. These cars can get very expensive to maintain as they age, and neglecting to check the oil may have hastened this car’s demise.

It’s a gamble, at this point, to pour money into this car. If the belt had already been replaced it might be worth it, but now I’m thinking this could become VERY expensive in a short period of time.

Don’t misunderstand, I respected your opinion that perhaps it’s too soon to give up on the car even with all the other data. This is one of those areas that has no clear answer. Truely finding out how much damage has occurred would be so expensive as to make it not worth the cost anyway. The final opinion recommendation becomes a function of whether one is a risk taker.

This is one of those things where I agree with you but might personally make a different decision. It’s like having two face cards in Blackjack and deciding whether to split them.

Late to the conversation but as a precautionary measure to any potential metal flakes recirculating in the oil I installed a magnetic oil drain plug.

Pretty cool and sounds good in theory… it has a strong magnet that should attract and hold any metal pieces floating around. Just installed it today since I’m a sucker for little “upgrades” even though I’ve never noticed any metal in the oil.

Either way, for about $7-$10 sounds like a worthwhile investment if you still have this car with the issue there are a number of aftermarket companies that sell this - google it.