Is it possible to drive my car without oil or am I being scammed?

I have a 2004 Hyundai Tiburon w/ ~ 78K miles. For the past several months it has been living in the garage and mostly been used to drive to and from the grocery store once every 2 weeks. I did let the maintenance lag longer than I should have. I just brought it in to get an oil changed only to be told that there was NO oil in my car. – The oil light never came on and although there was a subtle clicking, the car really wasn’t making noise any strange or loud noises, wasn’t over heating, and for the most part seemed to be running perfectly fine. My question is, is it possible that I have been driving the car around without oil and have NO idea – or am I being scammed?

So, no light came on ? If it’s working and functions as it should, you had oil.
Cars won’t run but a few minutes or less at very low speeds with no oil. Maybe the oil was too low to register on the stick but not enough to make the light come on for your car…either way cars need oil !

There was probably some oil remaining in the crank case, just not enough to register on the dipstick. No oil in the engine isn’t necessarily the same as no oil showing on the dipstick. I expect you already know it’s a good idea to take a minute or two to check the dipstick at least once or month or so. But b/c of the way you use the car, and that there may still have been oil circulating, you may have gotten off with little to no engine damage. Cross you fingers. And make sure your “oil” light does come on when the key is in the “on” position but the engine isn’t running.

Your motor would have seized fairly quickly if there was no oil in it. It sounds like the dipstick who pulled the car’s dipstick saw no oil on it, but there was clearly some oil left in the oil pan.

That being said, make sure your oil pressure warning light is working. It should come on when you turn the key to “run” before starting it.

In the interest of clarifying, the oil pump draws oil from about 3/8" from the bottom of the pan. The dipstick only goes about an inch below the top of the oil pool, not down to the level from which the pump draws its oil. It’s only designed to tell you when to add oil, not to tell you where the level is relative to the pump’s oil pickup tube.

The good news is that you apparently did not run completely out of oil.
The bad news is that you were much lower than you should have been, were thus pumping through your engine oil that was more contaminated than it should have been (an ounce of gump in one quart of oil makes a far more polluted mix than an ounce of gump in four quarts of oil), and if you had decided to take a trip you could have run completely out and destroyed your engine.

You need to read your owner’s manual, learn what you need to monitor, and develop a routine to do so. You lucked out this time, you may not luck out the nest time.

Sincere best.

Now that you know your car uses some oil, you should check it every 1000 miles until you find out how fast it burns one quart. Do not let it get more than I qt. low. Change it according to the severe service schedule in your owners manual.

I strongly suspect you had very little oil in the crankcase, so that it didn’t register on the dipstick, thus the statement “no oil”

A relative of mine recently went about 20,000 miles between oil changes. There was no oil pressure warning light on at any time. He literally had more oil in the filter than in the crankcase

He seems to have dodged a bullet, so to speak, as it’s been a few months, and all is still well

This guy has admitted that he’s very bad as far as maintenance goes

Hopefully, the clicking was as subtle as you say . . . a high pitched sound, like a ball point pen?

That would be the lifters, starved of oil

If it was a very deep pitched sound, that spells trouble

Explain the scam?

Typically the oil change places do check your oil level before coming in to note if it had nothing to start with. You can have oil in your sump but it did not register on your dipstick leading to the statement. It will cause damage to your engine and overwork the small bit oil left.

The other potential is the small oil left over is so sludged up it barely drained out.

The oil light on is pressure not volume. It can have pressure but not enough volume to lubricate the motor properly.

Good luck with the car, don’t be surprised if it has some expensive issues earlier in its life.

The reason you have no idea is obvious, you never bothered to check the oil which is prudent thing to do occasionally when you own a car no matter how new or old. That all being said I only check mine once a month maybe.

Go back to your mechanic and ask what he meant. If there was no oil on the dipstick, then possibly you got away with no damage. However, if little to no oil drained, then you may have an engine full of sludge, which you might make a last-ditch attempt to clean up.

In any event, you need to understand that oil is critical to the functioning of your engine. Unless you have money sitting around to buy a new engine, you need to check your oil regularly, especially now that this event has happened.

On another note, if your grocery store is close, then it sounds like you make only short trips with this car. That probably puts you into the “severe service” category for maintenance. Check your owner’s manual on that.

Like @andrewRA I’m trying to figure out where the “scam” comes in. You went to get your oil changed. Presumably it was changed? And…? What else? A scam involves getting something out of you on false pretenses. Did the shop try to see you a new engine? If they just changed your oil and sent you on your way - hopefully with the warning to regularly check your oil - then there is no “scam.”

No oil shop checks oil level prior to job. They drain oil. Service tech might chuckle and mention it to you. Might not.

Did they change your oil for you? Did they try to sell you some kind of oil cleaning or engine flushing service? Are they trying to get you to abandon your car and sell it to them really cheap? What is the scam here?

I don’t see any scam here. It could be that the shop has been bitten before by someone bringing damaged goods to them and then trying to lay blame off on the shop. That’s not saying the OP would be guilty of doing this; just pointing out the mindset of the shop behind checking the oil from the start.

The OP says they’ve lagged on maintenance and apparently do not check the oil level. Given that and the oil consumption on an engine with only 78k miles I think the OP owns an oil burner now due to coked engine oil.

@db4690, note the OP does not say that things have been fine for several months. They stated that the car had been living in the garage for several months and was just recently brought in for an oil change with the vehicle apparently running fine and no noise other than a clicking.

A damaged engine due to chronically low oil can run fine; up to a point. This engine is going to have a short lifespan and gambling odds favor there is a coked engine oil problem.