Is my engine toast?

1991 Toyota Celica ST 1.6 (purchased at $3800, 96k mi. It’s at 130k mi now) Drove it this morning to work, oil light came on, loud clacking in the engine block, stalled out in neutral. Started it up again to get to work. Stalled out a few more times but made it down the street.

Had put a 1 quart in on my way to work, when I got to work there was no oil left. Oil pan’s a mess. I put 3 more quarts in and had several people tell me it’s “BAD!”, including a Semi-truck mechanic. Someone mentioned “throwing a rod”.

Last oil change was 90 days ago. I know I’m not very good to my cars, just wondering if it’s worth having someone take it apart to look and see. I have a mechanic friend willing to do it, but don’t want to waste his time…

Put a pad of butter on the engine. It’s toast.

When the oil light comes on and there’s noises coming from the engine it means major engine damage has occured.


I have to say that I am not optimistic about your engine.
Whenever an oil pressure warning light starts glowing on your instrument panel, that means shut the engine down immediately (or as soon as it is safe to do so), and do not restart the engine until a qualified mechanic has examined it. The light, the noise, the stalling, and your decision to continue to drive it have almost surely turned the engine to toast.

As to whether to repair it, you should consider the book value of the car.
Despite the low odometer mileage, the cost of a new engine would exceed the car’s value by a considerable margin.

In fact, the low odometer mileage may be a clue to this problem. The original owner likely drove the car only for short local trips and did not change the oil often enough, thus leading to damaging engine sludge. Perhaps that is what you are referring to when you say that the oil pan “is a mess”.

Yeah, there’s sludge all over the suspension/axle (what ever that is) under the car.

There’s a slight chance I could pull an engine from a yard for about $200 and pay my friend to put it in, but I doubt I’ll get a history on the engine I pull so I could be stealing from Paul to pay Peter on that idea. Private sale value according to KBB is under 2k even if it was in excellent condition. BAH! Guess I’m used car shopping!

This is an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson:

If the oil pressure warning light comes on, pull over ASAP and shut off the engine. Trying to drive even a short distance with the oil pressure warning light on will likely ruin the engine, just as it ruined yours today.

I’d say it’s time to go car shopping.

The engine is junk now and there’s not much point in taking it apart unless it was just for curiosity’s sake. It will need to be rebuilt and that would cost more than the car is worth.

Was this some kind of special, limited run model? I ask because you sure paid a lot for a 91. It would have to be a 91 911 or an M3 for me to consider even getting involved with. But yes, oil light on,STOP now (this is pretty much for others as I am sure you know this now).

“There’s a slight chance I could pull an engine from a yard for about $200 and pay my friend to put it in, but I doubt I’ll get a history on the engine I pull so I could be stealing from Paul to pay Peter on that idea.”

Dream On…Yards like that closed in 1962…Try $1500-$2000 for a running engine with a 30 day guarantee…

Everyone else has said it: If the oil light comes on, immediately stop the engine and check the oil. If there is no oil in it, do NOT run it like that, even if you don’t have oil with you. If it’s full of oil and the oil light is still on, have it towed to a mechanic to be checked out.

Driving with the oil light on is like continuing to run a marathon with severe chest pains.

I’d just consider junking it and getting another car, then treating this one better. It’s a lot cheaper to do maintenance on a car instead of replacing them every few years. It sounds like you might have been OK on the oil changes, but you need to regularly check the oil. Probably every other fill-up would be good.

If you can get an operational engine cheap, and have nearly slave labor from a friend, then yes, this is the way you should go.

Putting any engine into your car that runs is better than the engine that is in it that people want to smother with butter or jam.


“Was this some kind of special, limited run model?”

Nope, this is the garden-variety Celica.
In fact, the ST model was nicknamed “Secretarial Transport” because it had none of the performance capability of the more sporting Celica models.

There’s no question…serious damage was done to the engine. The clacking you heard was the dry bearings, and the stalling was the bearings seizing up.

However, you didn’t tell us what happened after you put the 3 quarts of oil in. Did the engine run? How noisy was it? Was it still making a racket?

Honestly, if the engine ran and wasn’t unacceptably noisy, and had enough power to get me where I needed every day, then I’d keep driving it, check the oil daily until I got a feel for how much it’s using, and keep chugging. It’s almost 20 years old. If it’ll get you to work every day, why sink money into it?

If it’s making a clacking but running, you probably fried a bearing but didn’t throw a rod. “Throwing a rod” in an overhead cam engine means you’ve busted a piston connecting rod, which can happen if you seize the bearing while it’s running, and that’ll make a horrible noise, tear the cylinder to shreds, beat the beJesus out of the now free-flying piston, and typically jam up the engine very quickly.