My wife's car ran without oil. Is it dead yet?

My wife took her 2006 Scion xB in for an oil change. She picked it up last night, and as she turned onto the road she noticed the red oil light came on. She went back and told the night guy, who told her that she’d have to come back in the morning. She then drove to the store, and the car started making weird noises and she started heading back to the garage. Part way there she stopped (I’m not sure why), and I told her to call AAA. The tow truck driver reached underneath and touched the oil filter and it fell off. There was no oil left in the engine. We went back and saw the oil tracks leading out of the garage. In total, she drove about 3 or 4 miles without oil.

We talked to the garage this morning. They said they’d cover it 100%, including put in a new engine if necessary. But two hours later, they called and said that they put in oil and turned it on, and it seems to be running fine. Also that they’d guarantee it for 1 year. I asked them to a compression test, but haven’t heard the results yet.

So my questions are: What shape can I reasonably expect the car to be in now? And how can I figure this out? What options do I have if the garage insists that the car is fine?

it s hard to tell. if she stopped as soon as it began to tap you should be ok. if not…
the shop is totally responsible and the night guy s response to come back in the morning would get him fired if it was my shop.

I would get it checked by a real mechanic

I doubt it’s “fine”…Usually, in a week or two, a lower-end bearing (Main / Rod bearing) will fail, the engine will become very noisy or seize up completely and that will be that…

Better than a compression test, have your oil pressure checked with a mechanical gauge temporarily (or permanently) installed on the engine…Very low readings point to serious engine damage…

A plain-bearing automobile engine can survive without oil pressure for a minute or two but after that the bearings will start scuffing and getting hot and at the MINIMUM, the engine must be torn down, the crankshaft inspected and bearings replaced…If serious damage to the crankshaft is found, STOP, no more repair work, just replace the entire engine…

I’m sure it runs fine, but I’d be worried that you shaved some time off the engines lifespan. Nobody can really tell unless it’s taken apart and inspected, at which point you might as well rebuild it. Sure it runs fine now but what happens if two and a half years from now a bearing fails or something like that. I’d have them replace or rebuild the engine, and supply a loaner in the meantime. Hey, maybe you’ll turn out better for it, being a 2006 it probably is starting to be higher mileage. Insist on warranty, and the rebuild done by a competent shop. I’d be worried if you let them do it they’d just leave it as is and say they did it. Tough call there but those are my thoughts.

The odds are that the engine is damaged. Only time will tell the severity of the damage. It most certainly isn’t “fine.” The shop wants to play out their best bet and hope that something else on the car fails before the engine. That’s a long shot but their only other alternative is to replace the engine now. Is the shop a local independent or a national chain?

Your wife’s car is now a doorstop. It requires a new engine and the oil change place should foot the bill. If it is “running fine” now, it had just had tens of thousands of miles worn off the engine bearings. This has drastically shortened the life of the engine. If you accept this, then engine will start knocking in the near future and this will give the oil change place an “out” to deny the claim.

I would NOT accept the findings of any compression test as proof of no damage. Rings are not lubricated by pressure feeds from the engine because they do not need much oil to do their job. Splash lube is generally enough. The rings are not the problem. The crankshaft bearings will wear VERY fast if not fed steady amounts of oil, under pressure. Demand the oil change place replace your engine, accept nothing less.

I agree with the others that the engine is almost certainly seriously damaged.

However, there’s a complication here. Your wife drove for miles after the oil pressure light came on, when your owner’s manual tells you to shut the car off immediately. The shop may raise this issue. Luckily for you, apparently this “night guy” said this was okay, which puts them at least somewhat back on the hook.

In any event, please make sure your wife knows how to properly handle this situation in the future.

That engine is dead meat and that facility should be avoided in the future after they make good on another engine.

A badly damaged engine can run just fine but it’s all superficial. A compression test will only tell part of the story about the engine upper end. It will reveal nothing about cam lobe and cam bearing damage in the upper end, crankshaft and crank bearing damage in the lower end, and so on.

So the response by the night guy is to say return in the morning with a red (meaning NO oil pressure) light on? Wow; talking about stupid beyond belief.

Thanks for all the good feedback. As I suspected, things sound less than rosy. At this point I think I’d rather have a new engine. But it’s going to be a good deal more expensive for the garage to do this. Any ideas how to persuade them?

It sounds to me like there’s no good way to prove damage, so that even if we wanted to, we couldn’t take them to small claims court or Judge Judy or whoever.

Other info:
– the car’s got 70,000 miles on it;
– the garage is also where we bought it–a small used-car dealer;
– I just called to ask them to do an oil pressure test as Caddyman suggested (thanks)

I think your assessment of the situation is not only “spot-on”, but also realistic.

In addition, if you were to force them to put in a replacement engine they would only have to put in a used engine of comparable mileage to make you “whole” again. Personally, I would not trust them to do an engine swap, and the engine you get might even be worse than the engine you have. Then you’d be really screwed.

If it were me, and the engine truly did seem to be running fine, I’d want them to pay for an extended warranty, perhaps 5 years. One year would be ridiculous. Then I’d accept the fact that life isn’t fair, monitor the fluids carefully, and tell everyone I know and meet what happened to me at that shop. Hopefully you’ll save someone from the same fate.

If you do discover excessive oil use or operating problems, you can always document everything and contact a lawyer.

Maybe this is me being Captain Obvious but…Just a tip for choosing a new oil change place.

Never use one that has “oil tracks leading out of the garage” :wink:

There is a way to help determine the damage to the engine, oil analysis. You will need to find a garage that is willing and able to help you here. The first step is to drain the oil that is in the engine right now into an uncontaminated container. Then pour a quart of fresh oil into the pan and drain it into the same container. Repeat again. Each time put the drain plug in so the oil gets to cover the bottom of the oil pan, then drain. This should flush most of the metal particles out of the pan.

Then remove the oil filter and replace it and refill the engine with fresh oil. The engine will probably run for awhile. Now the oil has to be filtered to trap the fine metal particles. The filter has to be cut open and the filter element back flushed to remove the metal particles in it and they too have to be captured in another filter.

A better alternative to a filter for capturing the metal particles would be a centrifuge, but that may be hard to come by. Allowing the oil to sit in a clear container for a few days will allow the metal particles to settle out and that may also work. You need to do this to get an idea of the total amount of metal and the metal composition. This will determine what has suffered the most wear.

Then a sample of the oil needs to be sent to a lab for analysis to determine the amount of microscopic metal particles that still remain suspended in the oil.

An estimate of the engine life can be determined form all this. It will be costly but it will help you determine what a fair settlement would be in this case. I suspect that your engine with proper care could have gone at least 200k miles, but now, even with proper care, it may not make it to the 100k mark, but it might last beyond the year warrantee they gave you. You are due some compensation.