Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Question: How much shorter engine life from oil change botch?

About 4 years ago Toyota dealership forgot to put oil in my car during oil change. Car ran 1-2 min. at idle or maybe 10 mph in parking lot when I noticed light. Afterward, the dealership did a compression test- Cyl #1 178 psi, cyl #2 175 psi, Cyl #3, 180 psi, Cyl #4 178 psi. They said normal specs 145-189. They told me car didn’t run long enough to do any damage as compression good. I wanted a second opinion, so I took it to a different Toyota dealership. They “removed valve cover, inspected cam caps, scoped cylinder walls, inspected oil filter no metal shavings found no evidence of any damage done to motor internally.” The car has run fine since except the winter afterward I’d notice a very brief clashing noise when starting the car if it sat out several hours in extremely cold below zero temperatures but it starts fine and runs fine. I took it in and was told that noise was nothing to worry about. Question is this: Will the botched oil change substantially shorten car’s life? I normally run cars 150,000+ miles. Will I not be able to do that? I’m half way there now. There are people who say the botched oil change was the equivalent of say 1000 cold starts or 3 years.

If your Corolla has VVT (variable valve timing) the cold start noise sounds like the VVT gear noise. Common with Toyota’s at cold start up esp after sitting overnight. My Camry has been doing this since it had 120K miles and now I am close to 160 K miles. One they it is going to make the timing chain skip (when the gear remains stuck) and give a CEL.

Google vvt start up noise and listen to the videos and see if it sounds like yours.

Four years after an oil change you are going to have trouble proving that the damage was from the oil change and honestly I think if it was any damage, you would have major oil burning issues in the 1st year.

What year Corolla and how many miles on it?

Why don’t you just drive it and see what happens. A lot of this “what if” scenarios turn out to be nothing;

Thanks! I just went to You Tube- not the VVT noise. It is a 2009 w/ 71,000 miles. The car doesn’t use any oil between changes, so that would be a good sign. If the engine has a shortened life I don’t think I could prove it was from the botched oil change.

The compression test actually means nothing. The first thing that will get damaged when there is a lack of oil pressure will be the crankshaft bearings. Even an oil pressure test is not 100% indicative of the severity of the damage. Pistons, cylinder walls, and cam saddle caps will be the last thing to be damaged.

The only way of knowing for sure about the crankshaft bearings is to remove the oil pan and drop a few main and rod bearing caps; preferably ones that are located the fartherest from the oil pump. The bearing shells and shaft journals can then be inspected.

As for compression, that can be affected by lack of oil but it takes longer. They’re also incorrect about the compression numbers. A 189 is fine; a 145 means trouble brewing.

An engine can also run fine with damaged bearing shells; up to a point. Whether the cold start clashing are damaged bearings coming home to roost I do not know.
Both dealers are a bit misguided in their mechanical thinking. Hope that helps.

1 Like

Thanks! That’s kind of what I figured. I suspected some of the tests they did dug only so far, and to dig deeper I’d need the motor taken apart which would be very expensive. I guess there really is not any way to know. My compression specs were 175-180 psi which is closer to 189 than 145.

Not necessarily expensive. Checking the bearings means removing the oil pan and then removing a bearing cap from the mains or connecting rods for inspection. Not sure about a Corolla, but on some FWD cars this can be relatively easy. Caught early, it may be fixed with new bearings without removing the engine.

Since the rod bearings are last to be oiled, they usually fail first in a no-oil situation. Listen for knocking on cold startup. Not clatter, but knocking. Sort of a “framing hammer tapping on a vice” noise. The main bearings would be more of a 5 lb sledge tapping on a concrete block. Both get faster when the engine RPM’s rise.

If you need peace of mind, ask your favorite shop how much they’d charge to inspect the bearings.

What year is the Corolla?
How many miles does it currently have? :grinning:
What happened four years ago will have some long term effect, but it’s way too late to go after the dealership for any resolution. I suggest that in the future, whenever you get any service done, you check the work as best you can before paying the bill. In the case of oil changes, that means checking the level and starting the engine to check underneath for leaks. I change my own oil, and I always double check the level, check for leaks, and monitor the level for a day or two afterward just to be sure. I don’t even trust MYSELF!!!

1 Like

71,000 miles. Yes, it would be too late to go after dealership. I had no recourse because they did the compression test which checked out and the 2nd dealership found no evidence of damage. I couldn’t say well it will shorten the life so you need to compensate for it. I had a friend who had the same thing happen at a Chevrolet dealer. She drove off and didn’t notice the light and the car stopped after 10 minutes. Even then, she had a hard time getting resolution. They said the engine could be fixed. But after that the car would stop when idling (like at a stop sign). She had to go through a lot of hassle with the eventual resolution being a better deal on a two year old Chevy Cruize. It seems to be hard to get something like this resolved, even when there is obvious damage.

Whenever a shop does work on my vehicle I do an inspection (as best I can without a jack/lift, tools etc.) before I leave the parking lot.
If I were getting an oil change (which I DIY for the time being) I would check the dipstick and look under the car for leaks before driving off.
Last time I used a highly rated shop for a clutch replacement the owner of the shop came out and carefully double checked his mechanic’s work; then offered to take it for a test drive.
I was impressed.
Way back in my ignorant youth I had a manual transmission rebuilt at AAMCO.
Got in the car, started it; and it jumped from neutral into gear by itself!
Lucky for me it did this right there in the parking lot.
Turns out they used thick 90 weight gear oil instead of 10w40 that Honda specified.
That was something I couldn’t check for.

So do my bones.

What you’ve described is not at all abnormal.
Did what happened four years ago cause damage? Undoubtedly it cause some level of unnecessary wear and shortened the life of the engine a wee bit. How much is impossible to determine.

My recommendation? Maintain the engine properly including monitoring of the fluids,
_ALWAYS *check all work done before even paying the bill* (in the case of an oil change, check the level and check underneath for leaks)_, and drive on.

From what I’m reading, there’s nothing to worry about here. The botched oil job probably did no damage, and if it did, it must have been relatively minor. In any event there’s nothing you can do about it now. Suggest to keep doing the oil & filter changes at the recommended times, only use the oil spec recommended in the owners manual, check the oil level on the dipstick weekly and keep it topped off between changes, and cross your fingers.