Ruined engine - nearly out of oil

My family and I recently took a trip in our 2000 Ford Taurus - it had around 163,000 miles but has been regularly serviced and had a valve job and header replaced. Before leaving town, we had the car serviced, including an oil change. We drove it over 2500 miles - highway and in town at our destination. It started making a clicking noise and the check engine light started flashing. It didn’t sound or feel right. We drove it approximately 20 - 30 miles at a reduced speed to the next town. While driving slowly in town to a stop, the red oil light flickered and stayed on for periods. We checked the oil and it wasn’t registering on the stick. Added 4 quarts and it finally registered in the cross-hatches of the stick (about half-way). Drove to a motel and took it to the local dealer the next day. Service manager listened to the engine. He said the sound was coming from low in the engine, and it was ruined (although drivable). He said it would be too risky to continue our trip under this condition, risking a full breakdown on the road.

There was no evidence of an oil leak anywhere - engine, tail pipe, on the ground. He suspects the mechanic we used in our home town forgot to put oil back in during the oil change - he thinks this is the probable cause.

We left the car at the dealer in another state and returned home. When I spoke to our hometown mechanic, he said it couldn’t have been his shop forgetting to put in oil, because it would have developed problems soon after getting on the highway and driving highway miles (high RPM and operating temperature). He said the likely explanation is faulty oil control rings - this would explain a steady consumption of oil over the miles driven without evidence of leaking or smoking. He said the piston rings could be fine, so we wouldn’t notice smoke out the tail pipe.

I would like opinions about the two scenarios and what the likely explanation is.

I agree with your hometown mechanic. You would not have made 10 miles, let alone 2500 miles if your mechanic had neglected to replace the oil in the crankcase during the oil change.

I think it is important to check the oil each day when on a road trip, but it is particularly important with an older car.

If there was no oil in the engine after the oil change, this would have been noticed as soon as the engine was started and the vehicle was driven. Not after 2500 miles of driving.

If there are no leaks, then I would concur that the rings caused the loss of oil without notice.


I would say that there is no way he forgot to put any oil back in it. There is no way you could drive 2500 miles with no oil, However what if he only put a quart or two in… Then you might make it 2500 miles and the low oil level would compound oil usage and before you know it your out.

If the mechanic did completely refill the oil after the change then you would see that leakage, that’s a lot of oil to lose. But if you were on the highway you might not see the oil burning off.

You learned a lesson why you should check your oil at fuel stops, or at least every other one, especially with an old car.

What kind of driving were you doing, 90mph in the mountains? 60 on all flat surfaces?

Engines with a lot of miles do sometimes consume oil at highway speeds. Years ago when I was a kid, we were on a road trip in our family car, a 1949 Dodge. We were in the middle of central Illinois when I noticed that the oil pressure gauge was reading way below where it normally read. I pointed this out to my dad and he immediately pulled the car off the road. I remember that he and I walked about a mile and a half each way to a filling station where he purchased two quarts of oil. It still didn’t bring the oil up to the full mark, but we were able to drive to the station and add the third quart of oil. The oil was full when we left home and we had driven about 250 miles. What was also interesting is that the car didn’t use any oil on the return trip back home. However, my dad traded the car in after we got back home.

The OP’s car is 13 years old with 163K miles. Any car on any several hundred mile per day road trip should have the oil level checked daily. A 13 year old 163K car even more so. The problem in this case is failure to check the oil level. Where did the oil go? Hard to say, but the OP should have checked the oil level after the oil change before heading out on this trip. Then the oil level should have been checked daily during the trip.

I suspect the oil leaked out of a faulty seal at the oil filter, but not checking the oil level lead to the motor being run 'dry" which has now compromised the motor.

Another vote for the trouble being caused by not checking the oil on your trip and not by your mechanic not filling the engine.

At 13 years and 160+K miles anything can happen to the best of engines, well-maintained or not. Also, while your car may not have significantly used any oil during normal driving, I assume “normal” driving for your car is not 2500 miles at 80mph in the summer heat, as you do on a road trip. It’s not unusual for a car to use some oil under hard driving conditions and not use any around town.

At any rate, the likely cause was a worn engine that likely would still be running if the oil had been checked at every other fill-up, or every day while on a trip.

Your car is not likely worth the cost of engine repair/replacement at the dealer, but that’s up to you. I see it as a candidate for an engine transplant from a reputable source.

Any car, new or old, should have its oil level checked periodically on lengthy road trips. Sustained high speed driving is conducive to oil consumption, even in new or low mileage engines. I agree with your home mechanic and strongly disagree with the service manager (service manager is the position awarded to the best salesman at the dealership. No mechanical knowledge is required or expected, just the ability to sell services and do it well). If your home mechanic had forgotten to refill your crankcase, you would have never made it out of town, let alone 2,500 miles before the rattling, hammering, and eventual seizure of your engine brought to your attention that something was amiss, and that’s assuming the mechanic was negligent enough to park the car without paying attention to the dash lights or the sound of the engine. Unfortunately, it’s a tough pill to swallow, but this one is a case of operator negligence. Part of owning or operating a car is monitoring and maintaining fluid levels, including engine oil. Don’t be one of those people who only takes the car in for an oil change when the washer fluid runs out (true story). Take it as a hard lesson learned on what not to do (or not do) with your car.

Don’t people check their oil anymore?? We see these posts all the time…

So where is the car now? Still at the out of state dealer? Do you still own it?

“Don’t people check their oil anymore??”


The hometown mechanic is correct and this is owner error; nothing more.

It would be impossible to gauge, but it would be interesting to know how many engines per year on a national basis meet their end because of not checking the oil or even changing it.

That doesn’t even factor in the engines that are wiped out due to cooling system problems and overheating.

A contributing factor is not stopping when the check engine light was flashing.

Putting things in legal terminology, while an internal problem (most likely badly worn piston rings) led to a high rate of oil consumption, the proximate cause of this engine’s death is failure to carefully monitor the oil level.

My car has only ~35k miles on it, and it consumes only about 1/4 of a qt of oil between changes, but I still check the oil level every couple of weeks, and if I am on a road trip, I check it daily. Additionally, every time that I have it serviced, I verify immediately afterwards that the oil was refilled to the proper level.

The OP may think that my attention to detail is excessive, but most of the regulars in this forum take similar actions, simply because we know what can happen when you don’t monitor your oil level. And now, the OP knows what happens when you don’t monitor the oil level.

The owner’s admission that the car was driven for 2,500 miles w/o checking the oil is evidence of the actual cause of this engine’s demise.

Once I went on a road trip with my wife and sister-in-law in SIL’s car (3 y.o. Avalon).
The week before I had to convince her it was a good idea to get the tire with a slow leak fixed.
At our first gas stop I popped the hood to check the oil.
She was like “I thought you didn’t have to do that on modern cars”.
It was a quart low.

I recently went on a 14 day 5300 mile road trip in my car.
Each morning I checked the oil. Wound up using about a cup of oil on the trip.

DURING trip, oil light came on. Did OP stop immediately and check oil? Duh.


I always check mine daily on a long trip or after an oil change and at least once a week.


Sorry to see you getting beat up so bad here by some of the regulars, but it is true that your hometown mechanic is not at fault, cars do tend to burn a little more oil during sustained high speed driving, and you should have stopped immediately when the oil light first came on.

I would have driven the car back, the dealer you took it too was just trying to scare you into an expensive repair or a new car. Even if you didn’t make it all the way, you would have been a lot closer, so you would have saved money. Take it city by city, if the engine noise isn’t getting any louder, go to the next city, and check the oil at every stop.

But put this in your “lessons learned” binder. In the future, when on a trip, check your oil at least once a day, even on a vehicle that doesn’t normally burn oil. Check at each gas stop for a vehicle that does have a history of oil consumption. And finally, carry at least one spare qt of oil, it can get you to the nearest service station/garage if needed. I usually take two qts with me on a trip.

Keith–I can’t speak for the others, but I most definitely did not “beat up” the OP.
If somebody comes to this site for information, I assume that they are interesting in learning about…either cars in general, or…their specific car problem.

What I stated in my reply to the OP was…factual…unemotional…and undeniably true.
I don’t think that we truly help anyone by ignoring the real facts of the situation, and, while all of the facts were not revealed by the OP, one fact is clear, and that is that the OP was negligent.

If he/she learns from this experience to not be negligent regarding car maintenance and car care, then he/she will have learned something that can potentially save a lot of money in the long run.

I hope that you were not referring to me when you stated that forum members were, “beating up” the OP.