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Running Honda on Low Oil

My son has a used 2004 Honda Civc with 64K miles. We had the timing belt replaced because the car was almost 7 years old. After about a week, my son noticed the oil light come on and off (and, of course, ignored it for at least a week). When he finally mentioned it, the oil was down 3 quarts (out of 3.8!). After we re-filled the oil, the car lost about 1/2 quart over the next 2 days sitting, so the leak was not massive. We took the car back to the mechanic and he replaced (for free) the valve cover which he admitted they “disturbed” while changing the timing belt. (It’s a new mechanic, not a Honda Dealer, who we found on the Car Talk website.) He assured us that, even though the oil pressure light was coming on and off for about a week and we ended up down 3 quarts, there was no loss of oil pressure (per the car’s computer) and no apparent damage to the engine. The engine sounds OK to me (not knocking or noisy), but I’m suspicious they are downplaying possible damage to the engine. Did we likely hurt the engine or significantly shorten its useful life?? Is there something further I should do to check for long-term damage (e.g., getting a valve compression test)?

Short of tearing down the engine and inspecting and measuring all the parts there isn’t much you can do. If the engine starts up quietly and idles smoothly with the oil light immediately going out when re-started hot you can just continue to drive and hope for the best.

If it runs quietly and smoothly and the oil warning light goes out immediately on a hot start just keep the oil checked and drive it.

Well, this is an easy one…

It’s not an “oil” light, it’s an “oil PRESSURE” light. It only comes on when the engine has very little or no oil pressure.

There is damage without a doubt. The only thing in question is “How much damage?”.

Hopefully I am not losing my mind… I was sure that I submitted a post but it didn’t appear. So, I submitted again and now both appear. Is it me?

Yes, oil pressure. Damage? Yes, likely so. You can make the best of whatever utility can be gotten from the engine or you can rebuild the engine and have the damage documented by the rebuilder now. I would go for getting the most from the engine myself. It might fail tomorrow. But it might outlast the transmission.

The engine life has been shortened and apparently the mechanic you found does not understand that a red oil light means there is no oil pressure. The computer has nothing to do with the oil pressure light.

The engine can also run fine with damage present but there are several things that must be done. One is to train your son to check the oil level on a weekly basis and the other is that whenver an oil light flashes on or the temperature gauge starts heading towards HOT he must stop then and there and walk home if necessary instead of turning up the stereo and motoring on for another week.

A engine that lose 1/2 quart of oil over 2 days while sitting DOES have a massive leak issue.

I won’t fault the mechanic, they owned up to the error and corrected it. If there is damage it is due to the driver continuing to drive the car and ignoring the oil light. It would have been easy to check the oil level immediately upon the seeing the light, adding oil and minimizing any damage.

Perhaps the car sat most of the week, but perhaps it was driven several hundred miles. Oil is pumped up to the valves and a leaking valve cover only leaks much oil when the motor is running. Leaking 1/2 quart while sitting still is not consistent with a leaking valve cover. Something here isn’t adding up?