Sudden use of oil - 2001 Civic

My daughter’s 2001 Civic with 210,000 miles suffered a sudden use of oil. She had checked she oil a week before and it was OK (she is very good about checking and maintaining the car, and calls me whenever she has a question - she is in school in NC and I am in NY). I say sudden use, because she had not recently had the car serviced - she was coming up on an oil change when this happened - and regularly checked her parking spot for anything funny like leaking fluids. She was an hour and a half into a trip to join us for the holidays when her engine started to make a metal-on-metal knocking sound on acceleration. The oil light never came on. She stopped and checked the oil because of the sound, and it took three quarts of oil. This made the sound go away. We discussed this over the phone (thanks to cell phones) and I suggested she try and limp back home and rent a car. She did that, and the car made it back to Chapel Hill OK. She has owned the car since it was new, and has been very good at keeping it maintained, changing the oil every 3,000, etc. After adding the oil, the engine no longer made the heavy knocking sound, but did have a more subdued ticking sound upon acceleration, and would knock a little bit at the automatic gear change. She did not check the oil level at the end of the hour and a half trip back as she had rented a car and wanted to get back on the road again, but it sounds like it used oil at a faster rate than before this incident.

So the question is: What would cause the sudden use of so much oil?

Thanks for any help you can be. She will have the car checked over by a mechanic recommended by the Car talk web site who she has been taking it to for service, but it would be nice if Dad can have an idea of where to look and what to tell the mechanic before she does. She has another 2 and a half years to go to complete her studies.

If the car was used for short around-campus trips before your daughter started for New York and an oil that was too light a viscosity was put in the crankcase at the last oil change, I suppose it could have burned off the oil. Back in the old days before fuel injection, a car that had been driven around townand then taken out on the highway would often use a quart or two in the first couple of hours of the drive. This doesn’t occur as often with today’s fuel injected cars, so this isn’t a real likely possibiliy.

Maybe it’s similar to my situation. I asked my doctor about a problem I was having trying to do 3 mile runs and his explanation was “1941”. That was the year I was born. Perhaps the problem with your daughter’s Honda is “210,000”–the number of miles the car hs traveled.

You’re probably just going to have to wait to have it looked at. If oil consumption has been pretty low in general, it may have blown a seal. This kind of thing can happen suddenly providing sudden oil loss. This should be pretty obvious when someone looks at it. It may also have a clogged PCV system - checking the PCV valve would be in order.

In general though, knowing that the oil level was fine when she checked it last week doesn’t give people enough to go on. Did she routinely have to add oil between changes?

Prior to this, she didn’t have to add oil between oil changes. She always used 5-20 oil, which is what Honda says to use.

I’m going to guess at a blown front or rear seal. But all the more reason to check out the PCV system for proper operation.

Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me.

Make this another vote for a clogged PCV valve or hose as being a likely candidate for the sudden oil burning. And, as was said, a clogged PCV system can cause seals to leak.

If the problem was leakage for whatever reason the underside of the engine should be soaked with oil considering the amount of oil that was lost.
If the underside is dry then it’s quite likely that high mileage decided to catch up with it; a stuck oil ring on one or more cylinders, one valve seal disentegrated, etc.

I’m not accusing your daughter of anything but many people claim to regularly check the oil level, state that an oil light never illuminated, etc. when the cold hard fact is that people get so deeply involved in every day life things like checking the oil gets away from them.

Bottom line is that the engine is severely damaged goods and is not trustworthy for any long trip much less lasting another 2.5 years of school.

Moisture In The Ventilation System And Cold Temperatures Can And Do Freeze Functioning PCV Valves.


Honda’s use an aluminum block with no steel cylinder liners…The rings ride directly on the aluminum cylinder walls. The aluminum is a special alloy containing a lot of silicone and during the manufacturing process, the block is “acid machined” so the rings ride on the thin layer of silicone that is exposed after the aluminum is etched away a tiny amount…When the silicone wears down, the rings can now dig into the soft aluminum material and the result is what your daughter described to you over the phone…

Switching to 10-40 oil and adding a quart every 3-400 miles will give you some time to replace the vehicle…Before you scrap it, have the PCV system checked from end to end, not just the valve, but especially the vacuum port that supplies suction to the system for any blockages…If it is blocked, you will find the air-intake full of oil…

Thank you to those who replied and tried to help my daughter out on this question. I wanted to post this follow-up to the problem as a courtesy and as a show of our appreciation for your input.

The problem was caused by a drain plug that had only been finger tightened. It was still in place when she brought in into the garage, but was over half way out. She had not taken it out on the highway much since the last oil change, so on her first major trip, an hour and a half into the trip, enough oil had leaked out to cause the problem. The upper end of her engine is shot - the noise she was hearing was from the valves. She is trying to find a used engine for about $2,000 including installation, but if not, then another car is in her future. We will help her whatever she decides, even though she is 31 years old - she is still in school and we will always be her parents.

She knew better than to take it to an “Iffy” lube joint, and the last oil change was done by a reputable place. I told her to ask them to have their insurance company contact her to see if they will cough up some money. The mechanic she brought it to was documenting on the repair order the problem he found.

Thanks again for your input on this.


You follow-up post is greatly appreciated. It may surprise you to know that a lot of people who post never return with follow-up reports, so it is always great to hear back.

Terrible to hear about the trouble. I would approach the shop that did the oil change with a fairly firm, though certainly civil tone (you can reserve anger for later if necessary). If it is a good and honest shop they should own up to it and kick in to remedy the issue.

Is there any white residue in the oil dipstick area as this would acct for where the oil is going. A cracked head gasket would allow the oil to cross over into the rad and will create a white milkey foam on the stick area. Tell her if this is the case NOT to allow any of this guck to get on her clothes as its actually Sulpheric acid which is created by the heat and chemical mixture. It will eat holes thru her clothes once it comes in contact. I have lost some good pairs of jeans over the years from this type of accident happening.

Best to read through the whole discussion Barrie - the cause of the oil loss was posted.

Another update on my daughter’s problem. She contacted the garage that did the last oil change and had only hand tightened the drain plug and asked for their insurance company to conatact her, as her Dad had suggested. She told them what happened and what the other garage had determined what the problem was. They said to bring the car in, they would give her a free rental car, and they would fix it. They seemed to have “manned up” to what they did.

So I tell her to make sure that they don’t just do a valve job, and that they put in a replacement used engine, as the main bearings are probably also shot, but the noise of the lifters are making it so you cn’;t hear them.

Now for the latest question I need help on: She asked if there was any other “cheap fix” besides a valve job that they might try short of a replacement engine. I didn’t think so, but thought I would ask your thoughts on it.

Thanks again for your help.