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The death of our Civic?

My husband was just returning from a long car trip in our 1996 Honda Civic when the engine seemed to downshift, start revving, there was a clicking sound, and so he put it in neutral and pulled off to the side of the road. As he was pulling off, there was a loud popping sound, clicking continued, and the car died. He could restart it, still clicking, seemed like it was running in a really low gear. Had it towed to a CarTalk recommended auto repair shop which put him about 2.5 hours from home. The garage called us and said that the car had almost no oil in it and it was likely that the engine was starting to seize and pretty much done for.

So regarding the low oil…we got an oil change right before the trip, so we were not quite 1500 miles, and three days into the oil change. The oil light never came on (until the car stalled and ALL the lights came on.) or my husband obviously would have stopped sooner. The garage is now putting the car up and trying to figure out where all the oil went. They put in over three quarts to fill it up.

My question…could the car have gone for 1500 miles with the old oil drained and no new oil added? We’re talking pretty intense freeway driving here. Why didn’t the oil light go on? Could the oil change place have done or neglected to do something that precipitated the demise of our Civic’s engine?

I’ll update this post when I hear back from the garage. Thanks to everyone for their feedback…

Where did you get the oil changed? At a quick lube place? If they did not tighten the oil filter or drain plug then enough oil could have seeped out during the trip to cause major engine damage. They must have added oil because you probably would not have made it 1500 miles with low oil. I hate oil lights because most of them do not illuminate until it’s too late. That’s why I always check my oil often while on the road. I change my own oil so having a loose oil filter or drain plug is never a problem with me. We will be looking forward until your next post.

It was at a local quick lube place although they do other repairs as well. Hopefully the garage that has it now can figure out where a leak may be coming from. So sad. Only has about 210,000 miles on it. I was hoping for quite a few more…

Most likely the shop did refill the car with oil. Your current garage should be able to figure out what happened to the oil.

Sometimes the oil plug is not installed correctly. Too loose and it can fall out. Or too tight and the threads on the oil pan get stripped out and the plug can leak oil and even fall out completely.

Another common cause of oil disappearing is the oil filter wasn’t installed correctly. If the old gasket stuck to the motor housing that will cause a leak, but only when the motor is running.

The leak was most likely either at the filter, or the drain plug and it should be pretty easy to figure out which.

In the future always double check the work done on your car.
It doesn’t take much know-how.
In the case of an oil change before leaving the shop lot look under the car for drips with the engine idling.
Then check the oil level the next day or sooner.

Sincere condolences on your problem. Basically, we’re all going to say the same things. And ask the same questions.

Have the current garage clearly document on the shop order what they find. Keep your copy of the shop order. It’s entirely possible that you could end up in small claims court with this, and you’ll want the evidence.

Hi all. Thanks for your input. Just got off the phone with the garage where the car is presently. They put the car up on the lift and looked for leaks, evidence of an explosion of oil somewhere and were unable to find anything. There were a few locations where there had been some seeping over time, but no evidence of an oil leak large enough to lose 3 1/2 quarts of oil in the timeline we’re talking about. The most likely scenario is that they failed to top off the oil when they changed it. The seal around the filter and plug were tight with no evidence of leaking. Sigh. Of course my husband is kicking himself for not checking the oil level after he got the oil changed. Hindsight being what it is and all…I’m planning my next moves and will be calling the place that did the oil change, asking to speak to a manager, and our contact guy at the garage offered to speak with them, garage to garage, over the phone. I’m afraid that small claims court may be in our future as well.

If you all want, I can keep you posted on how it goes. Any advice from anyone who has gone through something like this is much appreciated. Especially if you know a good lawyer. :wink: I’m off to mourn the death of my car now…

Generally when something happens right after a maintenance event, you go back and review the maintenance. That means that a loose or cross threaded drain plug or loose, cross threaded, double gasketed or otherwise defective oil filter are to blame. In the case of a defective oil filter, that would not be the fault of the quicky lube place.

But, with a Honda, there are a number of oil seals on the front of the engine that can let go at any time. Usually they don’t let go all at once but start slowly so that you notice increasing oil consumption, but in rare instances, they have been known to let go all at once, so it is remotely possible that this has nothing to do with the last oil change.

If its at a good shop, the mechanics will figure this out.

Honda’s use an Alumasil engine block…The piston rings ride directly on the aluminum cylinder walls, no steel sleeves…When the end comes, they can start burning oil very quickly, a quart every 500 miles is not out of the question…When you drive a car with 200K miles on it, you check the oil every fill-up or you risk these events…When the red “OIL” light comes on, that does not mean you need to check the oil, that means you need to replace the engine…

When using a 'quick-lube" service, ALWAYS check the oil level before you leave the lot…Be sure you got what you paid for…What type of oil was used? Was it pumped from a bulk container? Ignorance seldom results in bliss…

Yes, please let us know how you make out if you get a moment. We do care.

Thank you all…I will keep you posted. On a side note, while good intentioned, I would prefer to not to receive any more retrospective posts “…well, you should have…if you had just…” on what we should have, could have done. It’s in the past. It really(!) stinks. We need to move forward. We are attempting to learn from our mistakes so I’d appreciate comments to that effect. What’s done is done. I’m mourning the loss of a car I loved.

Off to speak with the oil change place. Wish me luck.

A Lawyer ?
How Much Damage Was Actually Done ?
What Could A 96 Honda With 200,000+ Miles Be Worth ?

You can work and worry yourself sick over this. Channel the energy into a newer, younger vehicle and go again. Use what you have learned from the School of Hard Knocks next time around.


Before you go to the quicky lube place, you should wait for the report from the mechanics that have the car now. It is possible that it is not their fault or yours either. The car is 16 years old with over 200k on it, stuff happens.

OP, I’m sorry this happened to you.

Whether or not it was the shop’s fault, it makes me glad that I change my oil myself.

That’s The Number One Reason I Change My Own Oil. There Are Other Benefits, Too.

Went to the oil change place and passed along the info for the garage where the car is currently residing. Told them when we got the oil changed, went on a road trip, on the way back, engine seized up, no oil. Will see what they say after they speak with him. As another side bar, another woman was in the waiting area waiting for them to redo a repair on her car that had failed. Not a good day for the guy at the oil change place…

CSA, agreed. The car isn’t worth much, however, it ran well, and was a good car that had this not happened, had at least a few more good miles in it, and we’re not really in a position where we can buy another car right now. Fortunately we have (had?) two cars so we’re not in too bad of shape. Upside? Paying less for car insurance I suppose. The civic also got better gas mileage than our other car.

Will update you all when I have more info, and we’ll be changing the oil on our other car in a few days the old fashioned way…

did they leave part of the old oil filter gasket stuck to the engine. and always check all of your fluids on a long drive at least once a day maybe first thing b4 you head out.

There were no leaks that could be found, and the car seemed to have made it too far to have had no oil in it…so the most likely scenario is that the car started burning oil excessively all of a sudden and since this had not previously been an issue, and we had just had the oil changed (no one said we were even running low), and the oil light never came on, it didn’t get checked until it was too late. Thank you for the advice and suggestions for the future. Looks like we’re just going to be out a car but will be checking the oil and every thing else more frequently in the future…and changing our own oil.

If you love the car and the body is in good shape an engine swap is possible and not too expensive. Some junkyards import these engines from Japan with very low miles on them. I bought one for a friend’s Accord for $400 but that was more than 10 years ago. And they know if a more recent year engine a 2000 for example will fit like i think as long as your car is obdII.

Just curious, has anyone put fresh oil in it and tried to start it?