The starter


My daughter drives a 1998 corolla LE. She called en route to California that the car’s starter fell out of the car and took with it a small piece of the engine – causing oil to leak all over. THe guy who towed the car said the engine is now shot.

Can this explanation be true – can a starter and an engine piece just detach from the engine and ruin it? Is there a more likely explanation for what I have told you.

Many thanks, and keep up the great show.


Worried Dad in Atlanta


Well, I don’t believe starters ‘just fall out’. They may fall out, but it would be due to a bad installation. Most starters are bolted to the side of the engine block. Usually with two or more bolts. Some even use a bracket on the backside to relieve some of the stresses on the two mounting bolts. If one bolt were to come loose, the stress on the remaining bolt would be excessive. It could cause the mounting point to fracture, as is described here. If it were big enough to crack the engine block, it could take enough of the block with it to open up the crankcase, and leak oil.

The original sin here is a bad installation of the starter. Whoever replaced the starter owes you an engine. If it never was replaced, Then I’d look at a factory defect. But with the age, it may be hard to get any compensation.


Well if the engine casting cracked at the starter mount, it is possible, if unusual.


You need alot more information.

We can speculate here all day and still be wrong.

I would start with some specific questions like:

What critical piece of the engine fell off?
What was the cause of the starter falling off? Did the car have an accedent recently? Did your daughter run over an object or deep pot hole recently? Did anyone recently work on the car? Has the starter been making a strange noise prior to this? Has the car been working ok up to this point?

I think you get my point. They should be able to tell you in simple terms why the engine is ruined?
Between your daugher and the mechanic they should be able to review the history and investigate what happened and come up with a likely scenario.

This sounds like a very strange event and I am sure you will get to a plausible answer if you can push for quality information. Hopfully you will have a good outcome. Like warranty coverage. Good Luck


There’s more to the story. Even if a starter did “fall off” there should not be any oil leakage caused by this; unless the starter interfered with an axle, oil pressure sending unit, or something of that nature.

Any recent history of a starter change, the transmission being out for any reason, etc.?
If not, I might suspect a catastrophic engine failure (no oil?)due to a connecting rod exiting the engine at about that point.

There’s not enough details to make much of a guess.