Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Total Oil Loss, Then Water Pump Failure?

I drove about 1 mile with zero oil (surface streets, little traffic).

When I pulled into my driveway, I realized my oil light was on. I could also hear a faint clicking (car was idling), but couldn’t smell anything burning. Temperature was normal.

I shut off the engine and checked the dipstick-- it was dry. I looked under the car but there was no oil on the driveway.

I then put a quart of oil in and checked for leaking, but there was none. I then started the engine and when I looked under the car, it looked like a shower of oil spilling onto the driveway.

I took it to a shop where they told me the oil filter had come loose (or something to that effect).

They also told me I needed a new water pump.

Background: Car has about 290k on it. The last oil change was about 8 mos ago, but I hadn’t driven it much (every other day at most). The car has had a persistent slow leak for several years. I used Castrol high-mileage 10w-40.


1. Do oil problems typically cause water pump problems (or vice versa)? I’m wondering if they’re just BSing me.

2. Before I consider spending money on the car, should I check to make sure my engine isn’t already significantly damaged? Is there a way to do that, and how much would that cost?

3. Any other recommendations?


Engine damage from lack of oil is a very real possibility. When you took the car to a shop; how far a drive was that? How much oil had you added before taking it to a shop? Adding 1 quart to a “dry” engine isn’t enough oil.

The water pump is a separate issue entirely.

My advice would be to get the oil leak fixed, change the oil to get fresh oil and a new filter in there and run the car for about a month or so and change the oil again. This will get all the metal shavings from the internal damage trapped in the filter. If the motor runs ok, doesn’t burn more oil than before, doesn’t produce blue smoke, and doesn’t make more knocking, and pinging noises then perhaps the damage wasn’t too bad.

At that point I’d address the water pump problem and get it fixed. Until you feel confident the motor is OK I won’t put more money into the car.

I got it towed to the shop, so it’s about 1 mile total on the car.

A car can run with a damaged water pump?


The amount of oil has little to do with engine temperatures and the water pump is a separate issue.

You can pretty much safely bet the engine is trash. It’s pointless to even consider a water pump on a near 300k miles engine that has been run out of oil.
An oil pressure test and compression test would verify whether it’s time for another motor or a trip to the crusher.

If your not losing coolant and the engine is not overheating, the water pump is not ‘damaged’ yet. Tell tale signs of a water pump failing include seeing coolant drip from the weep hole, indicating a leaking seal. This is only fixed with a new water pump, but can be driven on for quite a bit longer.

Evaluate the damage from oil loss first. The water pump can wait.

As usual, I agree with ok4450’s sage advice.

Whoever is suggesting that you focus on the water pump after the car was run without sufficient oil in the crankcase is the same type of person who would have spent time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it was sinking.

Translation: This activity might make you feel like you are doing something productive, but it will not keep the vessel from sinking.

It does not matter that the car was driven only on surface streets, as simply idling the engine with a dry crankcase is enough to destroy the main bearings and other sensitive areas of the engine. Running an engine with a dry crankcase = almost certain disaster for the engine.

As ok4450 stated, some simple tests can confirm the condition of the engine, which is likely not worth sinking any more money into.

Forget the [unrelated] water pump. The engine is trashed. It’s time to replace the engine or the car.

Before condemning the car to the crusher, I would first replace the oil filter, and make sure there isn’t a second oil filter sealing ring from the last oil change that wasn’t taken off with the previous oil filter change. This could be the cause of your long term oil leak.

So, just start with replacing the oil and filter, see if the car still runs, and if it makes any noise. If its not making noise, then you can concentrate on the water pump. If it is making noise, then you should consider a replacement engine, and with it will come a new water pump.


I’d put a new filter on it and fill it with some quality oil, then see if it still runs OK. If so, you may have gotten lucky—there probably is some damage, but if it doesn’t make any noise and still runs well, you’re in luck. Obviously you need to check the oil more often than you have been doing. The water pump is a separate issue–but you say the engine has 290K on it—water pumps don’t last forever.