What Happens If Your Car Runs out of Oil While Driving

There is no beating around the bush with this one. If you run out of engine oil, typically, your engine will fail and everything is downhill from there. Your car’s engine has some of the fastest-moving parts in the whole vehicle. Speed in this context means a lot of friction among parts. Your engine oil is the thing that keeps these fast-moving parts smooth and sliding against each other instead of being rough and causing damage to each other.

Here’s the simple version of what will happen. When you run out of engine oil while driving, these fast-moving parts will start grinding against each other and the engine will seize up. This causes the vehicle to come to a halt and seize up. This not only has the capacity to damage your engine but also ruin in. A lot of times, you might not even get a warning about engine oil running low until it is too late. This is very true for slightly older model cars that do not have a dashboard indicator or an engine oil pressure sensor unit.

In the olden days, drivers often had to do this check themselves by manually because the “check oil” dash light is not enough of a warning. Now, if there comes a situation when you have to do this yourself, don’t panic.

Here’s a little guide for you in case you get into trouble.

The first step is to move your car into neutral. This keeps the accelerator from being used, causing more damage to the engine of the car.

Since you can’t move it around or at any good speed, you need to tell those driving near you to go around. You can do this by turning on your hazard lights and letting everyone know that you are experiencing some technical problems with your car. This will let them know to move carefully around you.

The lights also indicate to the others that you need to get your vehicle off the road and out of their way. Good if you are able to get some help doing that.

Once you pull over safely, you must place your car in a way that it doesn’t put you or anyone else in danger.

After that, you should find the nearest auto repair shop and get professional help. They will see if there is any damage to the engine and what to do if so.

The Role of Oil in Engine Maintenance

To run out of engine oil is actually a pretty dangerous place. In fact, even dirty oil has a bad influence on your engine. In that case, particulates accumulate in the oil and lead to the scoring of engine parts. This is one of the key reasons for car manufacturers to recommend oil and filter changes regularly.

Drivers also like to do a manual test of the amount of oil in the system. This can be done by pulling out the dipstick and rubbing the used oil between their fingers. This is to check if there is any dirt in the particles. In most cases, oil filters are rated only for about 3,000 miles or so. When you hit that mileage, it is time to change the oil. That is also why auto-repair shops change the filter whenever they change the oil.

This was much of a concern back in the day as cars would get older. Even today, cars that are older than 10 or 15 years develop problems like oil leaking out of some part of the engine or burn during combustion. If either of these happens, not only will your oil tank be emptied, you can even go down a rabbit hole with other problems mentioned above.

In fact, this is something to be careful about while checking and replacing the oil. It is a good rule of thumb before and after a long trip as a precaution as well. A car engine with clean oil is one of the most important things about owning and maintaining a car. It is right on top of the checklist.

Signs That You Need to Change Oil

So, the situation begs the question, how to know when it is time to check and change the oil? Well, your car will tell you.

For starters, you will hear noises from the engine. This is because the oil, as mentioned before, keeps the metal parts from brushing against each other. So if your machine is not properly lubricated, you will notice knocking and rumbling sounds from the bay of the engine.

The second sign is dirty oil. When you go to a maintenance shop, you must ask them to check and see if the engine oil is dirty or dark. This is a sign of a long-overdue task.

There is also the smell. If there is an oil leak, you will start to smell it inside the car. This can also result in exhaust fumes that will cause the car to overheat. Never let it get there.

Then there is the exhaust smoke. This will come from your tailpipe. It is a translucent vapor that will come out when your car is running. If the vapor turns to smoke, you should rush to an auto repair shop.

Remember that the thumb rule is to change the oil every 3,000 to 6,000 miles. This is typically every three to six months. You can also check the car’s manual to see what is specific to your car model.

This is an exercise that is better when done sooner. Taking a chance on it will lead to larger bills.

How Long Can It Go without Damage?

In case you are already in the dog house and your car is already lacking engine oil, don’t wait for signs to find out how much damage has been done. The more the metal parts brush against each other, the more the damage. In this situation, there is no such thing as a manageable level of damage. And it only gets worse with time and usage.

You will be able to run your car for about 15 minutes before it starts emitting smoke and then proceeds to complete engine failure. The only reason to keep a car going after running out of engine oil is to take it to the auto repair shop. And remember that while doing this you are causing damage to the engine and also putting everyone’s life at risk.

Sometimes, you might experience what is called a thermal breakdown. This is the breakdown of oil because of high temperatures. In this case, the oil in the engine is not enough to lubricate the metal parts. This too causes premature wear and tear of the metal parts. The oil starts to get dirty and corrodes the metal parts. The buildup of sludge in your car leads to oil turning into a gel or a solid substance making it harder for the engine to function. This affects crankshafts, bearings, camshafts and valve trains. If you leave it unattended, you might have to replace the entire engine.

How Do You Know That Damage Has Been Done

The best way to see if the engine has seized up is a series of knocks after which you will hear clunking sounds. This is called the dead knock and it gets silent only once the engine stops functioning. It is called a dead knock because, by the time you get to this part, the engine is already destroyed. The only thing left to do is to pull the car to a safe spot and call for roadside assistance. Some cars also have a “check engine” light which is helpful.

If you like a little TV, you know Penny (from The Big Bang Theory) never checked hers and now you know it was impossible for her car to run for as long as it did. The light is an indicator of a mechanical issue and means that your car is crying for an auto emergency room.

Another way to know about engine troubles is to check the temperature gauge on your dashboard. This is an indicator of a rise in temperature because of the friction between the moving parts of the engine. You will also see smoke from the hood but at that point, you know you can’t drive any further.

The best way to keep a check on the oil levels in the car is to check it yourself. This can be done by checking the dipstick under the hood. You must also keep an eye out for oil leaks which lead to low pressure. And yes, that is also as bad as it sounds.

Wrapping Up

Maintaining clean and healthy levels of oil in the car is not something to be taken lightly. Do regular checks whenever you can and even when not necessary, take a trip to the repair guy every three to six months and get it checked. You most definitely can’t ignore it before and after a long road trip. Take care of the car and it will do the same for you.

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