The Dangers of Driving with Low Oil Level

August 5th, 2021 by

The internal combustion engine has thousands of moving parts that mostly are made from metal. Moving metal parts create friction, and friction creates heat. Heat is the number one enemy of any internal combustion engine because it leads to engine failures. When metal parts heat up due to friction, the eventually break, which brings everything to a sudden halt.

When the engine breaks down due to low oil levels, very costly repairs are in store. Low oil levels cause valves to burn up, seals to dry out, and internal parts to heat up and eventually deform or break. Until something breaks, the engine will continue to lose power and burn more fuel while running poorly.

When something finally does go wrong – and it will – the cost to repair could be too much and result in the vehicle being totaled. If that happens to a vehicle that you own outright, then you just need to find a new ride. If it happens to a vehicle on which you have a loan, then you are upside down and owing money on a vehicle that you no longer can use.

Ill Effects of Low Oil Levels

Low oil has some seriously bad consequences when allowed to continue for extended periods of time. The first thing that will happen is the engine’s temperature will rise while the oil pressure falls. When that happens for short periods of time but is noticed quickly and more oil gets added, nothing bad really occurs inside the engine. When the low oil lasts for extended periods, mechanical systems start to fail.

All internal combustion engines have valves that make it possible for air to enter and exhaust to leave the combustion chamber. Those valves require oil to stay cool and continue working flawlessly. The valves also are located at the top of the engine. So when the oil level is low, the valves often are the first mechanical parts to feel the additional wear and tear.

Valves are relatively small metal parts mounted at the top of a long and thin metal rod. When they heat up due to no oil getting to them, the valves can fail or otherwise break. That will cause the engine to run poorly and possibly stop it altogether. If the engine continues to run with one or more bad valves, the power output is low, the fuel economy worse and the emissions typically exceed lawful limits in locales that require emissions testing.

Warped Heads and Damaged Cranks

When engines run hot due to low oil, they tend to deform, several parts. Many current engines have heads that are made from aluminum, which is very prone to damage when overheated. Aluminum heads and other internal parts need good, clean oil of the proper viscosity to continue keeping the internal friction and heat under control.

When the heads warp, they no longer can provide a good seal with a gasket and even more oil can leak out of the engine compartment. The cylinders lose compression, and the engine eventually fails. The internal damage generally is so great that an entirely new engine – or an entirely new vehicle, could be the only viable solution.

The larger the part and the more metal it contains, the more damage it could suffer due to low oil levels. The internal crank that the pistons move to produce the power that makes everything go needs oil to stay cool. When the oil is insufficient or otherwise no longer available, then the crank will heat up and eventually become deformed. A deformed crank will not turn, and the engine will be seized up and ruined.

No Insurance or Warranty Protection

When you drive with oil levels too low for too long, the oil itself takes more damage and abuse. It will lose its viscosity much faster and stop doing its intended purpose, which is to lubricate parts to reduce friction and internal heat. That could become a modest financial disaster when a vehicle that should last many more years and otherwise is worth thousands of dollars suddenly becomes a parts car due to a bad engine.

Running your vehicle with low oil levels is a sure way to void any engine warranty protection that you otherwise might have in effect. And there is no insurance coverage for damaged engines – especially due to low oil levels. That is why it is critically important to regularly check your oil and top it off when the levels are too low.


Visit Boyle Buick GMC to get an oil change today!

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