No, Your Car Can’t Run Without Oil!


If you’re like me, your Google search results are littered with “what ifs”. I mean, just the other day I found myself searching for everything from ostriches to options trading.

Now obviously some searches teach you more than others. For instance, options trading is probably a lot more practical for most of you than ostrich training.

And keeping practicality in mind, let’s be honest: chances are your car will never run without oil. I hope.

Oil is an essential part of your car’s engine health, and without it some bad things happen. The good news is, for it to get as bad as I’m about to describe, you really need to drop the ball.

And the majority of you just won’t do that, just like the majority of you aren’t planning to do any ostrich training (but if you are, let me know, it looks like it’d make a great post for Facebook).

So let’s make some sense of this and figure out why oil is so important to your car and why bad things will happen in its absence.

First Things First, Why Does Your Car Need Oil?

Do me a favor and rub your hands together slowly for about 10 seconds.

Your hands probably got a little bit warm, right?

Now repeat the same exercise, but this time go as fast as possible.

This time, I bet your hands got really hot didn’t they?

What you just experienced is called friction (kinetic friction, specifically). In physics terms, friction is the resistance to motion of one object relative to the other. Scientists believe it’s the result of the electromagnetic attraction between the charged particles of the two touching surfaces. In this case, it’s your hands.

When you rub your hands together, some of the energy created by the motion of your hands is converted into heat. For this same reason, if you rub two sticks together long enough, they will eventually catch fire.

And then you can slap a bloody handprint on a volleyball and call it a day.

In all seriousness though, this same principle is why engine oil is so important. Your car’s engine has many moving pieces that move very quickly and produce a tremendous amount of friction. And just like we learned with your hands, the quicker something moves, the more friction it produces.

What do we get with more friction? More heat!

With too much heat, your car’s engine won’t be able to work. It’ll overheat and leave you dead on the side of the road, which isn’t very fun.

Your car’s engine oil acts to both reduce friction and absorb the heat so your engine keeps working smoothly. By coating the internally lubricated parts of your engine, it reduces the amount they contact each other so less friction is produced.

Oil also keeps your engine free from dirt and debris. As oil works its way through the engine, it keeps debris from building up. This can include everything from road grime to metal shavings from the engine. Without oil, this stuff can accumulate and cause your engine to freeze up, which isn’t good!

But that’s not all. Without oil, your engine will accumulate additional wear as the metal parts of your engine rub against each other. As you might imagine, engine repairs are expensive. With a proper amount of oil, the moving parts of your engine will be coated in such a way where they never make contact with each other, because the oil is acting as a barrier between them.

With all that being said, I think we can all see how important oil is for your car, which is why most of us change our oil frequently.

But it wouldn’t be any fun if we just told you to change your oil and left it at that, now would it?

So What Happens If Your Car Runs With No Oil?

As I mentioned, bad things happen. Really bad.

Now your first thought might be something along the lines of “It’s going to overheat, and then burst into flames action movie style, right?”

Now to be honest with you, if you had asked me this question 15 years ago I would have probably agreed with you.

But the answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

The engine probably isn’t going to overheat, at least not right away.

The real killer is always the internal wear and tear. Your car’s engine can be turning over at up to 1000 revolutions per minute and will easily clear 3000 revolutions per minute once you get up to highway speeds.

When you get going this fast, your engine relies upon a thin coating of oil to avoid damage. But since our engine is running without oil, the metal components in it will begin to quickly heat up through friction.

As these parts heat up, they’ll shed tiny metal fragments into your engine, which will then cause further damage and increased friction as they scratch precisely machined moving parts that are reliant on very tight manufacturing tolerances to work.

Eventually, the metal fragments will do your engine in. Usually the failure in this case comes from the rod bearings.

And when your engine fails, you’re looking at a hefty repair bill which is often over $2,000 dollars for a remanufactured engine at the very least (unless you have a vehicle service contract with a company like us).

With that in mind, we can very clearly see that running your car with no oil is bad. You want to take every action possible to make sure that you keep oil in your engine.

Okay, But So What?

So now that you know your engine’s main danger is from wear, so what? I think it’s reasonable to assume that your engine won’t ever be running with no oil whatsoever assuming your car is in good working order.

But oil leaks can happen, even though they are uncommon. And if you have one, you’re not going to want to ignore it.

What normally happens is a rubber line or a rubber seal will spring a small leak which degrades the rubber faster than normal.

There’s also a chance your oil pan may be punctured and dripping oil all over the concrete.  

Now if either of these does happen (and for some reason you don’t catch the oil forming a puddle beneath your car, your engine will give you some signs if it’s running with no oil.

What Does An Engine With No Oil Sound Like?

At first, it might be hard to tell if your engine has no oil. What you should listen for however, is a grinding or whirring sound at first. What you’re hearing is the metal parts of your engine slowly scraping away at each other. Eventually, this will progress into full on clanking as the pistons, the valves, and the other moving parts of the engine begin to self-destruct.

If you hear your car’s engine making noises like this, stop driving immediately and call a tow truck. If you continue to run the engine with no oil, you can very quickly destroy your entire engine, and as we previously established, that’s expensive!

What Are Some Other Symptoms Of No Oil In Your Car?

Other than the sounds which I previously mentioned, there are other definite warning signs to look out for.

Many newer cars have what’s known as an oil pressure warning light. The easiest way to tell is by looking for this light. When your oil pressure gets too low, the light turns on and lets you know.

You should also be on the look out for the smell of burning oil. The smell is an acrid odor that sticks to the nostrils.

The next thing you should look out for is oil pooling underneath your car. Check underneath the car to see if any oil is pooling on the pavement. This can be caused by a punctured oil pan or oil line especially.

Finally, pay attention for decreased engine performance. When your engine has no oil, the parts won’t be lubricated and functioning optimally. As a result, your engine will have to work harder for the same level of performance.

What Happens If You Accidentally Start Your Car With No Oil?

Technically, every time you start your car, you start it with no oil.

When you ignite the engine, there’s a delay between when it starts running before the oil pump has a chance to circulate oil throughout the engine. This takes somewhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes of engine time.

The funny thing is that this 2 minute window is actually thought to cause the most damage to your engine – which is one of the reasons why a car that’s started more often (even if it has less miles) may show more wear than a car with more mileage.

So if you start a car with no oil and only run it for 2 minutes or less, your engine will still sustain some wear but it likely won’t be anything catastrophic.

But as you continue to run your engine past that 2-minute threshold the damage will start to intensify. If you know your car is low on oil you should avoid driving it until you replace the oil. Which is funny because…

How To Fix A Car That Ran Out Of Oil

Fixing a car that ran out of oil depends on 2 things:

  1. If your car has an oil leak
  2. How long your car has been running without oil or with dirty oil.

If your car has run out of oil, you’ll need to refill it with oil. Did you really expect anything else?

Things get a little more interesting if your car has an oil leak. I say “interesting” lightly because it’s going to get more expensive. The leak could be anything from a hose or a connector, all the way to something like a gasket or seal.

The first step to fixing a car that ran out of oil is determining if your car has a leak. This is best left up to a professional mechanic, because there are a number of seals that could be broken.

Once the faulty seal or hose is found and repaired, fixing a car that ran out of oil is as simple as adding more oil to the engine assuming that the engine isn’t damaged by lack of oil.

If your engine has been damaged by a lack of oil, you’re in for a tougher road. You’re looking at potentially needing to replace your engine if the damage is bad. In this case, you should definitely take your car to the mechanic. With an engine replacement potentially costing over $3,000 dollars, it’s not worth playing around.

How To Tell If Engine Is Damaged From No Oil

The first thing you should look for is your check engine light coming on. If your check engine light has come on and your car was running with no oil, you should investigate further.

While there’s advice circulating around the internet that suggests using a magnetic drain plug to check for metallic pieces in the oil, a large percentage of what makes up the engine is non-magnetic.

With that in mind, there are two ways to check to see if your engine is damaged.

The first is sending a sample of what’s left in your engine to be analyzed. Blackstone Labs, for instance, can take a look at the sample of the remaining oil (and there’s almost always some) and tell you almost everything about your engine condition, including if there’s any damage from lack of oil.

The other option is to get an oil pressure test, which can tell you if the oil clearance has increased because of engine wear.

Need More Oil For Your Car?

So as you know, your car absolutely needs oil. Running without it is asking for problems. But oil can be expensive, especially if your car runs on a synthetic oil -cough- BMW -cough-.

That’s why, for a limited time only, we’re offering free oil changes with our vehicle service contracts. With a vehicle service contract from Protect My Car, you’ll be protected from the costs associated with major engine, transmission, electrical and other repairs.

So if your engine decides to blow, we’ll be there ready to pick up the bill.

And did I mention that for a limited time only that our plans cover your oil, not to mention free tire rotations included as well?

Get a free quote with us by clicking below and don’t let your engine run with no oil – because no oil is as bad as no vehicle service coverage. So fix both today, and don’t sweat it.

About Protect My Car

Protect My Car is an extended auto warranty company. Our goal here at Protect My Car is to eliminate your worry of being financially responsible for an expensive mechanical breakdown. With our extended auto warranty, you don’t have to worry about being fully burdened with the cost of a covered repair.