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How to Tell if an Engine is Damaged From No Oil?

Vehicle maintenance can become too much for some people. Whether you dont have the time to spend in a garage or are rather skeptical of mechanics and the prices they charge, your vehicle will remain trouble-free should you regularly maintain it. The primary task in this is an oil change; without that, your car might as well be a junker. If you are the type of skip out on oil changes, you should know the telltale signs of an engine damaged from no oil. It goes without saying: should you experience some of these or any of these with your vehicle, it means that your motor oil is either due or your engine needs new oil, without which, get ready for a junk title. 

While an engine is usually designed to run on old motor oil (but not for long), no oil means that the moving parts of an engine have no lubrication. Which means, increased wear and tear, to the point where the engine can get totalled in just a couple of miles of driving. When that happens, the car will let you know; whether its a strained engine or black smoke from the exhaust, here’s the signs of an engine damaged from no oil.

How to tell if engine is damaged from no oil

Below, we will be looking at some of the telltale signs of an engine that has been damaged due to no oil in it. 

Knocking, sputtering sounds from the engine

The first sign of an engine damaged from no oil or working with low oil is a knocking sound from the engine, usually accompanied by sputtering sounds whenever the engine is supposed to power up. The knocking sound is characteristic of the pistons and other moving parts making noise due to non-lubricated contact, and the sputtering sound will be of the engine’s overheated components rubbing against each other. In this case, the first step you should take is to pull over but not turn off the engine, since this could increase the risk of an engine seizing up. Pull over and check your dipstick for oil.

Dashboard ‘check engine oil’ lights up

On the dashboard, next to the instrument cluster or around it, there is a light that indicates the status of motor oil in the engine. In newer cars with digital tachometers or screens, the status might blink ‘Check Engine Oil’. Aside from the latter one, when the light pops up, it usually indicates that either the engine oil level is low, or completely out. In this case, if you haven’t started driving the car, open the bonnet and check the dipstick for the oil level. If it is completely dry, then your engine has no oil and driving it will damage the engine and severely affect its performance. 

Excessive, black smoke from the exhaust

Another really bad sign of an engine damaged from no oil is billowing black smoke from the exhaust of the car once you start driving it. Now, smoke from the exhaust might have different colours, all based on the condition of the engine. Black, excessively pungent smoke will mean that either the engine oil is too low, or the engine is working without oil, or even burning it, depending on the engine condition. This is very serious; if your car has excessive, black smoke coming out of the exhaust, it might be time to pull over and inspect the engine, check the dipstick and if there is no oil, contact your mechanic or wait for roadside assistance. 

Severe performance issues

Motor oil keeps the moving parts of the engine lubricated, and since the engine is operating under high temperatures constantly, any loss of lubrication will cause the engine to cease performing at optimal levels. In the case of an engine damaged from no oil, you will notice a sharp and severe drop in performance. Since the engine is not getting lubricated enough, the parts will heat up excessively and the engine will stop performing, regardless of how much input you give in the form of the accelerator. If you do notice a sharp drop in performance, again, pull your car over and open up the bonnet. Check your engine dipstick; it will indicate the level of oil in the engine and whether or not engine has been damaged from no oil. 

Engine overheats

Another sign of engine damaged from no oil is the engine itself overheating, which is displayed by either the temperature gauge turning all the way up to H, or in newer cars, by a prompt on the screen indicating that the engine temperature might be too high. While it could also be caused by other problems (lack of coolant, radiator fan not working etc), if the engine has no motor oil in it at all, the engine will overheat and you will have to pull over and check the engine dipstick for oil. It will give an indication of whether the problem is with motor oil or any of the above. 

What to do if any of this happens?

If you see or experience any of these issues, the first step is to NOT switch off the car, but rather to cease operating it by pulling it to the side and letting it sit to get the temperature of the engine down. Open up the hood and locate the dipstick of the engine, either yellow or orange in color. This stick indicates the level of oil present in the engine and if it is bone-dry, your engine does not have any motor oil. Even if it is indicated below the recommended level, you need to take it to your dealer or a maintenance garage immediately to get its oil checked, refilled, and the engine inspected for any leaks or cracks that may cause it to lose oil.

What could cause an engine to lose oil?

Again, with an engine losing oil, damage can be catastrophic and could potentially reduce the car or atleast the engine to junk status. Since the engine is operating in high temperature conditions, the internal parts like the pistons, crankshaft and other moving parts could get seriously damaged or deformed from the extreme heat and the lack of lubrication. Motor oil, therefore, is imperative to the functioning of the car and should be checked regularly. 


There are several causes where a car might lose engine oil, despite you having taken care of it. The first and foremost is leakage, a considerable problem for older cars or engines with defects in them. The leakage occurs when seals in the oil pan, located at the bottom of the engine, are damaged, causing oil to drip down in small quantities. If you notice any such oil leaks in your garage, immediately get your engine checked. An engine will also lose oil if it starts to burn it due to maintenance issues, or if the cooling mechanism of the engine (coolants, radiators) does not work properly, causing the engine to start using up too much oil to keep its components from damaging themselves. 

What happens if an engine continues operating without motor oil?

If you notice any of these signs and fail to pull over and address the issue, the vehicle will continue to operate in extreme conditions, taking quite a toll on the engine, causing it to have problems. Should you continue to operate the vehicle, the engine will wear its internal components out, and you will continue to experience a performance drop. 

When the engine gets too hot, the mechanical moving components of the engine, like pistons, crankshafts and others may stop working altogether or may get deformed by the constant high temperature operation without any lubrication at all. This is when an engine seizes up; when that happens, the car will suddenly stop, and the engine will not start at all. After that, the only logical conclusion would be to change or swap the engine. 

Trust your car with Magnum Autoclub

Mechanics have unfortunately cultivated for themselves a reputation of being dishonest or not very forthcoming with what the real issue with the vehicle is. Magnum Autoclub is aiming to disrupt that: with services geared towards the best customer experience, and clear honesty with what the car needs, Magnum Autoclub is here to elevate your experience of garage visits. Synthetic oil changes, general maintenance and repairs and tyres and rim installations are all done in-house, in front of the customer. Enjoy an experience that would make this a perfect destination for a gearhead or a car enthusiast, since Magnum Autoclub is run and staffed by car enthusiasts looking to give you the premium experience of the best auto maintenance garage in Canada. 


Magnum Autoclub has an extensive selection of synthetic, semi-synthetic and conventional oils to help keep your car operating at its peak and keep giving you the joy of owning a car that is well-maintained and drives like an absolute dream. 

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