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#3391587 - 06/07/14 05:03 PM How well does your engine handle low oil levels?
RPMster Offline


Registered: 11/05/09
Posts: 119
Loc: Southern California
When it comes to vehicle maintenance many of us here are nuttier than the average Joe. Keeping engine oil constantly topped up to the full mark is one of those common obsessions.

The importance of this maintenance item of course varies with different vehicles, engines and usage.

Let us know your opinions and experiences on this subject. Include any details such as:

- vehicle model

- how vehicle was used/driven

- oil sump capacities

- engine types

- observations you've made when running low, whether it was a half quart low, a full quart, and so on

- any differences you noticed on UOAs after running low

- any other information you would like to include that is not listed above

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#3391610 - 06/07/14 05:26 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
opus1 Offline


Registered: 12/13/04
Posts: 1979
Loc: Chicago Area
Honestly, I don't know if you're going to get much in the way of usable answers on this site...in my case, "low" means I start topping off if the vehicle is down a 1/2 quart. Which hasn't happened since I sold the '79 Impala that tended to burn a little oil on longer trips.
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#3391613 - 06/07/14 05:35 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Warstud Offline


Registered: 09/02/05
Posts: 2815
Loc: MIchigan
Not sure why you would ask that. I think most of us know it sure isn't good to run it low for the lack of lubrication which results in premature wear.

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#3391614 - 06/07/14 05:38 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Turk Offline


Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 8018
Loc: MN
I can hear it in the engine when both the 2000 & 1998 Saturn SL2's are 1/2 quarts low.
_________________________
03 GMC Sierra 4x4 200k, M1 TDT
00 Saturn SL2 89 YO Lady Car. 79k Miles! PU
98 Saturn SC2 "Red Hot" PYB + LubeGard + Kreen
97 Camry 207k Maxlife


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#3391623 - 06/07/14 05:52 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
901Memphis Online   content


Registered: 08/14/10
Posts: 5667
Loc: Northern Kentucky
I never let my engine run below the middle of the cross hatch, although i have heard plenty of stories of dealerships draining oil burners and only 2 quarts come out of a 4-5 quart sump to know the engine doesn't grenade until it gets really low.
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#3391624 - 06/07/14 05:53 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
NHGUY Offline


Registered: 10/09/11
Posts: 3342
Loc: USA
Family had a 77 Nova 250-6 that was very sensitive to oil level.Even if it was full,it would trip the oil light if you drove down a very steep incline.A thorough POS vehicle,that I don't understand why people get so nostalgic about...broken leaf springs,rusted thru shocks,squaky waterpump,5 mufflers,defective carburetor,defective choke thermostat,broken heater control knob,4 batteries,a complete paint job,all in only 5 years of ownership new and 32,000 miles.

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#3391644 - 06/07/14 06:33 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
CurtisB Offline


Registered: 09/16/13
Posts: 151
Loc: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Running the sump level to the bottom add line isn't going to affect how the engine lubricates. Oil is still circulating throughout the engine uninterrupted, it's just the reservoir has reached a level that it should be replenished. More sump oil volume doesn't equal better lubrication, but going below the add line may start causing issues...
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#3391654 - 06/07/14 06:45 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: 901Memphis]
Kuato Offline


Registered: 10/23/05
Posts: 3075
Loc: Northeastern MT
Originally Posted By: 901Memphis
I never let my engine run below the middle of the cross hatch....


This.
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#3391656 - 06/07/14 06:49 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Powerglide Offline


Registered: 01/20/08
Posts: 26
Loc: SE Florida
I had a friend in high school had a 78 Toyota Celica that was making noise. I checked the oi
l. Nothing on the dipstick. I suggested we just top it off for now. I poured 3 1/2 quarts into it before it ever reached the dipstick. Another quart topped it off. That car went another 200,000 without incident.


Edited by Powerglide (06/07/14 06:50 PM)

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#3391662 - 06/07/14 06:57 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: Powerglide]
Nightmare Offline


Registered: 11/29/09
Posts: 117
Loc: KY
@BITOG, you might be hard pressed to find members who let their oil get low. Last road trip I took, i packed a extra qt. in the trunk, for just in case it did get a 1/2 qt low..lol

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#3391679 - 06/07/14 07:09 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
widman Offline


Registered: 05/27/02
Posts: 3061
Loc: Bolivia
Some cars will drink a lot until the half way mark, then none.
I'm comfortable with it anywhere in the range as long as I'm not about to take a long trip.

I have about 4000 miles on this oil change on my Grand Cherokee Pentastar, and the level hasn't changed to where you could notice it.

My two 300,000 mile Toyotas are usually about 1/8" down at 5000 mile changes.
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#3391698 - 06/07/14 07:28 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Rick in PA Offline


Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 2141
Loc: Southeastern, PA
A long time ago (I'm embarrassed to admit) I let the oil go low on a 2.2L Chrysler motor and wiped the cam. I should have learned.

Another time I pushed a lawn mower too far. It was due for it's oil change and I hadn't been paying attention to the oil level. I had to mow the yard "one more time". About half way through, the motor slowed and stalled. When you remove the oil fill cap and smoke fumes come out, that's a bad sign. Seized Tecumseh.

I believe that once you reach that point, it spirals downhill and bad things happen fast. The oil level drops to where it can no longer do its job. The oil that remains rapidly becomes overheated and breaks down, plus the contamination. The lubricating system "crashes" and fails to lubricate. Rapid, catastrophic mechanical failure ensues.

That's my confession for today.

I have a friend at work who often says "Any oil is better than NO oil." He's right.
I have seen the light. My oil is now meticulously maintained in the upper half of the "run" range.
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#3391706 - 06/07/14 07:35 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: Powerglide]
Jasper8146 Offline


Registered: 04/25/10
Posts: 157
Loc: Lenexa, Kansas
Had an ex-girl friend that had a brand new 1990 Toyota Celica that she ran down to less than 1 quart in it. Engine didn't sound too bad even then. But, about a year later, she told me she traded the car because it was burning oil all the time. Maybe it was a burner to start with, but I can't help but think she did a lot of damage.

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#3391709 - 06/07/14 07:38 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
fdcg27 Offline


Registered: 09/25/09
Posts: 9279
Loc: OH
The dispdtick defines a conservative safe range for oil level.
It is unecessary and wasteful to add oil before the lower line is reached.
The OM of my old BMW even says that oil should not be added until the level reaches the add line.
The actual safe level is well below the add line on the dipstick.
As long as the pickup isn't sucking air, all is well with respect to engine lubrication.
The oil pump and the bearings have no idea how much oil remains in the sump, nor do they care as long as they get a steady supply of it rather than air.
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02 Accord 127K G-Oil 5W-30
01 Focus ZX3 98K Synpower 10W-30
95 BMW 318iC 146K Defy 10W-40

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#3391715 - 06/07/14 07:44 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: NHGUY]
Tzu Offline


Registered: 10/12/12
Posts: 254
Loc: near Buffalo, NY
I had to laugh when I read this. Just turned 47 last week, and vehicles of these years were in my high school parking lot. From some with smoking blue on startup, exhausts falling off, various road signs used for floor boards and a lot of rust, I don't really miss these vintage of cars, but my first vehicle was a used '78 C10 as a HS grad present from my parents in '85. 2 new doors/fenders and 14 spray cans of blue paint and my truck looked good (as a 18yr. old could do then). It had 72,411 miles on it then and I took it off the road 3 years ago with 337,780 miles on it. It leaked/burnt oil pretty bad near the end, but I really never knew it on how it sounded. Fouled spark plugs gave it away though. It had the equivalent power of my beater '91 Camry four cylinder even though it had a 305 V8. My current Silverado doesn't burn hardly any oil, gets much better mpg and feels twice a strong with 247,000 miles on a 5.3. But I still have feeling for my old truck:)
Originally Posted By: NHGUY
Family had a 77 Nova 250-6 that was very sensitive to oil level.Even if it was full,it would trip the oil light if you drove down a very steep incline.A thorough POS vehicle,that I don't understand why people get so nostalgic about...broken leaf springs,rusted thru shocks,squaky waterpump,5 mufflers,defective carburetor,defective choke thermostat,broken heater control knob,4 batteries,a complete paint job,all in only 5 years of ownership new and 32,000 miles.
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#3391725 - 06/07/14 07:49 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
andyd Offline


Registered: 09/25/04
Posts: 3754
Loc: Marshfield , MA
The Wag's oil pressure gauge would read lower than normal and that was the clue. My Bmws have a low oil level warning light.And low coolant too. The current pair sling off a pint pretty fast, then settle down. The Rat doesn't use much oil either.
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#3391729 - 06/07/14 07:54 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
WeenieHutJr Offline


Registered: 02/15/14
Posts: 54
Loc: Washington
I did an oil change on a 2011 Forester with the FB engine and 1.5 quarts came out. I think last oil change was 12k miles and 4-5 months ago.

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#3391791 - 06/07/14 09:59 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Chris142 Offline


Registered: 06/05/03
Posts: 11369
Loc: apple valley, ca
My jeep does not use oil between changes so its always full. 6Qt sump so 5 qts is still in it @add.my ford does use some oil.11qt sump.9 left when at the add mark.ill throw in a qt or 2 then. But it does not effect how it runs.
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#3391809 - 06/07/14 10:28 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
Clevy Offline


Registered: 11/11/10
Posts: 7237
Loc: Saskatoon canada
What's a low oil level?

My oil levels in everything i own is either full,or empty because I'm changing it.
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2006 Charger RT
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#3391823 - 06/07/14 10:52 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
01rangerxl Online   content


Registered: 04/08/06
Posts: 7264
Loc: Birmingham, AL
Nothing I have owned or driven regularly has truly been low on oil. Low on oil for my truck is half way down the safe range on the dipstick. At that point it's usually due for an oil change anyway.

The cars I have seen that were more than a quart low on oil ranged from "running fine" to knocking/valve clatter. Sometimes it went away with a change, sometimes not.

This question varies depending on your definition of low and how long it has been there.
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2002 Ford Ranger XLT
3.0 V6 / 5-Speed Automatic / 2WD
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#3391826 - 06/07/14 10:53 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
147_Grain Offline


Registered: 03/11/13
Posts: 1290
Loc: USA
"How well does your engine handle low oil levels?"

Don't know, as my oil levels are always 1/16" to 1/8" over the full mark.

Perhaps you can intentionally run a few of your vehicles low on oil and educate us on this conundrum. wink

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#3391887 - 06/08/14 12:23 AM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: Turk]
bvance554 Online   content


Registered: 09/24/12
Posts: 899
Loc: VA
Originally Posted By: Turk
I can hear it in the engine when both the 2000 & 1998 Saturn SL2's are 1/2 quarts low.



That is amazing. Because I've ran Saturns with no oil touching the dipstick and you would never know the difference. You must have a very keen sense of hearing.

How much oil is actually in circulation in an engine? Probably less than a quart. I bet every vehicle would run just fine with no damage on a quart of oil. The sump is a resevoir...

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#3391946 - 06/08/14 05:44 AM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: widman]
Rick in PA Offline


Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 2141
Loc: Southeastern, PA
Originally Posted By: widman
Some cars will drink a lot until the half way mark, then none...


Interesting point. With several others raising the same issue, it got me to thinking. Is it likely that when the oil pan is tippy-top full, the windage from the crank makes more of an aerosol of the oil, which is then drawn off through the PCV system?
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#3391965 - 06/08/14 07:25 AM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: Rick in PA]
fdcg27 Offline


Registered: 09/25/09
Posts: 9279
Loc: OH
Originally Posted By: Rick in PA
Originally Posted By: widman
Some cars will drink a lot until the half way mark, then none...


Interesting point. With several others raising the same issue, it got me to thinking. Is it likely that when the oil pan is tippy-top full, the windage from the crank makes more of an aerosol of the oil, which is then drawn off through the PCV system?


Or maybe enough oil gets splashed onto the cylinder walls that it overwhelms the rings' ability to wipe it off?
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#3391977 - 06/08/14 07:45 AM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: RPMster]
supton Offline


Registered: 11/09/08
Posts: 4730
Loc: NH
Haven't ever ran one to lower than "add a quart", which is when I add a quart. But the current fleet does not use oil over there 10k OCI so I have had not had this issue for a long time.

On my Saturn I timed it so that it would be needing an oil change when it got a quart low. Ran just fine.
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#3391997 - 06/08/14 08:24 AM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: bvance554]
Turk Offline


Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 8018
Loc: MN
Originally Posted By: bvance554
Originally Posted By: Turk
I can hear it in the engine when both the 2000 & 1998 Saturn SL2's are 1/2 quarts low.



That is amazing. Because I've ran Saturns with no oil touching the dipstick and you would never know the difference. You must have a very keen sense of hearing.



Yea, I pay very close attention.

To be more specific, the engine starts sounding a little "raw".

I check it & sure enough, 1/2 quart low. smile
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03 GMC Sierra 4x4 200k, M1 TDT
00 Saturn SL2 89 YO Lady Car. 79k Miles! PU
98 Saturn SC2 "Red Hot" PYB + LubeGard + Kreen
97 Camry 207k Maxlife


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#3392168 - 06/08/14 12:37 PM Re: How well does your engine handle low oil levels? [Re: Turk]
Powerglide Offline


Registered: 01/20/08
Posts: 26
Loc: SE Florida
Saturns of that vintage will take an enormous amount of abuse.

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