How to Tell if the Engine Is Damaged From No Oil (5 Signs of Damage)

Putting high-quality oil in your engine is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to ensure the safety of your vehicle as well as yourself. Driving a car when there’s no oil in its engine can damage your engine. So, it’s important to know if your engine is damaged because of no oil to take proper measures. Here are the signs you should pay attention to:

  • Burnt oil smell
  • Unusual sounds
  • Overheating
  • Engine working slower than usual or lagging
  • Smoking hood

The motor can quickly get damaged from operating with an insufficient amount of oil, so quickly determining the extent of the damage can be crucial in ensuring your safety. Keep reading to learn how to immediately spot these signs, as well as their importance and impact on your vehicle’s performance.

Driving a car when there’s no oil in its engine can damage your engine.

1. Burnt Oil Smell

When the lubrication in your engine falls below an acceptable level, one of the first signs you may notice is the smell of burning oil. This smell often indicates a leak that has come in contact with high temperatures inside the motor and produced an unpleasant odor. If you notice this smell, immediately pull over and turn off your car.

After pulling over, you’ll first need to give the engine adequate time to fully cool down until you can’t smell the burning oil anymore. Then, it’s time to check the oil levels. If they’re low, you’ll need to call a local mechanic or service center for assistance, as starting to drive again isn’t an option. When the motor doesn’t have enough lubrication, driving your vehicle is a surefire way to cause irreversible damage within minutes.

2. Unusual Sounds

The vehicle’s engine carries a lot of power and is responsible for the completion of many essential functions; still, most of the time, you can barely hear it. The reason for this is proper lubrication, which allows the metal components to slide against one another without producing any notable noise. 

When there’s not enough oil, the motor will start extruding unusual clunking noises, as all its parts are roughly moving between one another with no buffer between them. It’s usually a pretty accurate sign that the oil levels are low, meaning that you should immediately stop the car. 

Any knocking, rattle, clunking, or grinding sound should be enough for you to make a quick check, since if you continue to drive, the metal rods will shortly give in and break. Anyone who’s had a vehicle with broken metal rods knows that this sound makes the car almost completely unusable, and this is only the best-case scenario.

Unusual sounds may sometimes indicate an even more severe structural damage in the engine, meaning that not stopping may cause it to seize and shut down completely. So always listen carefully for any weird noises coming out of the hood, as it can be the first sign of motor failure.

3. Overheating

As mentioned before, the metal components of your engine would start roughly sliding against one another when there’s not enough lubrication. When doing so, they create high levels of friction that can cause a lot more damage than clunking noises. Extreme friction is often the main cause of overheating, which needs to be spotted and fixed early if you want to avoid any further damage. 

Overheating is one of the most accurate signs of low oil levels, and when not caught early enough, it can even lead to an engine fire. So, as soon as you notice the first sign of overheating, immediately pull over to cool down your motor and call a local assistance service or mechanic for help.

4. Engine Working Slower Than Usual or Lagging

By now, you probably know how your car usually runs and functions, so you’ll be quick to notice when it isn’t working in its full capacity. That’s precisely what happens when there’s not enough oil in your engine. The lack of lubrication will make it harder for the motor’s components to operate smoothly, making them work in overdrive.

It means the engine will be over-exhausted, and as a result, significantly less efficient. Although it may not be as alarming of a sign as overheating, for example, it still warrants immediately stopping and asking for professional help. That’s because without adequate lubrication, the metal parts would scrape against each other, causing enough damage to make the engine stop working entirely.

So, as soon as you notice an unusual decrease in motor efficiency or experience sudden lagging, stop the car to prevent any further engine damage and call your mechanic, who can tell you what steps to take next.

5. Smoking Hood

A smoking hood is the most alarming sign you can notice, happening mere moments before the start of the fire. At this point, you’ll have no other option but to pull over and let your car cool down immediately. 

You’d usually want to be more diligent and try not to let the engine reach this stage, as it can indicate that some internal damage may have already occurred. Either way, it’s the time to call for professional assistance and wait for help to arrive.

You may also like: Best Motor Oil for High Mileage Engines

What Damage Can No Oil Do to an Engine?

Having no oil can cause irreparable damage to your engine. Some of the most significant damages include: 

  • Cracking the engine block or crankshaft
  • Wearing out cylinders and rods
  • Completely seizing the engine

Proper lubrication plays an underrated but crucial role in the adequate functioning of your vehicle’s engine. Sufficient oil levels prevent the metal components from roughly grinding with one another, which can often lead to overheating.

Although an engine can run for some time without oil, as you’ll see in the next section, this time is minimal if you don’t want severe damage caused inside the motor, or worse, break it down completely. 

A car engine is a complex mechanism, with many moving parts working at very high speeds in close proximity. The only buffer that allows these parts to slide and operate smoothly is the oil, which serves as a barrier to protect these moving components from the damage they can cause to one another.

High friction causes premature wear and damage that may be very expensive to fix. Plus, in a short time, it can fully seize your engine and render it unusable. It can also create overheating, which can be a hazard for your safety just as much as it is for the motor. 

Without adequate lubrication, the increased friction will lead to high temperatures in which the engine can’t properly operate. If gone unnoticed for too long, overheating can lead to smoke, which can lead to a fire, making the engine unusable and endangering you in the process.

That’s why always keeping an eye on your oil levels can save you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run. Otherwise, you’ll be left dealing with cracked cylinders, worn-out rods, or a blown manifold that can cause irreparable damage to your motor even after many costly repairs. The damage that no oil can do to your engine is severely underrated, so don’t make the mistake of ignoring your oil levels until it’s too late.

How Long Does It Take to Damage an Engine Without Oil?

On average, it takes about 15-30 minutes to damage an engine without oil. It sometimes may take less or more depending on the extent of the problem, but within an hour of driving without adequate lubrication, you’re guaranteed some structural damage to the engine.

If you’ve noticed one of the mentioned signs but can’t avoid driving a few more miles yourself, you should thoroughly understand the risk you’re taking. On average, an engine can run for a maximum of 30 minutes without oil before any notable damage occurs. It doesn’t mean that you always have the luxury of a half an hour drive, though.

Note that this timeframe is based on those cases where there’s still lubrication helping out your engine, but its levels are inadequate. If you don’t have any oil left in the motor, it can start seizing in under a minute. Plus, even with some oil left in the tank, the 30-minute mark is the maximum threshold, as damage can begin occurring within minutes.

If you’re in a pinch, squeezing an extra 15 to 30 minutes from your engine may be possible, but you’re taking on a high possibility of further problems when doing so. Therefore, once you see the oil light turn on, stop the car and weigh your options carefully before making a decision.

Depending on the type of car you have, the timeframe may be slightly longer or shorter. But as a rule of thumb, always consider driving without enough oil a last resort solution that can be used only for a very short amount of time.


Not enough oil in your engine can cause irreparable damage that’s often underrated. Therefore, knowing how to quickly spot any early signs that indicate a lack of lubrication inside the motor can save you a lot of time, effort, and money.



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