By December 19, 2012 2 Comments Read More →

Car Ran Without Engine Oil

Reader Question


Hi, I hope you can help. I have a Cadillac with 150k miles. I have it serviced regularly at the dealer. At ~80k miles all sorts of things went wrong with the oil. Luckily, it was under warranty and the piston rods and rings were all replaced (cost of 6K). 6 weeks ago, the oil was replaced by Firestone.

They did not replace the oil cap and when the car began to vibrate etc. I checked the oil and it was bone dry. So, I had driven the car for 3 weeks with no oil.

I filled it with oil and brought it to Cadillac. Firestone agreed to pay for it after debate. The timing chain and oil filter adapter was replaced. I was told by an acquaintance that when the oil runs out things can go wrong with the engine later.

Cadillac assured me everything from now on would be fine. The cost to Firestone was 5k, and I spent 1k replacing the engine mounts. One day after picking up my car it was still vibrating. I went back to Cadillac but they could not assist me that day as they were closing.

I continued to have vibration and could smell oil when I turned off my engine. The oil was one quart low in one week. The car is now at Cadillac, they say the rear main seal is leaking, brittle, cracked and assure me it was “not there” when they returned my car to me because the car was inspected. I have done some research and have read when your oil gets low the heat can cause this area to leak and crack.

They want another 2k to fix this and frankly I don’t have the money to fix it. They claim the low oil did not cause this new leak. I find it hard to believe I have spent 11k fixing oil problems over last year and they say this is yet some other problem.


Hi There!


Well these kind of situations really anger me!  Why?
Firestone forgets to put the oil cap on, and you drive this vehicle with NOOOO oil inside.  Fine, these things happen and I have been paid by just about every oil change place to replace engines that they have forgot to put oil in, or the oil cap etc. etc. they have insurance for that stuff and it happens more than you know.
So, what does good old Cadillac do?  THEY screwed up!  They should have sold Firestone a new motor, period…end of discussion.
This engine has so much aluminum inside and is so complex that to run it low on oil for 30 minutes could do severe damage inside, let alone drive for days.
I place ALL blame on this dealership, they did you and themselves a disservice by not replacing the motor completely and billing Firestone for the costs, which they would have paid.
So, your anger should be pointed at this dealership, why in the world did they try and piece meal to begin with?  So they fully understood they would be responsible for any future issues related to lack of lubrication?
I think their ego got in the way.
What I would do is set up a meeting with the general manager of the dealership and go over this situation step by step, so they fully understand they had the opportunity to sell a brand new engine to Firestone, but did not.
They removed a majority of your old engine to do the timing chain repair.
First, if ANY engine runs low on oil, the pistons, piston rings and the cylinders that the pistons are inclosed in are what will get the most damage from lack of oil……not the timing chain. Your engine is mostly aluminum, which is even more suspect to piston ring and cylinder head damage than say a Ford Truck with more steal and real metal inside.
Now, a totally different rant. They charged you $1K for engine mounts, when they had a large part of the engine removed to do the timing chain. This is called “combination work” and you were most likely overcharged.
So I take the front part of your engine apart to replace the timing chain, and now the labor time needed to replace the engine and transmission mounts is much less, since lots of the parts that are in the way and need to be removed have all ready been removed for the chain replacement. So, I have to adjust the labor costs to reflect the combination work that I have already done.
I would bet, you paid pretty much full labor time, and you should have gotten some kind of labor credit for replacing the mounts at this time
Another example, so you understand. If you came to my shop and wanted a tire rotation I would charge you $18. But during the tire rotation I notice you need to replace the brake pads. I would charge you $189 for the brake job, but since I already have the wheels off the vehicle now to sell the brake job I can not (or should not) charge the $18 fee to rotate the tire. The $189, included removing the tires for the brake job.  That is combination labor. Understand?
So, you can use this argument as well, they, the dealer probably owes you some labor money. To prove it, visit or call the service department and ask them how much to replace the mounts. If the labor amount they quote you is the same you paid, you got over charged.
So what to do?  Honestly, I would fight tooth and nail to have them replace the engine with a new one, which they SHOULD have done.  There IS internal damage, no doubt about it. How much and what exactly is damaged, who knows without tearing it apart but I know there will be internal damage and the life of this engine was significantly diminished, as well as the resell value.
The vibration you have could be due to the internal damage from lack of proper lubrication….and you still have the vibration even after $1K in engine mounts?  Hummmm.
If you do not get anywhere talking to the dealership GM, then ask to speak to the District manager for Cadillac.
I would also visit the dealership and talk to a few of the service department people and ask them. “If this engine were to run out of oil and I continued to drive it, what damage would happen internally”.  See if “timing chain” is low on their list and piston, rings, valves, headgasket, cylinder damage, oil pump etc. etc. are on the top of their list.
I would do this before you meet with the GM, so you can use your findings against him.  Get his own employees to show that massive internal damage would occur, then state your case. This dealer dropped the ball and had a chance to replace the engine at no expense to them or you….and you are a GOOD customer who takes care of your vehicle.
If everything else fails and you get no where, offer to pay for the PART only on the real seal (less than $50) and the dealer does the labor at no charge. They probably owe you some labor credit for the mounts, and running an engine out of oil will certainly damage the real seal and they know that and should have inspected it prior……………….and they had the opportunity to replace the ENTIRE engine!!!!
Maybe they take your vehicle at full trade in value and sell you a 2012 at ACTUAL deal cost and pass on all incentives and rebates to you to keep you as a customer?  With 150K miles, I can only assume you will continue to experience engine issues that will be expensive. Maybe you cut your losses now?
Feel free to show the GM this email. I am ashamed at this situation.


Austin Davis
Reader Follow Up
Thank you so much for your response.
Yesterday the dealer (service guy, not mechanic) said his tech said “wear and tear” was cause of seal leak. Today I called three certified mechanics at different Cadillac dealers and all said that no oil could definitely cause that seal to leak. I called Firestone and the manager stated “seal has nothing to do with low oil”.
I told him he was wrong and that yes it could. I then spoke to Cadillac and asked the service guy why he told me yesterday those things weren’t related when in fact they can be. He stated he didn’t know and maybe it could cause the leak but he was on my side and “if Firestone will pay great!”.
Then I received your email…..
I called Firestone back and told them I had some issues to discuss with Cadillac and not to approve the work yet. They said they probably wouldn’t approve it because Cadillac was supposed to inspect that car before returning it and they were probably out of it at this point. I spoke with a mechanic at my dealer (without anyone knowing) and asked him what could go wrong if no oil.
He said bearings, pistons, cylinders, the whole engine. I asked about timing chain, he said not as often as other engine parts, just like you said. Weird they didn’t replace any of those parts. I also asked how much for engine mounts. He said that wasn’t as big a concern. I asked “could my engine fall out?”
Because that is what I was told and that I HAD to replace those mounts and could not wait on it. (I told the service guy last time I wanted to wait on those mounts because of cost if possible but he said I couldn’t). Original quote for mounts was $1200 but I had a coupon for $200. Their mechanic said no engine won’t fall out and usually Only one mount bad not all of them and the cost is 180-200$ per mount and labor is $100.
REALLY?? So I had my friend call and ask two other dealers the question and she was quoted $700-750 total for mounts. She then got a written estimate from my dealer of $680 total!!!! So, where did this $1200 come in? I am a single mom, working and in school.
I am now on my way to the dealer to speak with a manager. I am furious!! I thank you again, I will let you know what they say. I am prepared to go to our local news with all of this info if they do nothing.
Posted in: Oil Leaks

About the Author:

Austin Davis, consumer car repair advocate. "Hi there! I love to help people solve their car repair problems and I hope my site was helpful to you today. Thank you for stopping by."
  • Austin Davis

    Kathy, yes and no. If you just got an oil change and during the process they happened to see the transmission pan gasket leaking (which should be obvious when doing an oil change) then after the transmission repair they looked the engine over and found an ENGINE Oil leak…that is probably normal wear and tear and might not have been easily spotted just doing an oil change.

    What I would want to know is, is this an actual leak or just a small seep of oil coming from the valve cover? Its not uncommon on older vehicles to see a small seep or oil leak trail from the backs of the valve cover. Sometimes you can just tighten up the mounting bolts on the valve cover and the leak/seep will stop. I would ask them to try that first.

    If you just have a small seep, you can probably hold off on the repair at this time if you need to. But a leaking gasket that is dripping oil on the engine or under the vehicle, that needs to be repaired now.

    $500 might be a little high depending on the labor rates in your area. That engine is tight and hard to work on and if this is the V6 engine it is a few hours or labor time repair for a $30 part.

  • Kathy

    I have a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport. We have had the seal on the transmission pan replaced & an oil change now we have just been told that we have the valve cover gasket fixed. I am not familiar with this, is this something that they would have been able to detect with the other repairs? And is the amount they quoted of $500 reasonable?