How To Unseize An Engine That Ran Out Of Oil

Seized or locked engines due to short or no oil supply is an alarming issue for vehicle owners. Yet, you can still revive your engine by knowing how to unseize an engine that ran out of oil.

Engine seizures refer to the failure of the engine to stop functioning altogether. It can either be through weird noises and smoke in the engine or even when it does not work when you try to start.

This problem is usually associated with oil starvation or the lack of lubrication on the various engine components. Water immersion and corrosion can also lead to a locked engine.

Addressing this problem usually requires professional repairs and replacements that could cost huge amounts of money. However, given that you have the appropriate skills and tools, you can unseize the engine for yourself.

What should you know about engine seizures? How can you tell if the engine of your vehicle has been seized?

Lastly, what can you do when this problem happens to your engine?

Why Do Engine Seize?

Engine Seizures from Oil Starvation

Engine seizures can cause frustration among drivers like you. It means that your vehicle does not function, even if you try starting the engine a couple of times more.

The problem can get even worse, depending on its severity. You may end up spending more on possible replacements and repairs for an engine part or of the whole engine.

To give you a perspective, replacing a damaged fuel pump can cost between $500 to $1,500. Meanwhile, engine rebuilds are priced at around $3,000 to $5,000.

If the damages to the engine are so severe that it is unusable, you can replace it with a newer one. The price for this service can be at a whopping $5,000 to $10,000, though.

How come repairs and replacements due to locked engines get expensive? Believe it or not, damages in the engine area due to simple mistakes and failures in handling the vehicle.

Listed below are some of the reasons for seized engines:

Engine Has Little To No Oil

Engine Has Little To No Oil

One of the common causes of engine seizures is oil starvation. It happens when the engine isn’t filled with recommended amounts of oil for lubrication and lowering its temperature.

Engine oil is essential for our vehicle engines. As this part tends to work under immense pressure and friction, oil aids in ensuring a smooth mechanical system.

However, low oil levels can lead to the tearing of engine parts. Over time, when you forcibly drive your vehicle under such conditions, the engine may stop altogether.

Other causes in this list, such as damaged oil pump and other engine parts and overheating, stems from insufficient oil.

Faulty Oil Pump

The oil pump is necessary for circulating oil to other parts of the engine. Without a functioning oil pump, engine oil couldn’t reach the parts that needed lubrication.

Despite filling up your engine with an adequate supply of oil, it cannot do its purpose if there’s a faulty oil pump. It can seriously damage chafing engine parts that tend to get hot when you operate your vehicle.

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Damages in Other Parts of the Engine

Adding to the preceding issues, other damages also cause a locked engine. It includes faulty cylinders, pistons, and valves.


Aside from lubrication, engine oil helps in lowering the temperature in the engine. However, when there’s not enough oil and failure in circulation, the engine parts will not be cooled down.

In turn, the engine will produce smoke and weird noises. It can be dangerous to drive under this circumstance.

Other Issues

Aside from low oil issues, engine lock and failure can also happen when you drive on deep flooded waters. Pistons and cylinders immersed in deep waters will result in an automatic engine shutdown.

Engines exposed to water and idling can also be exposed to rust, which damages an already vulnerable engine.

Lastly, older vehicle models may be prone to vapor lock. It is considered a rare occurrence when liquid gasoline turns to vapor, resulting in a shutdown.

Symptoms Of A Seized Engine

Engines that have shut down or are about to seize have warning signs that could indicate a potential engine problem. It’s important to stop driving and don’t attempt to start the engine when these symptoms emerge.

Engine Wouldn’t Start

You can think of several reasons why your vehicle’s engine wouldn’t start. Often, we think of a dead battery or a faulty starter motor when this happens.

Yet, another reason for a non-functioning engine may be that it has been locked due to damages inside it. It could be a faulty timing belt that, when not functioning properly, can be damaging for the engine valves and pistons.

If the engine wouldn’t start, it’s best to inspect the engine for potential damages despite your best attempts. Contact a professional repair service for further assistance.

Weird Clunking Noises

Another notable symptom of a possible engine failure is weird clunking noises in the engine. These noises could come as “knocks” or “taps” coming from the vehicle’s hood.

Because of lack of oil, the engine components, such as the cylinders) will hit each other as you use your vehicle.

These noises could come as “knocks” or “taps” coming from the vehicle’s hood.

Presence Of Smoke

An overheated engine that is about to break down may produce smoke on the hood. Blue smoke on the exhaust system is specific to problems involving oil.

No Warning Signs

While certain symptoms of a locking engine can cause concern, a non-functioning engine with no signs could also be alarming.

Even if there is no smoke or noises involved, just a quiet engine that does not work could inform you of engine seizure.

What To Do When Your Engines Got Locked

What To Do When Your Engines Got Locked

If you feel something odd with your vehicle’s performance or symptoms show up, stop using your vehicle. Instead, immediately find an appropriate spot for you to park.

Alternatively, you can inspect your vehicle’s ability to turn. If there’s difficulty in cranking, immediately park on the side of the road for safety.

For drivers who are just about to use their vehicles, once your engine does not start despite attempts, do not use your vehicle further.

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Inspect whether other symptoms manifest, including noises and fumes in your engine. You can also refill the engine with oil for lubrication.

However, as much as possible, avoid using the engine without proper inspection as driving is risky under this condition. Instead, refer to a trusted mechanic or nearby repair center for review for damages.

Engine Seizures from Oil Starvation: DIY Repair Guide

While professional repair and maintenance is the way to go, you can also do DIY repairs by yourself for seized engines. However, you should have the appropriate tools and skills to do this.

Again, as much as possible, you need to have experience in fixing seized engines. You may run the risk of further damaging your engine to the point of no chances for repair.

Tools You’ll Need

Before anything, prepare the following tools:

  1. Breaker bar
  2. Standard and Phillips screwdriver
  3. A set of combination wrenches
  4. Socket Tool Set
  5. Sealant for Gaskets
  6. Replacement Gasket
  7. Penetrating Oil
  8. Pen and Masking Tape

Step 01 – Double Check If The Engine Is Stuck

A non-functioning engine is usually caused by several issues, not limited to engine seizures. Ensure first that you have understood the problem with your engine before conducting repairs.

Step 02 – Disassemble

After determining that the engine is seized or locked, disassemble parts of the engine for inspection. It includes the cylinder head, crankshaft, and pistons.

Removing the components can help in determining the culprit behind locked elements.

Step 03 – Equalize The Pressure

Release pressure from the engine by removing spark plugs using sockets.

Each plug has a specific number of connected wires. It means that you should take note of the wires as you disconnect and reconnect them.

Step 04 – Open The Valve Covers

Stuck bolts secure valve covers on the cylinder heads. In this case, remove the stuck bolts one by one using a wrench.

After removing the covers, pull off each rocker arm by detaching the nuts attached to it. Separate the pushrods from the cylinder head before moving the crankshaft.

Step 05 – Turn The Crankshaft

Located at the foreground of the engine block, look for the bolt head at the belt pulley or harmonic balancer. Fasten a socket using a breaker bar.

Rotate the bolt clockwise to loosen up the engine. If you find it difficult to move the bolt, lubricate each cylinder with penetrating oil.

However, this process can take some time for the oil to cover the piston rings.

Step 06 – Reassemble The Parts and Test

After loosening up the engine, attach the parts that you have removed during the previous steps. Attempt to start the engine after.

If the engine doesn’t function despite following the steps, you may need to resort to professional repair or replacements.

Rebuilding A Seized Engine

Can a seized engine be rebuilt? Yes, for cases due to oil starvation.

However, there are considerations in rebuilding a seized engine. Depending on the design of the engine and the severity of the problem, engine rebuild can be very expensive.

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Rebuilding an engine can be between $2,500 to $4,000, including re-installation and replacements of bearings and other engine parts.

Another option for you is engine replacement, especially if the engine can’t be saved. Yet, the price of engines can be different depending on the build required for your vehicle.

For instance, four-cylinder engines can cost about $4,000. V-configured engines such as the V6 and V8 can cost about $5,500 and $7,000, respectively.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Can You Fix An Engine That Ran Out Of Oil?

Yes, you can do some do-it-yourself repairs for your engine, as long as you have the necessary tools and materials for the task. You may still end up damaging the engine more if you’re not careful with handling the engine.

However, if you’re not well equipped, you might as well refer to a professional repair service. They will recommend what’s necessary for the engine.

How Long Can An Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage?

Your engine can still function for your driving even without oil. However, you can only go so far at a certain period before damaging the engine.

Unoiled engines can still be operable for 15 to 20 minutes, or even below 30 minutes at best. However, engine damage can still occur within these periods as you’re forcing the engine parts to work without oil.

Remember that engine oil is essential for lubrication and temperature cooldown. Without this liquid, overheating and intense friction will bring damage to your engine.

Will Cars Shut Off If There’s No Oil?

Yes, but vehicles have different operating mechanisms when oil levels are too low for continuous operation of the engine.

Most cars simply shut down the engine through seizures. It is troubling for your vehicle as the shutdown can be permanent if the damages are severe.

Meanwhile, newer car models have automatic shutdown features where cars stop functioning when engine problems occur. The harmful effects of this feature are often discussed related to vehicle idle and long-term inactivity.

Remember to Fill Your Vehicle With Oil

Engine seizures due to low oil levels can be fixed, but the odds of cheap repair are lacking. Nonetheless, there are ways on how to unseize an engine that ran out of oil.

Still, the best way to avoid high costs and stress from difficult repairs is simple. You should always fill your vehicle with oil at recommended amounts and monitor for possible low oil issues.

Your vehicle engine is a powerful but delicate mechanism that requires proper handling and maintenance. Do not let your engine shut down permanently, and be responsible for maintaining a healthy engine.

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