By on November 30, 2009

Anonymous writes:

I have a 2008 Kia Sorento with the 3.3L, about 11k miles.  The other day, I took it to my local mechanic for an oil change. Drove it all over town during the course of the following couple days.  Then, last night, as I am about 3/4 mile from home, my low oil pressure light goes on.  At that point, I roll down my window to listen to the car and can hear a grinding type noise (valves sticking?) on acceleration.  I limp the rest of the way home and turn off the engine.  This morning, I call the mechanic and they send the service manager right over.  No oil on the dipstick whatsoever.  He adds oil to the engine and drives it down the street to the shop.  They inspect, and tell me it is a bad o-ring on the cone filter that caused all the oil to leak out over the course of 2 days, and that it is possible that they had not tightened it sufficiently when the changed the oil.    They said no other damage had been done, replaced the o-ring, changed the oil and filter and sent me on my way.

So my question is this…what is the possibility that other (long term) damage could have been done?  Should I have the vehicle checked out by another mechanic, or even the Kia dealership?  Should I not even inform the dealership, as they may use it as a way to deny future warranty claims?  The vehicle is no longer making the grinding type noise, and seems to be fine.  I may drive it lightly the next few days just to be sure.

Sajeev replies:

Piston Slap’s mission is to look out for our contributor’s best interests, but Karmic forces may beg to differ this time ‘round.  Put another way: you should see no evil, hear no evil. And hope for the best.

Here’s why: running with low oil pressure is a recipe for top-end engine damage, even more so on top-heavy overhead camshaft designs.  And that’s if you’re lucky, more serious engine component failures is likely.  I suspect that at some point oil consumption, noise, or performance will be a concern. I’d start by monitoring the oil level on your dipstick on a monthly basis, and continue until you’re ready to sell the car.

Then again, you have a properly serviced machine (according to your paperwork) with a 100k warranty, right?  You can stick it to da (Kia) man when the bad news arrives, but feel guilty about it.  When an oil light comes on, a Pistonhead gets off the road and stops dead in their tracks.

There’s no limping home.  Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Consider yourself lucky you have a warranty and the motor isn’t damaged to the point of obvious negligence on your mechanic’s part:  that shop owes you big time, otherwise you’d be suing them while Kia washes their hands of it. Things coulda been much worse.

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35 Comments on “Piston Slap: Karma, Idiot Lights and the 100k Warranty...”

  • avatar

    You “limped home” after the engine started going audible?  Dude, if my engine shows a low oil light and it’s making strange noises, I’m shutting it down and walking.  You dodged a bullet.

  • avatar

    Any engine problems that result from this are from your local mechanic and from limping home instead of stopping right there.  Don’t make Kia pay for it.

  • avatar

    You may only have dodged a bullet for a while.  There is no ‘healing’ once an engine is damaged due to oil deprivation.
    However, oil lights tend to come on due to low pressure (not zero), which detects a variety of ills including failures in seals, bearings, or pumps, or in your case, low volume.  The engine wasn’t completely starved of oil, but it was low enough to make noise.
    Since it was only driven this way for 3/4 mile, you might be OK.  Today’s engines are remarkable durable (just watch a Cash For Clunkers video), and a little oil is infinitely better than no oil.
    The problem is that you can’t prove that any damage has occurred.  If it has, Kia will indeed wash their hands of it, and your claim will lie solely with the garage and their admission of fault with the service.  It might be helpful to see if they’ll cover this service incident (in writing) up to the 10/100 limit that Kia offers.  For them to purchase such an insurance policy for this case would be cheaper than an engine replacement, and if nothing goes wrong over 100k miles, everyone’s ahead.  Or, for nearly free, they could just provide a legal document that says they’ll cover any failures due to this service incident.

    • 0 avatar

      Upon further reflection and seeing others’ advice, I’d recommend demanding a new engine from the garage rather than just a piece of paper.  Nobody else should have to pay for it, especially Kia or the next owner.  The garage should have insurance coverage for this sort of mistake, and their efforts to make it right will go a long way toward keeping you as a customer.
      But Kia should be involved, and could even be on your side as a way to protect their interests.  That grinding you heard = metal removal, and you could very well be looking at a spun bearing at 50k miles.
      If you go this route, just make sure the new engine is really new, has a 10/100 warranty, and that the garage sources it through Kia and not some rebuilder or reseller.

    • 0 avatar

      Better yet, have the garage pay Kia to replace the engine.  Then the work will be legit and covered by Kia.

  • avatar

    Same thing happened to me a while ago.
    The grinding noise means your engine is gone. You will find metal shavings on the filter.
    Take the car to the dealership immediately for a complete assessment and leave it there. Document everything and keep records. Ask the dealership to document everything and take pictures of their findings.  Ask the idiot mechanic for the contact information for their insurance company- hopefully they are insured for this kind of incidents. Do not settle for anything less then a new engine. Do not wait! Take immediate action! Do not let the idiot mechanic touch the car again. All work to be done at the dealership. Get in touch with a lawyer if the mechanic does not put you in touch with their insurance company and if they are not admitting the claim.
    In my case, it amounted to a $10000 claim (ten thousand) : complete new engine installed at the dealership and rental car for the entire period it took to have the car fixed. Good luck!

  • avatar

    Of course there is damage. The camshaft will show signs of wear, your crankshaft bearings will be blueish and your cilinder walls will show the marks. This is the easy part to see. Take an endoscope and have a look inside (or let an expert do so).
    On top of that: send your dealer a letter and have him to sign for it in which you describe this happening and make him responsable for the possible damage in a later stage.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    As said previously, the instant the oil light came on the car should have been shut down and not driven another inch. We’re past that now.

    Plan A: If there is an aftermarket oil filter on the car have your mechanic install an OEM one right now. Don’t say another word about the incident to anyone, not even your dog. Have all future servicing done by your Kia dealer. Become a world class schmoozer. Crazy Glue your lips to the service manager’s ass. Schlep a dozen donuts in to the staff. Engage your salesman in light discussions about buying a new car at an indefinite future date. If something lets loose before the heap is out of warranty the world class schmoozing may improve your chances getting it fixed under warranty.

    Plan B. If an unfortunate upbringing or misplaced sense of morality won’t permit Plan A, notwithstanding automakers and dealers are pirates and scoundrels, trade the car in this week.

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    Drove my ’98  Trooper for a day without oil, after Jiffy Lube forgot to re-fill it (yes, it happens!). No detectable damage, so they simply apologized. Ran fine for another year, then the main bearing failed. No more engine.

    I would seriously consider the advice offered above: trade in the car immediately and save yourself the (impending) hassle of a warranty claim on a new engine.

  • avatar

    Omoikane is right. The only thing to do is have the shop buy you an engine. They screwed up. Karma is a bitch, and making Kia pay for it, or having somebody else end up with it is not right. Also for future reference, and to anyone reading this, if your oil pressure light ever comes on, kll the engine immediatly. The oil run at pressure is the actual “bearing” for your crank and rods. If you have low oil pressure, these are now longer suspended. Imagine a ball bearing setup with all the balls missing and you should get an idea as to what has happened. Also your camshaft might have sever wear.

  • avatar

    Rule of thumb, if an engine oil pressure light is on stop the engine right away. If you continue driving with the light on and hear engine noises consider the engines expected life to be short even if the noises go away after refilling with oil. I would go after the garage owner as many on here stated and demand in writing action on replacing your engine if it should fail within the warranty period.

  • avatar

    The proper course of action at this point is to immediately have the local mechanic contact their insurance company and have the engine torn down and inspected by a Kia representative (local dealer). Do not wait another minute to do it!
    Thoroughly document all interactions you have had with the local mechanic (on paper, dated and signed) and continue doing so in the future.
    Do NOT stay quiet hoping that Kia will honor your powertrain warranty. MOST LIKELY running the engine with low oil pressure for such an extended period (i.e., over 30 seconds) has caused very detectable damage to internal components. If/when the engine starts using oil, making noises, running roughly, etc., Kia WILL inspect internal components looking for evidence of running with low oil pressure. They WILL try to wiggle out of paying for repairs if there is a SHRED of evidence of foul play. Good luck to you!

    • 0 avatar

      Keep in mind the car’s diagnostics may show that the oil pressure light went on.  I’d get it checked out first then try to find out if your buddy has insurance.  You may wind up paying, then having to sue him.  Good luck.

  • avatar

    OK…Whats done is done, in the future,shut the motor off,and don’t start it untill you fix the problem.

     For the here and now,as others have pointed out, your engine is toast. So do what you gott’a do.
     Good luck

  • avatar

    “They WILL try to wiggle out of paying for repairs if there is a SHRED of evidence of foul play.”

    Do you have actual knowlege of this or are you just assuming? 

    I got a new engine from VW with no questions asked. I can’t imagine Kia would be any worse. They just check to see that you did all the recommended maintenance – you show them the receipts and they give you a new engine.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s really hard to say.  I’m on a Mini Cooper forum, and there’s loads of stories about clutches failing at under 20k miles.  Sometimes Mini warranties them, other times they fight it tooth and nail.  Sure clutches can be abused, but in many of those cases Mini is just citing the fact that it failed as  proof of abuse, without even examining the clutch.

  • avatar

    Two choices IMO.
    1. New engine.  If you like the car then get a new engine. There a several ways to go about doing this… some more ethical than others… some easier than others. You’ll figure out which course of action is right for you. You can do this now or maybe later on after the current engine develops issues or fails to proceed.
    2. New car. Take the loss on the trade, get rid of it now before it spins a bearing and forces you to make a decision on how to get a new engine.

  • avatar

    I’m on my second Kia, and will probably buy a 3rd next year. I ALWAYS take my vehicles to the dealer for regular maintenence. I’ve had a couple of warranty claims ( a transmission on my Sedona and AC compressor on my Sportage). Not one single second of hesitation to cover these items under warranty, because the dealer knows no one else has ever put a wrench to them.

  • avatar

    Everyone flogged you sufficiently for driving with no oil pressure so I won’t repeat the obvious. But depending on how dedicated you are to the long-term health of this engine, you may want to consider submitting SOAP samples at each or every second/third (depending on your pocketbook) oil change to monitor engine wear. If you’re not running M1 or a similar quality synthetic, I’d start.

  • avatar

    At the state fair some guy was hawking a miracle lubricant additive. When he poured it into an engine, the motor continued to run just fine even though the crankcase had been removed! You have to wonder why that stuff isn’t put in all cars at the factory, because I’m pretty sure carnival barkers aren’t allowed to make false claims.
    Haven’t seen the stuff since. I bet the oil companies conspired to take it off the market, just like they did with the 200 mpg carburetor.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    I can attest to the above advice that when the light comes on, engine goes off, NOW.

    When I had my ’84 GTi still under warranty, the VW dealership changed the oil the day before I was to drive 6 hours home for Thanksgiving.  The mechanic forgot to tighten the drain bolt, and it fell out on I-90 outside of Cleveland.  I noticed the oil light flicker on at first out of sheer luck, but VW was wise enough to also have a buzzer go off when the light came on steadily.   Shut the engine off right away and coasted to the side of the road.  I recall even then there was still a little bit of oil dribbling out of the open drain hole when I looked underneath.

    Got it towed and luckily enough there was a shop that was still open that evening before Thanksgiving; they got a bolt that fit, refilled the engine and installed a new filter and we decided to go on, despite some nice offers from other shop customers to stick around for dinner. No problems on the return trip.  The dealer’s service manager apologized, reimbursed me for the tow and service, took off the valve cover and dropped the pan to check for damage and found none. 

    I drove the car for many more years and never had an engine issue, even after 150k miles when I finally gave it to a relative. 

  • avatar

    Is there anything in the OBD that will hint at a later date the low oil pressure warning went off ?
    While not quite the same league, once the Acura dealer forgot to replace the oil filler cap on my car. A mile down the road when black smoke started pouring from the hood I turned back and yelled at them. I got them to add in the service log what had happened so if anything went wrong I had a paper trail. Nothing ever did in the remaining 3 years I had the car.

  • avatar

    Also, if you do decide to use oil analysis, be sure to keep the results. Like anything long term, you need to establish a base line of what’s typical for your particular engine to identify an abnormal wear pattern.
    I would’ve added this to my above post but the edit function doesn’t work any more for some reason…

  • avatar

    I’d start checking the oil at every tank of fuel. At least for a while until you can establish it is not being consumed or leaked.
    I’d seriously get the offending shop to replace the engine. They know how much damage a short time without oil pressure causes.
    If you can’t get any satisfaction either start saving for another engine or replace the vehicle.
    It’s episodes like this that makes me change my own oil. Nobody cares about my car as much as I do. I really like our older cars and don’t want to ruin the engines b/c somebody wasn’t paying enough attention when they changed my oil.
    And yes – the oil light means turn it off right now – unless you’ll likely be killed for stopping right there.

  • avatar

    I have heard at least 100 solutions for your problem over the years, and I expect none of them worked.  When  we had  such events with the race cars, we’d  fill them with 50 weight oil, and hope they would get through the next quarter mile. At least have someone pull the pan to check for metal. Some of the guys were GMI engineers.

  • avatar

    Years ago while working for a major car manufacturer, we had a training course on basic auto mechanics for the team answering calls at the customer service number.  One neat thing we did was to take an engine completely apart, put it back together, and start it up.  Another exercise was to drain all of the oil out of an engine and turn it on.  The engine continued to idle smoothly for 5 minutes or so… then the technician blipped the throttle and the engine met a noisy and sudden death. 

    Those “miracle oil” demonstrations with idling engines are a bunch of hooey.  An engine running without oil but not under load may live for quite a while, but one under load will wear quickly.

    Most manufacturer warranties are pretty clear in covering manufacturing defects but not damage caused by negligence or lack of care.  You may find a dealer willing to make a warranty claim without asking questions, but it’s unlikely a major repair like this won’t raise some eyebrows with a competent service manager or a factory rep. 

    I agree wth some others here that you should involve the dealer and get them on your side against the independent shop… their testimony and records of an inspection will mean a lot should you find yourself in small claims court against the mechanic.  Trying to play dumb and making a warranty claim will make you look complicit later on and won’t earn you any assistance by the dealer or Kia. 

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    Add me to the list of people who suggest that you come clean with the car dealer and have the engine checked for damage and, if damage, is found, you go back to the lunkheads who probably forgot to remove the old gasket when spinning on a new filter and gasket (a common failure, since the old gasket usually doesn’t come off with the old filter).
    Keeping mum and keeping your fingers crossed about the state of your engine risks the fact that the company (not the dealership; they don’t care; they get paid for warranty repairs) does some thorough checking before giving you a new engine for free.  They know how long their engines should last, given appropriate maintenance; and they also know that screw-ups in mounting a new oil filter and/or tightening the oil sump drain plug are common.  So, they’re going to look for evidence of that along with evidence of who did the maintenance on your vehicle.
    And yes, if you don’t believe in karma or payback or whatever, you can take your vehicle and sell it to CarMax for cash.  Of course, the warranty is transferable; and, if the second owner needs to collect on the warranty, Kia will know who the first owner was.  So, he/she might come looking for you after Kia denies the claim.  Just sayin . . .
    BTW, the illumination of the red oil pressure idiot light or the red high temperature idiot light requires an immediate shut down of the engine, unless you want to buy a new one.
    But you already knew that, right?

  • avatar

    This story has only one bad guy. Its not the dealer,or the driver. Its the shop that did the oil change. The fact that you a heard grinding sort’a noise ,tells me that the engine has got some internal damage. With just 10k on the engine it may take some time to show up.  Pay attention to the comments here,the damage has been done and it WILL show up.
    Good advice from stevelovescars. Take it to the dealer and fess up,let thier tech’s look at it. Armed with that info go back to the shop and make your case. Once again, Good Luck!


  • avatar

    As much as I hate going to a “stealership” I have gone private with a car under warranty.  When the dealer screws up it isn’t going to void the warranty but when pass it to Jiffy Lube or Fred’s garage then it is on you buddy.  Suck it up and take it to the dealer and pray when your engine blows up that they won’t notice that you drove it without oil.

  • avatar

    Hmmm, I agree go to the dealership and fess up and prepare to go to war (if you have to) with the shop.

    Based on a similar experience:

    Take it out for a drive and have someone follow you.  Put the car in L if it is an auto, run the revs up pretty high and then back completely off.  If there’s a puff of blue in the exhaust or it smells, your rings are gone and the cylinder walls are scored.

  • avatar

    +1 on going to the dealer to come clean, not because I like dealerships or its the right thing to do but that the responsible party in this is the original shop and its pretty easy to prove from what you write. Once/if the dealership confirms engine damage you basically have a witness to the crime and the other shop should know that. There are too many variables that can go wrong for you down the road, you might as well address it now while the original shop is still in business and in a position to provide a remedy. If they are messing up a simple oil change I can’t imagine they are getting too many repeat customers.

  • avatar

    The problem with a lot of modern cars is that the oil pressure “sender” isn’t really a sender, it’s just a simple switch the reacts to a few PSI of oil pressure and the “gauge” (if there is one) is manipulated by the computer to point the needle in the “safe” range. By the time the light comes on it’s already too late. You can blame fake “gauges” on a couple of things:

    1. Cost savings from the simpler parts, and:
    2. People who overreact to gauge fluctuations and bring it in insisiting something is wrong

    The dirty little secret is that most modern gauges are simply mechanical “idiot” lights, including the aforementioned oil pressure gauge, the coolant temp and to a lesser extent the volts/amps gauge which is harder to fake but is often “buffered” a bit to control small or insignificant fluctuations…    

    • 0 avatar

      That’s not a “problem” per se.  We don’t have to have a gauge array to compete with a P-40 because cars are generally much better, much more reliable and built to a higher standard than they were even 20 years ago.  The good ol’ days when you had gauges for everything were also the days when you needed them.  The downside to idiot lights is that there’s little time for interpretation.  Things like oil pressure lights require immediate action without considering how close you are to your own driveway.

  • avatar

    Although dealership service depts. are constantly maligned on this forum I am a firm believer in having them do oil changes especially while a vehicle is still under warranty. Not only do you have documented routine maintenance records if this same thing happened and the work was done at a dealership you’d have a much easier time gaining recourse. In addition they have technical service bulletins and of course any open recalls for your vehicle.
    One thing I think most completely ignore when comparing a dealership service dept. to an independent is the overhead cost of both. Consider the typical independent facility versus a dealership service dept. and also the fact that the techs at a dealership are specifically trained to work on your vehicle. If you have a problem like this with a dealership you’re dealing not only with a much more financially viable organization than a typical independent you have the leverage of the manufacturer behind you as well.
    As just about everyone has stated you need a new engine. When you get done with this ordeal was it really worth it to take your vehicle to an independent to save maybe $20 on an all change?

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