Piston Slap: Karma, Idiot Lights and the 100k Warranty

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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.

(Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com)

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Wheeljack Wheeljack on Nov 30, 2009

    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...

    • Criminalenterprise Criminalenterprise on Nov 30, 2009

      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.

  • Mtymsi Mtymsi on Dec 01, 2009

    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?

  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X '19 Nissan Frontier @78000 miles has been oil changes ( eng/ diffs/ tranny/ transfer). Still on original brakes and second set of tires.
  • ChristianWimmer I have a 2018 Mercedes A250 with almost 80,000 km on the clock and a vintage ‘89 Mercedes 500SL R129 with almost 300,000 km.The A250 has had zero issues but the yearly servicing costs are typically expensive from this brand - as expected. Basic yearly service costs around 400 Euros whereas a more comprehensive servicing with new brake pads, spark plugs plus TÜV etc. is in the 1000+ Euro region.The 500SL servicing costs were expensive when it was serviced at a Benz dealer, but they won’t touch this classic anymore. I have it serviced by a mechanic from another Benz dealership who also owns an R129 300SL-24 and he’ll do basic maintenance on it for a mere 150 Euros. I only drive the 500SL about 2000 km a year so running costs are low although the fuel costs are insane here. The 500SL has had two previous owners with full service history. It’s been a reliable car according to the records. The roof folding mechanism needs so adjusting and oiling from time to time but that’s normal.
  • Theflyersfan I wonder how many people recalled these after watching EuroCrash. There's someone one street over that has a similar yellow one of these, and you can tell he loves that car. It was just a tough sell - too expensive, way too heavy, zero passenger space, limited cargo bed, but for a chunk of the population, looked awesome. This was always meant to be a one and done car. Hopefully some are still running 20 years from now so we have a "remember when?" moment with them.
  • Lorenzo A friend bought one of these new. Six months later he traded it in for a Chrysler PT Cruiser. He already had a 1998 Corvette, so I thought he just wanted more passenger space. It turned out someone broke into the SSR and stole $1500 of tools, without even breaking the lock. He figured nobody breaks into a PT Cruiser, but he had a custom trunk lock installed.