By on May 17, 2019

oil pressure

Emmanuel writes:

I own a 2016 Ford Focus SE. The oil light came on, so I went and put a quart of oil in. Unfortunately, I forgot to put the oil cap back on, and realized it too late — when I came to a complete stop, I noticed oil was on the ground.

Luckily, the cap was still under the hood where I sat it down. So I put the cap back on, but the oil light was still on. I went to get some more oil. On my way to the store, I happened to be going up a small hill. My car sounded like it was straining to go up it. Anyhoo, once up the hill it shut down, so I waited a few seconds and start it up again. It went a few car lengths, then stopped completely. Now it won’t start at all, or turn over either.

My question, really, is what could it be, or did I damage my engine more than I think? I’m sending you this because I read one of the reviews (the one with the Impala) and it’s a similar problem/question to mine.

Sajeev answers:

It is 100 percent impossible to know if you damaged your engine, but we can all take educated guesses.

If you’re lucky, this is a well maintained Focus (i.e. oil changes on a regular basis), so there’s no sludge that could could block up oil passages and engine wear was normal for a vehicle this age (and mileage).  If it’s sludge free, just like the Impala, the engine computer shut everything down so it’d save itself.  That’s how the system works, in theory.

If it ran low on oil, has sludge, and you drove it to the point it shut down, the Focus’ motor might be dead. That’s because there’s only so much a computer can do to save a worn-out engine running on low oil pressure.

Too bad that, four years later, I still can’t Google any more information about these low oil pressure safety nets. What say you, Best and Brightest? 

[Image: Shutterstock user ninefotostudio]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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78 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Low Oil Pressure Safety Net? (Part II)...”


  • avatar

    When I was younger just learning to drive my Dad always told me to check the oil level regularly, at least once a month.

    Fast forward to college a few years after my dad had passed away and I was driving his old car and changing oil regularly but never checking the oil level. I was driving to work one day on the highway and the engine shuddered and nothing. On the way home the low oil light came on. I stopped and checked it and sure enough it was low. I added oil and did a full oil change but the damage was done. It threw a rod bearing. Had to get an engine off ebay and my soon to be father-in law who was a mechanic helped me replace it.

    I should have listened to my dad and ever since I check the oil on my old car every time I fill up with gas and even on my wife’s newer car I check it at least once a month. Especially after I take it for an oil change.

    ALWAYS CHECK YOUR OIL LEVEL REGULARLY. It’s the easiest way to avoid a major repair or damage to the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      KevinB

      Although much has changed with cars over the last 30-40 years, the verbiage in the owners manual on this subject has always remained the same: Check the oil level when you fill the tank.

      • 0 avatar

        Every car is different. My BMW ate a qt. every 1500 like clockwork-M54. The Caddy, with the evergreen GM V6 3.6, every 2500. Acura (honda J engine), 1/2 quart every oil change-5k miles. The same maintenance or lack of would do nothing to the Honda but kill the BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I use ladder scheme. When I have a car new to me, I check the oil 3 days later. Then if everything ok – week, 2 weeks, month. At this point I just do by miles – 2K, 3K. Again, if there is no oil usage – 3k. Then during oil change. Now, lets say one day, at 3K check I notice some oil usage – I start to check often again, to measure. If there is stable oil usage, lets say every 2 weeks needs 1/3 of a quart, so, I just do that. If oil usage increases I do more frequent checks. Also, top it off before long trips.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    By the sound of it… engine seized. It could possibly be forced to turn again but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    • 0 avatar
      EAF

      Agree with you Vulpine. I would remove the spark plugs, pour some oil in the cylinders, and attempt to free up by hand w a breaker bar. Even if it frees up, the damage is done I’m afraid.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        As the others stated, “it’s done”. Except the “problem” wouldn’t be in the cylinders. The walls could’ve got scored, but it most likely “spun a bearing”, as in crank bearing. They’re 2-piece bearings and as one half overrides the other, the crank gets jammed.

        At least it should be a simple rebuild, or “rebuildable core”, with minimal “hard parts” damage.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Well, my guess is the engine is good and properly seized.

    Put the car in neutral, pull the spark plugs and see if you can turn the crank by hand (put a wrench on the crank pulley nut).

  • avatar
    TR4

    I check the oil every fuel fill up, but can’t remember the last time I saw anyone else checking their oil at the gas station. When I suggest this to my wife and two daughters they look at me as if I was from another planet.

    • 0 avatar
      mason

      I’m not a check your oil at the pump kinda guy. Those few minutes aren’t enough time to let the oil drain back enough to get an accurate reading. You’ll at least know wether or not there’s any oil in the sump but that’s about it.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Thirty years ago, I used to check my oil at every fill-up.

    Typically, I’d add 1/4 to 1/2 quart between oil changes. By then, the plastic containers were common, so it was easy enough to carry oil in the car.

    I was driving my 2-yr old VW GTI on a long trip. I stopped to fill-up, checked the oil, all good, on my way.

    I stopped again, 200 miles later, to refuel. I open the hood, and horror of horrors….the oil cap was missing–I forgot to put it on!

    No oil buzzer, car had run fine. There was some oil splattered on the valve cover–but not much. The car had been running 60-70 mph for 3 hours.

    There was oil splattered on the hood inner.

    As I looked at the consequence of my stupid oversight, I saw the oil cap… a positive sign! I always placed it on the shock tower. The hood inner had a hole above the shock tower , and the oil cap nested there perfectely.

    The next positive sign. I checked the oil level… it had not moved much, if at all.

    I cleaned the mess as best I could with the paper towels at the pump, REPLACED cap, and was on my way.

    There is some kind of baffle/cover under the valve cover (where the oil cap goes), and I guess I owe my engine to that.

    No permanent damage. Car ran fine and didn’t burn oil when I sold it with 145k.

    Today, I occasionally check, maybe once a month. But after reading this I will check more.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      A friend of mine’s sister had a Fiat Spyder with a 2.0 DOHC engine. She lost the oil cap, her father substituted a rag. The camshaft nearest the oil inlet grabbed it and pulled it into the engine, eventually stopping it. We tore the engine down, it was full of reddiah orange fibers. We cleaned it up and put it back together, it was fine. It just cost her a gasket set and an oil pump.

      Now, the fella who tried to do his own timing belt and got the valve timing off, he didn’t get off so easily…

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        This.
        When I was a teenager, a friend of my older brother did the exact same thing! His was 70s era Nissan pick-up. When they pulled the top of the engine, there were little pieces of the blue rag in all the wrong places. The engine was done!

  • avatar
    Jon

    If your oil light was on before you added oil and your car is only 3 years old (unknown mileage), you have a much larger issue. Something caused the car to loose engine oil (ie: large oil leak, poor maintenance, etc.). The problem here is not whether or not the engine seized; the problem is how will you get this covered under warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      I have no doubt that engine bay is coated with oil, so some serious cleaning will need to occur prior to bringing it in. I can’t imagine it is too hard to diagnose the cause of failure at this point….

      • 0 avatar
        Jon

        The cause of the lack of oil will indeed be easy to diagnose. However, there are multiple reasons the dealership could deny the warranty claim.

        1. Lack of maintenance (or proof of) and improper LOF intervals – many moons ago when i was a tech, a Neon came in with 18k and the factory oil filter still on it. Upon draining, 1.5 quarts of black very burnt oil came out. Its powertrain warranty was quickly voided.
        2. Shop (insert name other than dealership) performed the maintenance and did not fill it up all the way / left the filter loose / double gasketed the filter / etc.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Considering that most newer cars don’t need oil added between oil changes, my guess is that this car was neglected, ran out of oil, and the engine is destroyed. If the owner can’t prove that oil changes were performed according to the maintenance schedule, I would expect Ford to not cover the repair.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        “Considering that most newer cars don’t need oil added between oil changes”

        Most? A lot do! You might be surprised.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          And then there are the ones where the oil level goes up as it gets diluted by gasoline delivered via high pressure direct injection onto low tension piston rings.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            That’s not a warranty repair. That’s a complaint, followed by a recall, likely followed by a class-action lawsuit.

          • 0 avatar
            xtoyota

            Never owned a car that required to add oil…. Except a 2017 Honda CRV–that turd increased oil by adding gas to it. Honda could not or will not solve that problem. Sold it 1-1/2 years ago NO more Honda’s for me :=(

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          We have two 2014 Fords, one with 66,000 and one with 72,000 miles. Neither burns more than a quarter of a quart by the time the oil monitor says it’s time for an oil change. My previous ride was a 2002 Focus, the first time it needed oil added between oil changes was at 115,000 miles.

          I do know some cars routinely need oil added (Porache?, Subaru?) but my experience is that recent model Fords don’t.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            BMW (a bunch of them), GM (Equinox/Malibu 2.4L), Toyota (’07-’10 2.4L 2AZ, 2.7L), Volvo (3.2L I6), Audi/VW (2.0T), Subaru (many older EJs, FBs), Honda (VCM V6s) just off the top of my head.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            “I do know some cars routinely need oil added (Porache?, Subaru?) but my experience is that recent model Fords don’t.”

            Emmanuel had a different experience.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @Todd, When someone runs around with the oil pressure light on I am frankly inclined to wonder about the rest of the maintenance. For all I know it ran low because nobody changed or checked it for 30k miles. Honestly I’ve seen this nonsense on Toyotas most often…nothing wrong with the car, just idiot owners but you’d see it crop up on everything. Saturn’s in the 90s (they actually would use oil), all the way to an E class Benz.

        • 0 avatar
          tomLU86

          I’m with gtem.

          While the selection of new cars does nothing for me, the last car I owned where I had to add oil between changes was a 97 Grand Prix 3800.

          I say add oil because I was obsessive..we’re talking a quarter of a quart between oil changes.

          My trusty 86 Golf would use between 1/4 to 3/8 of a quart every 3,000 miles.

          I cannot remember adding any oil since 1997 (unless dealer under–or OVER filled. I always check after the oil change, and have made them redo it if over) I added oil.

          Hence, I rarely check….

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I used to get my old F150 oil changed at the local GM dealers quick lube (I bought the truck used there and their service was usually solid) – however they started to get concerned when it started coming in a quart low.

            Didn’t take me long to figure out they were under-filling the damn thing.

            My 1967 Mustang on the other hand will burn a quart every couple of thousand miles with out Valvoline HIGH MILEAGE in it.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            My wife’s Camry 2.5l has a recommended 10k oil change interval per the manual, running 0W-20 synthetic. I’d check every 5k, eventually shortened the interval to 7500 miles (and not checking in between). Coming up on the last change, at 7000 miles I started the car up to move it and noticed the engine was notably louder running (minor intermittent knocks that scared the crap out of me initially). Checked the level and I was slightly below the minimum, added almost 3/4 quart. Going forward I’m thinking about shortening to a 5k interval (but keeping filter every 10k), and running Wal-Mart’s new (and cheap) SuperTech 0W-20. I have a vacuum oil extractor that makes the oil exchange part of it very quick.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            The Chrysler/Dodge 318c.i.d. V8 of the late 70s had this interesting habit of somehow blowing the top quart of a full sump… Bought one of these brand new and was religiously topping it off about every 300 miles or so until I asked the dealer about it. They told me the engine always does that and to just ignore it. I did and from then on it would blow the top quart and not lose another drop between oil changes. Still don’t understand why.

            Put 70K miles on it in just 4 years before I traded for a Mitsubishi Sport pickup.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    My money is on a toasted motor. Operating a combustion engine without oil is highly ill-advised for both the long and short term health of the engine and the owners wallet. Find a junkyard motor and someone to swap it in for you if you that is not your cup of tea so to speak.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    Biggest question is WHY would a 2016 anything with only 2900km on it need oil in the first place!?? At Ford, “quality is job…………. eh, about 9”

  • avatar
    mikey

    As others have mentioned, the engine is mostly likely toast.

    Its been a life long practice of mine to check fluids, and tire pressure at least once week . I also check the garage floor, and driveway for suspicious puddles/drips.

    Preventive maintenance, and awareness can save you a whole lot of cash. One could also add aggravation, and inconvenience to the list of benefits .

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      mikey,
      Simple and well put.

      I have little sympathy for those who have a failure due to inaction.

      I’ve even seen people continue to operate a vehicle when they were informed the consequence would result in the destruction of their engine. Then complain about how crappy the vehicle was. Its amazing how some people are.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    This also reminds me of a fun story from back about 20 years ago, when my sister was driving one of those Tercel “tall boy” wagons (bright red, stick). One day she casually asked me “hey what does this red light mean?” That’s your oil light, I replied, kind of important. Oh it’s fine, she said, it’s only been on for a few days (!!)
    Needless to say, we had a chat. But luckily for her, that car didn’t really care if it had oil or not, it ran equally well “with or without”. To the point that when she bought a brand new car (yes a Hyundai for the warranty), I bought the Turdcel from her for a couple hundred bucks as a beater. Even “beat on” it would not die, and I eventually sold it running like new for like $800 in the early days of eBay.

    • 0 avatar
      Jon

      My cousin did the same thing when she moved out on her own and bought her first car. Only she ran her 99 corolla dry 50 miles from home in the mountains where it seized. When asked when the last time she changed the oil, her reply was “you have to do that?” When asked why she didnt stop when all the dash lights came on, her reply was, “they do that all the time so I ignored them.”
      Strangely enough, she put in a used motor in it and drove another 60k before selling it to my brother who put another 50k on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        My Cousin’s Husband did something similar with a Celica that he had bought new. I found this out when my Cousin was thinking about a new car and asked for suggestions. I said Toyotas were a safe bet and he chimed in with “they are junk because the engine blew up on mine at just a few years old”. Pushed he admitted that he hadn’t had the oil changed since he used the coupon for a free oil change.

  • avatar
    gtem

    This might be a hard and expensive lesson for Emmanuel.

    What sort of conditions lead to the oil light coming on in the first place?

    How low was the oil when checked, and did adding the quart at least get the level to start registering on the dip stick?

    I would not nonchalantly drive a car to the store with a oil pressure light on to get some more oil, I’d be uber-ing over there to be honest.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I was taught that the red oil light is the oh-sh$t light, and that one should pull over and shut down immediately upon its appearance. Even if you pull the dipstick and the oil level is perfect, you’re going to want to have the car towed if the light stays on and you don’t have the ability to test the oil pressure sender. Running a shop though, you’d be amazed how many people do exactly what the person asking the question here did and lived to drive another day because the car they never checked the oil in was a twenty year old Corolla.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        +1. My mother lost the engine in her Grand Am (Grand Ma) when the oil light came on and some pump jockey told her she could drive it like that.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …+1. My mother lost the engine in her Grand Am (Grand Ma) when the oil light came on and some pump jockey told her she could drive it like that…

          Not sure how this is possible. Most GM cars are wired so that if the oil pressure is too low the power to the fuel pump is interrupted and it shuts down the engine to avoid seizing it…

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        My Highlander has the towing package that includes an external oil cooler. At roughly 120,000 miles one of the lines started to leak and then blew. The oil light came on and the valves started to chatter but fortunately it was a block from home.

        I shut it down, had my wife pick me up, went to O’Reillys, got a 5 quart jug and put the whole thing in there. Started it back up and there was no chatter all the way to the dealership as it continued to spew oil and make a smoky mess.

        I got lucky on that one.

        But yes “oil” light on it’s time to shut ‘er down.

        • 0 avatar
          BobinPgh

          I can remember what Tim told Jill on Home Improvement when Jill said it was just a little light and wouldn’t there be more: It’s a car, it’s not a game show!

  • avatar
    Sundance

    Hmmm, in my car this symbol means that the engine has no oil pressure (not the level of oil). And when this symbol lights up while engine is running you should stop it and only start again when you have repaired the problem (broken oil pump for example). When your engine died and you can’t crank it now, there is a least one crankshaft bearing gone.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      My experience is that with overhead cam engines, the cam bearings seize first. For a pushrod engine, it could be a main or a rod bearing.

      Only one way to find out.

  • avatar
    Dartdude

    My Dart has a fail safe, it shuts down the engine when the oil is low to safe the engine

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      As much fun as people make of Vegas, they all used an in-tank electric fuel pump, wired through the oil pressure sender (the senders on them have three terminals). If oil pressure drops, the fuel pump shuts off. On my second one (’76 GT hatchback, 5-speed), oil pressure was a little slow to build on cold starts, so the engine would frequently die after the first start, and have to be restarted – it was okay after that. It had 93,000 miles when I bought it, and 218,000 when I sold it (and the head had never been off).

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’ll have to add this to my routine. Malcolm is about to turn 2 and has just shy of 26k.

    Haven’t had issues, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    Side note: that can’t be the OP’s dash. The Focus SE models that I had were full LCD and not dot-matrix.

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    Back 3 decades ago when I was driving my Subie XT 1.000 miles a week I got lazy (girlfriend) about checking oil and the light came on (at about 70K miles), and I immediately topped it off and then changed it. It started burning a quart every 2000 miles afterwards but given that I drove it 220,000 miles before selling it wasn’t fatally damaged.

    In the early 70’s my sister was driving our parents Datsun B210 and the light came on. She drove it 7 miles home and Dad and I realized it had no oil at all. Turns out my recent oil change was with a new filter that had a indented gasket. We put 4 quarts in it and at 60 psi it pumped that Havoline out in about 3 seconds. Put a new oil filter and gasket on it and that B210 went over 200,000 miles.

    Both cars were regularly maintained and used Valvoline or Havoline multigrade.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    Dumb Q: Are modern oil systems pressurized in the manner that modern coolant systems are? In the two instances I’ve seen where engines were run with the filler cap off, the engine ran fine. And–I’m guessing as a byproduct of filler cap location, baffling, and oil passage design–oil didn’t even spill out of the engine in any appreciable volume. Note that I’m talking about a situation where the correct amount of oil is present, and everything else is functioning correctly; the missing cap is the only variable.

    Obviously you don’t want to make a habit of the practice, but I don’t think damage necessarily will ensue.

    Source 1: In the early ’90s, a friend drove one of those 24′ Penske trucks two-thirds of the way across the country with no oil cap on the engine (gasoline, not diesel, incidentally).

    Source 2: My parents got an oil change on an ’04 Colorado, and the service tech forgot to put the cap back on. They drove it at least 14 miles that way, and perhaps many more. I was visiting them a few days later and, wanting to see an Atlas I5 in the flesh, popped the hood. I noticed the missing cap, which thankfully was nestled in a nook elsewhere in the engine bay. I put it back on, and the engine’s been fine for at least five years and many miles since then. (Clarification: They’d bought the truck used in 2013 or so. This would have been its first or second oil change after they took ownership.)

    The oil change actually occurred at a family friend’s indie garage, and he was mortified when I told him what happened. On a couple of occasions since then, he’s pointed at me and wistfully said, “Inline five,” while shaking his head.

    I kind of like the relatively unloved Atlas I5, incidentally, and it’s still running fine at 15 years old.

    • 0 avatar
      Jon

      “Are modern oil systems pressurized in the manner that modern coolant systems are?”

      No. They are two completely different systems. The entire coolant system is pressurized whereas only the oil galleys and other small mechanical devices are pressurized in the oiling system.

      The cooling system cap is typically located on the top of the reservoir (which should be mostly full) or radiator (which should be completely full) where the coolant can very easily splash out of if the cap is left off. Some modern coolant reservoirs even have some sort of baffle inside the reservoir to prevent splashing but if the cap is left off and the coolant expands (thermodynamics and all), the reservoir will overflow.

      The fill cap on the oiling system is located far above the reservoir (oil pan) with many physical barriers between the two. It is practically impossible for oil to flow out of the engine through the oil cap. A very small amount of oil may spray or splash out of the filler neck if the cap is left off but there are usually baffles in place to prevent this.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      no. the crankcase isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) under any significant pressure. leaving the cap off mostly only risks a few things:

      1) oil spattering everywhere from the camshaft flinging it around
      2) foreign objects getting in
      3) the PCV system not working as intended.

      the cooling system is under pressure because that provides boil-over protection; the boiling point of the water goes up about 3°F for every 1 psi increase in pressure. most vehicles run a cooling system pressure of about 21 psi today, so that raises the boiling point of the coolant to at least 260°F.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Not a dumb question at all. If the engine is running in my ’95 Probe GT and I remove the oil fill cap, the engine dies. Not sure why but I know for a fact removing the cap shuts off the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “the cooling system is under pressure because that provides boil-over protection” Yep, that was my understanding. And furthermore that present-day cooling system operate under a higher pressure than, say, 1960s cooling system.

      I guess I’m a little confused as to if or what anything happened to the OP’s car beyond having had the oil cap left off. It doesn’t seem like that should have caused a serious problem absent some other issue. Clearly something’s going on, though.

      Maybe it’s a Ford thing, per golden2husky’s comment. Leaving the fuel filler cap off triggers codes in certain makes and models. Maybe Fords sense what’s going on with the oil filler cap.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    For those with little mechanical sympathy or understanding, here is some wisdom regarding automotive warning lights:

    YELLOW: Such as the “Check Engine” or “ABS System.” You can finish your journey with such a light illuminated, but have your vehicle inspected and repaired ASAP.

    RED: Including Oil Pressure, Coolant Temperature: Stop IMMEDIATELY (safely!), turn off engine IMMEDIATELY.

    There is a reason some lights are yellow and others are red!

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Toyota (at least) also distinguishes between “on” and “flashing” – flashing is more critical than ON.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        IIRC anything in the US in compliance with OBD-2 will flash the (yellow) CEL for active misfires.

        My Chrysler will flash the red “BRAKE” warning if you put it in Drive with the parking brake still engaged, my wife’s Camry doesn’t do this.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        that’s industry standard; flashing CEL means “repeated misfire, stop engine now” else you risk melting down the catalyst.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        I learn something every day. Thank you! Great job Toyota! I believe a flashing red warning light is a great idea—I hope a loud buzzer accompanies it too–as is fairly standard on commercial trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      In my experience, red means “drive 300+ miles with the light on, then forget to mention it until questioned directly by the person from whom you borrowed the car.” Oh wait, that’s only if my brother is borrowing my car. Fortunately the light just indicated an EGR valve that was beginning to fail, and it didn’t cause any other issues. That was 17 years ago, and the car in question is still alive and kicking at 22 years old (owned now by a family friend).

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Stick a Fork In It, Because It’s Done

    It’s entirely possible this started as a warrantable defect. No mention if the oil level was checked prior to the addition. If the oil light comes on, you *always* check the level *before* adding oil; if it’s within a reasonable range (even if it’s a hair low), DO NOT add oil, and call a tow truck.

    No mention if the light ever turned off when the oil was added. If it didn’t, that’s further evidence there was something wrong besides not enough oil.

    In any case, no matter what problem it started with, continuing to drive it with the light on will toast the engine, and since the carnage will effectively disguise whatever the instigating problem was, result in a warranty claim denial.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Emmanuel, your engine is probably toast. But not because of the oil cap. Leaving that off can make a mess under the hood, but it’s really only a small amount of oil that just gets splashed everywhere. The motor couldn’t lose enough oil to cause damage in just a trip or two.

      As sirwired said, the question is, why did the oil light go on in the first place? Low oil level may not have been the problem at all.

      Here’s what the Focus owner’s manual says on the oil light:
      “Engine Oil:
      If it illuminates with the engine running or when you are driving,
      this indicates a malfunction. Stop your vehicle as soon as it is safe to
      do so and switch the engine off. Check the engine oil level. See Engine Oil Check (page 216).
      Note: Do not resume your journey if it illuminates despite the level being correct. Have the system checked by an authorized dealer immediately.”

      So this is not a low oil LEVEL light. This is a low oil PRESSURE light. If that is on, you stop the engine. Driving without oil pressure is deadly to engines.

  • avatar
    chris724

    That little oil can light on the dashboard means “add engine”.

  • avatar
    Mathias

    @Dan — the flashing vs. steady check-engine light is universal, as far as I know.

    @R Henry — Many cars have two “oil lights” — one for level and one for pressure. What you say makes sense, but I seem to remember they are both red.

    Reminds me of the old line from Click & Clack — That light should say ‘$5,000’ maybe people would pay attention!

  • avatar
    65corvair

    If it’s red, stop now or you will die. Yellow, ok for now but needs attention soon. We had an engineer at work who ran her car out of oil and of course destroyed her engine. An engineer!! My cousin the “smart” one, who has a Phd kept driving when the temp light came on, coolant leak. New engine.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I had a 2009 Clubman S which had the 1.6L engine that – I found later – was notorious for burning oil. I bought the car used, drove it for a few weeks without checking the oil, assuming (ha!) that everything was okay. One day, after a sharp right turn, an orange “low oil” light popped on the main display. Checking the oil, there was just the smallest dab on the bottom of the dipstick.

    Long story short – I ended up adding three quarts of oil to get to the proper level. But the orange check oil light kept randomly popping on. I did a full oil change, reset the “change oil” indicator, and the problem “went away”. Well, as long as you remembered to check the oil all of the time. And that’s when I learned all about the horrid little Prince engine.

    I was happy to see that car go; felt like a bucket of bolts.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Many many years ago when I was working as a mechanic during college we had a quite interesting car come in. The car was a early 70’s Dart that had seen better days by this point. The customer a rather large woman on some sort of public assistance.

    She called up and made an appointment for a tune up sating the car was having trouble making it up the local steep hill. It had to be after the first of the month so that she would have her check.

    Well the first of the month comes and she comes clattering and knocking into the parking lot. She came in and stated that she was here for the tune up she had scheduled a couple of weeks ago. We of course knew that wasn’t the entire story. So the owner started pushing and it came out that the oil light had been on since before it started having problems getting up the hill and she didn’t think it was that important.

    Well we pull it in to the shop and find no oil on the dipstick. Since the boss had a good running slant 6 in the back of the storage are, where it had lived since well before I started working there, the decision was made to put that in her car.

    The owner decides to see if he can kill the engine since it was already toast. He stood there working the carb linkage, holding it WFO for several seconds at a time. After what seemed like 30 min and stinking up the shop heavily, he finally gave up. Now I had a nice and hot engine to deal with yanking out. It was still warm when it hit the ground. Would have been great if it was the middle of winter but it was the middle of summer and hot.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      You should have just filled it up with oil and sent her on her way. My sister refused to check the oil on her car as a matter of principle. “All that matters about a car is that it has gas,” was her reply to my trying to explain that her ’71 Scamp leaked and burned oil and that she needed to top it up whenever she added gas. I poured more than four quarts of oil into that slant-6 on a number of occasions when I visited her or traded cars with her for various reasons. It would quiet down and continue its oil drinking ways for another month or two. Eventually it became my daily driver. I blew up the back axle, ran it low on gas which caused sediment in the tank to ruin the carburetor, and had a few electrical problems. The engine never so much as received a valve adjustment, and it was still working fine for a few years in the hands of the guy who bought it from me until he lost it in a divorce. My sister’s next car was a new turbo Dodge Lancer. It once made it 17,000 miles between head gaskets, but never saw the 50,000 miles the warranty promised.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        “ran it low on gas which caused sediment in the tank to ruin the carburetor”

        See, she told you so. :)

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        A friend of mine’s wife has destroyed 2 engines in the same vehicle. They bought one of the first GMC Envoys in the Toledo area. The first engine died at almost 100K miles (About 3 years for them, they drive the hell out of any vehicle they own and keep them until they are almost half rust) when the oil light came on due to a hole in the oil pan from a rock hit. There was a trail of oil almost all the way home from wherever she was at when the rock hit until about 100′ from their driveway. It seized up just as she was pulling up to their house. It was explained to her, very clearly, to shut the engine off and DO NOT KEEP DRIVING IT if the oil light on any car comes on. So about 15 years later, the Envoy has a ton of miles on it’s junkyard motor, with never any problems, and my friend has just taken it in for an oil change a couple of days earlier. His wife and her sister were someplace across town and the oil light came on, the oil filter had split and had been spitting out a stream of oil which had been burning on the exhaust, “That must have been what we smelled at every stoplight!”. Of course, she kept driving and siezed the second engine. At that point the Envoy went to the boneyard, and was replaced with a nearly new Yukon. She swears she won’t drive anything with an oil light on again. Somehow, I don’t believe her.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    >>>I own a 2016 Ford Focus SE. The oil light came on, so I went and put a quart of oil in. <<<<

    why did they not check the level and put *whatever it took to fill it all the way up*?

    its an OIL PRESSURE light. when that comes on, the damage is BEING DONE. and when that light comes on it means the bearings are worn enough that it cant maintain pressure.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Lets talk about filler cap… yea, this is similar to that double filter gasket.

    There must be an established procedure. I change my oil all my life. I have never had failed gasket oil filler cap. I have procedures.
    1. Look at filter port.
    2. Before leaving under car hand-check filter and drain plug
    3. Before closing hood, make sure all filler caps are in place

    Follow these every time and nothing bad will happen.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    As others have mentioned vehicles are different; Some have low oil pressure warning light, some have low oil level light, some have both. Some have a system to stop the engine from running with insufficient oil/oil pressure.
    About oil (710) caps left off/missing; This will also depend on the vehicle and motor. Some motors will puke out enough oil in a few miles of driving to lead to engine damage or a fire if the oil gets on something hot like the exhaust. Others can go a long time with just a small mess resulting. Some will record an error/fault code in the PCM/ECM. Similar to a loose or missing gas cap. The oil cap can be considered part of the PCV system and is part of the emission controls. That is probably why the post about the engine stalling when the cap was removed. Possibly the PCV was malfunctioning or that the way it is. Can’t imagine a scenario where the engine designers will want the engine to run without the oil cap.
    When I was in the vehicle service business I found it difficult to inform vehicle owners of these things, such as checking the oil level with the stick or not running the engine when warning lights are on. Typical response was “I don’t have time for that/ I had to get someplace.”
    Often they wanted a “free” or discount repair on a vehicle they bought somewhere else and was 10 or more years old and now needed an engine repair/replacement.
    I suppose now it’s worse as people are used to fixing electronic things with new batteries or software updates.
    An anecdote: I know of at least several engine types that the oil will run 30-50 Deg F cooler when the level is at the lower mark on the stick. Probably due to the higher oil level getting whipped around inside the engine. This is probably the cause of the earlier post about the 360 that would use the 1st quart rapidly. Saw that on Dodge vans in the 1970s.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Silly me, I was under the impression cars will tell (with obnoxious flashing lights, buzzers and or chimes) you when you’re catastrophically low on oil. I’m sure every car could, but who’s asking for that? Everyone is too busy demanding gadgets galore, Apple Carplay and whatnot.

    It’s the same (or similar) when an engine is destroyed from going through 8″ of water. Yeah a “low” intake snorkel is for aerodynamic reasons (even on cars with 4 square feet of fake grill), but a bypass flap (or similar) could save the engine, since water does weigh a lot.

    Being in the auto repair industry, I see both scenarios a lot, and it’s as if no one is looking out for consumers.

    So what’s in it for automakers? When it’s the owner’s fault the engine is destroyed, it’s all profits for the OEM amd dealers.

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