How Long Can You Drive Without Oil and What Are the Damages?

How long can you drive without oil?” has likely crossed the minds of drivers who forgot to change or top up the oil before embarking on a long trip, only to discover that it has run out.

how long can you drive without oil

This question has haunted many drivers because the engine is the heart of a vehicle; once its stops, the vehicle is as good as dead. Therefore, many want to know if it’s even possible to drive a vehicle without engine oil and how far it can go.

Fortunately, we have all the answers in this guide, including signs of low engine oil and how to ensure you have enough oil in the engine.

How Long Can Your Car Move Without Oil?

Your car can move without oil for an estimate of about 30 minutes, which is already too dangerous for the engine. Car engines can operate only when there’s oil to provide lubrication for the moving parts. If there’s little oil, the moving parts will grind against each other.

– Effects of Driving a Car Without Oil

The only damage of driving a car without oil is a total engine breakdown that can never be repaired.

Effects of Driving a Car Without Oil

The engine may even burst into a cloud of smoke due to overheating and the metal parts grinding against each other. All these would happen in under 30 minutes.

– Effect of Driving With Low Oil on the Engine

Driving with low oil will damage the engine because the metal parts may rub against each other, increasing friction and causing wear and tear.

Inadequate oil also leads to poor fuel economy as the engine works extra hard to ensure it carries out its functions. Thus, the oil must be enough at all times.

– How Long a Diesel Engine Can Run Without Oil

The engine can run for about 30 minutes before the engine finally gives up, never to work again. When that happens, you’ll need to purchase a brand-new engine and in some cases a new car. Make sure there’s always enough oil in your engine to avoid destroying your car.

A small engine can run for about 30 minutes as well, but just as in the case of the engines discussed above, the small engine might blow up and break down. However, you can ran car without oil for 10 seconds or started car without oil for a few seconds, but that is very dangerous and we won’t recommend it.

– Minimum Amount of Oil an Engine Can Run On

To determine the minimum amount of oil that an engine can run on, dip the dipstick into the oil to the bottom and take it out. If the oil level falls between the two lines on the bottom of the dipstick, then that’s how little oil should be for an engine to run on. Be careful cause old oil dipsticks can stuck but it is possible to remove them.

What Are the Signs of Low Engine Oil?

The signs of low engine oil include the oil pressure warning light and check engine lights illuminating, noise from the engine, the smell of burning, engine overheating, and other symptoms. Regularly check the level of oil with the oil gauge to make sure there’s enough oil in the engine.

– Oil Pressure Light Illuminates

The oil light’s primary function is to tell the oil level in the engine and to alert the driver if the level is dropping. The illumination of this light is a dangerous sign which has to be fixed as soon as possible. 

– Noise From the Engine

Irregular noise from the engine is one of the warning signs that the metal parts are rubbing against each other due to the absence of oil. This should be attended to immediately because, as we discovered earlier, rubbing metal parts could lead to corrosion and quick wear and tear. 

Noise From the Engine

– Overheating Engine

When the engine overheats, then there’s a high chance the oil volume is low and as a result, the metal parts are grinding against each other. As discussed earlier, oil is a coolant that keeps some parts of the engine at optimum temperature. Thus, if the oil is not enough, those parts may become too hot, causing overheating in the engine. 

An engine can run for 15 straight hours, however, it is not advisable to idle for that long. It is fine when you’re in motion but remember to take a 15-minute rest every two hours. When you’re in traffic or just idling, the maximum should be 2 mins before turning the engine off.

– A Burning Smell

When you smell something burning coming from the engine, that is an indication that trouble is looming. If the smell is burning oil, then chances are that either oil is trickling onto hotter parts of the engine or it is leaking inside the engine. If you can perceive an oil smell coming from your vehicle, then you know it’s time to change the oil.

A Burning Smell

What Is the Role of Oil in Cars?

The role of oil in cars include keeping the engine running and various parts of the car functioning well. It fills the space between the piston and the cylinder, and will cool and lubricate the moving parts, leading to less blockages.

Here are some of the essential reasons why you should never allow the oil in your car to go low or run out before undertaking an oil change.

– Oil prevents Corrosion

The oil in the engine prevents corrosion of the metallic parts as they lubricate the entire engine. Corrosion is caused by air reacting with water on a metallic surface, however, the presence of oil forms a protective coating that keeps the metallic surface from reacting with water and air.

Oil prevents Corrosion

There’s no telling the amount of damage that a corroded part of the engine can do to the entire machine. Thus, the engine has to be oiled at all times to maintain its integrity and to keep the car in prime condition.

– Fills in the Space Between the Piston and Cylinder

A cylinder is a chamber in an engine where power is generated to move the car. It features a piston and two valves at the top; one valve allows a mixture of air and fuel into the cylinder while the other gets rid of exhaust gasses.

The piston usually moves up and down the cylinder and its movement is aided by oil, without which the piston will struggle in its movements. Thus, the oil fills the space between the sides of the pistons and the insides of the cylinder to allow for smooth movements.

– The Oil Will Cool and Lubricate the Moving Parts 

The oil serves as a coolant by dampening the temperature of the upper engine and the moving parts. The oil runs throughout the engine and as it does that, it absorbs heat from different parts of the engine and transfers it to other parts.

This way, the engine is kept running at its optimum temperature because exceeding it can cause engine overheating. The oil lubricates the important moving parts of the engine to keep the engine functioning well.

– Engine Oils Prevent Blockages

Synthetic oil is made up of chemicals that bond with carbon and other debris inside the engine as it moves through it. Absorbing these carbons prevents carbon buildup, which is similar to the black soot on chimney walls.

Carbon buildup can block some parts of the engine and cause it to malfunction. Carbon comes from an incomplete combustion process inside the cylinder, which may be a result of a malfunctioning cylinder, piston, etc.

This is why oil change must be done periodically to keep the engine always fresh and free from carbon. A car running without oil is a ticking time bomb.


We’ve answered the question of how long a car can run without oil and its associated damages.

Here is a recap of what we’ve read so far:

  • A car can run for 30 minutes without oil, but that would lead to severe engine problems and engine breakdown.
  • Having a small amount of oil in the engine is not a solution either, as that would lead to overheating because the moving parts of the engine would rub against each other.
  • Signs of a low volume of oil in the engine include overheating, the smell of burning, and noises coming from the engine. 

Always make sure that the engine has enough oil to carry out its core duties and never attempt to drive a car without oil in it.

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