Informational Guide

What Happens If Your Car Runs Out Of Oil?

Changing your oil is one of the best ways to keep your car in good shape. But what happens if your car runs out of oil?

Engine oil is the lubrication needed by car motors to ensure proper operation. If the engine begins to run low on oil, it can cause a lot of problems. But what happens if your car runs out of oil?  

We discuss how vital engine oil maintenance is and what to do if the vehicle runs out of this essential fluid.  

mechanic adding oil to car engine

Cars use oil to keep the metal components inside the engine lubricated. While cars will use up some oil from time to time, you may need to add a little at times.

That’s why it’s important to check the oil levels frequently. Here are some reasons you might be wondering - if my car runs out of oil, what happens? 

  • Engine Oil Leak  
    The most common reason that your car will run out of oil is if there is a leak. You might be able to see it under the car if it is a major leak, or it could be slow and steady. With a small leak, the oil could be pooling up on other components, making it harder to notice unless you see smoke from the burning oil on hot engine parts.  
  • Blown Head Gasket  
    If the car runs out of oil but no leaks are obvious, you might be facing a blown head gasket. The head gasket is responsible for forming a seal between the cylinder head and the engine block. When it fails, oil can start leaking internally, leading to engine smoke, poor fuel economy, and downgraded performance.  
  • Failed Piston Rings  
    The engine could also be wearing out internally. These defects could cause the engine to use up more oil than normal. Defective piston rings keep the oil in the crankcase. Blowby allows air and fuel to mix past the piston rings while allowing the oil to travel into the combustion chambers. This creates more engine wear that could cause damage and blue-grey exhaust fumes.  
  • Bad PCV Valve  
    The crankcase is found in the bottom of the engine. Pressure builds up in the crankcase while combustion gases move past the piston rings. This blowby is relieved by the Positive Crankcase Ventilation, but when it malfunctions, pressure continues building up until it forces oil past the gaskets and seals.  
engine oil bottles

How To Tell If A Car Is Running Out Of Oil?  

Burning Oil Smell 

What happens when your car runs out of oil? You might start to smell burning oil from within the cabin. Any time oil is burning, it indicates a leak onto a hot component of the vehicle. If you check the unusual engine smells early, you might be able to prevent running out of oil.  

Strange Noises 

If you notice a clunking sound coming from the engine area, you might have a motor with low oil. When there’s not enough lubrication in the engine, parts start to rub together, creating either a knocking or clunking sound.  

Weaker Performance 

When the engine has the right amount of oil, it runs as it is supposed to. However, when the oil becomes low, the engine power suffers. As a result, you might notice trouble with acceleration, or you could spot a decrease in fuel economy.  

Overheating Engine 

As oil levels get lower, the engine is going to start overheating. The lack of engine lubrication leads to more friction among the internal components, resulting in a higher temperature. If the temperatures get too high, a fire can follow.  

Oil Pressure Warning Light 

As oil levels drop, the pressure will do the same. Modern vehicles are equipped with an oil pressure warning light that turns on once pressures drop below a certain value. Your vehicle might also have an oil pressure gauge for reference.  

What Happens If Your Car Runs Out Of Oil While Driving? 

Just as you should know how to perform engine maintenance, it’s vital to understand what happens when the car runs out of oil. For starters, you want to catch the problem before the engine completely runs out of oil.

In most cases, this is possible by paying attention to the gauges and warning lights. If the above symptoms occur, you want to pull over immediately and have the vehicle checked by a qualified technician. Your swift action can prevent engine damage, which is a costly repair. 

But what happens if the car runs out of oil? If the vehicle does completely run out, it is going to stop operating. At first, it might keep going while causing massive damage to the internal parts.

However, it won’t take long until complete engine failure sets in and the vehicle ceases to run any longer. That’s why you should always have any engine issue checked out before it becomes too large to manage.  

mechanic checking car oil

How To Check Engine Oil On A Car 

One of the most vital aspects of proper car maintenance involves checking the engine oil and oil pressure. If your vehicle has a dipstick, you want to follow these steps to see how much oil is in the motor. 

  1. 1
    Park on level ground. 
  2. 2
    Wait until the engine is cooled down unless the manufacturer recommends slightly warming it up. 
  3. 3
    Pull the dipstick out of the reservoir and wipe it off with a clean rag. 
  4. 4
    Insert the dipstick back into its place.  
  5. 5
    When you pull it out again, you want to check where the level is. It should be between the L and H or MIN and MAX lines. If it is low, top it off.  
  6. 6
    Replace the dipstick.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How long can you drive with minimum oil? 

You shouldn’t ever drive your vehicle with low oil. The lack of lubrication can cause irreversible damage to the internal parts, leading to complete engine failure. If the engine oil is low, pull over and add some more.  

How many miles can you go when your oil light comes on? 

If the oil service light comes on, you want to have it checked right away. If the oil levels are okay, you can continue to drive the vehicle for a short time but wouldn’t want to ignore the problem.  

Can you start a car after running out of oil? 

You don’t want to learn how to start a car after running out of oil. Without oil in the motor, the internal parts are going to rub together and create an excessive amount of friction, leading to engine failure.  

Can I just add oil to my car at any time? 

You can add oil to the motor any time it's needed. However, adding oil is never considered a replacement for regular oil changes and engine maintenance. If you add oil or oil additives, make sure it is compatible with what's already in the motor.  


What happens if you run out of oil in a car? Nothing good, which is why you want to have it looked at before the motor is completely out. By learning what to do if your car runs out of oil, you prepare yourself for these emergency situations.