I've just realised I've been driving around with oil which is quite a bit below the minimum mark on the dipstick.

How long before the engine sustains damage like this? If youve done it for 100 miles is it just the case that parts have worn but they're still ok enough that they will do their job so provided I do oil changes for future, the engine will still last a long time?


  • Well, a couple questions. How much do you value the car? Second, how far below the minimum was it? And is it normally looked after? Jul 10, 2018 at 19:01
  • @MichaelLonghurst - I'd suggest if it's at all low on oil, it's not normally looked after ... but that'd be JMHO, not the fact of the matter. Jul 10, 2018 at 21:00
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 The odds are likely that it isn't looked after 110%, but there are certainly many circumstances that could lead to it being one time. Underlying leak, financial issue, lending it, sitting for a while etc etc. It's worth asking I guess Jul 10, 2018 at 23:34
  • "quite a bit below the minimum mark' how much is "quite a bit"?
    – Moab
    Jul 12, 2018 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


I agree with Solar Mike. The crankcase has a reservoir of oil to supply the engine with the oil it needs. It is unlikely you wore out any parts at all under normal driving.

Years ago, my family owned a car that consumed oil. One time, it lost three out of five quarts of oil as we drove it locally (no oil at all could be seen on the dipstick). No damage was sustained. A few years later, it lost four out of five quarts and at that point, after highway driving, it developed a nasty engine rap at idle (probably wrist pin damage).

I've read that running an engine for sustained periods with one quart (out of five) low is not good. The engine runs hotter because about 15% of the engine's heat is dissipated through crankcase oil. Less oil means less heat transfer and therefore higher than usual engine temperatures. Even so, it would take tens of thousands of miles to cause accelerated wear.


If the oil level was close to minimum and you were driving on the flat then you should be ok.

If you were driving at extreme angles, doing hill climbs etc then the damage will be severe.

At some hills / angles in between then the damage will be less severe, but there is no way to measure the reduced life.

All you can do now is to look after it properly : service intervals respected, checking all the levels weekly and always before, and during, long trips - stopping for 10 minutes when filling with fuel and checking the oil level and having a tea or coffee break etc...

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