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Got an oil change in a 2019 Hyundai Kona at a Valvoline quick change shop at 50,000 miles. 5 weeks and 1,800 miles later, the oil light came on. A check showed no oil on the dipstick.

Towed to the dealership and they added oil - it poured out on ground. On the lift, the tech found the oil plug lying in the drain pan and no oil in the car. They said that the oil plug was not properly tightened and had vibrated loose over the time since the change. They refilled and the engine operated. But 2 weeks and 200 miles later the engine started knocking. Towed it in to the dealership.

The engine was still full of oil, but the engine had seized from the damage and would have to be replaced. I had the engine examined for any other damage or recall (such as the fuel pump) and nothing was found. Nothing else can be found wrong with the engine not related to the oil loss.

The original oil change business will not pay. They say that the damage from the loss of oil would have shown up immediately, not 200 miles later. Is this correct? Could it have taken 200 miles of driving to show up?

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  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! Feb 7 at 22:47
  • I don't understand how they found the oil plug in the drain pan? What is the drain pan? Either the oil sump plug had already fallen out and it was on the road somewhere, or it had dropped out onto the lower engine cover.
    – HandyHowie
    Feb 8 at 11:34
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    "damage from the loss of oil would have shown up immediately, not 200 miles later." If the drain plug was not properly tightened and vibrated even looser and oil seeped down the threads, then the loss of oil and the damage would have been gradual.
    – chili555
    Feb 8 at 16:35

3 Answers 3

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There is no clearly defined time after which low oil damage will become apparent. But your experience sounds typical to me. There are any number of Youtube videos that show running engines without oil and it's amazing how long they last, but they do eventually fail.

In this case an improperly torqued drain plug could take some time to work its way loose. How long depends on how loose it was. But lacking any other work on the engine or damage from road debris (that would likely be visible) it's the shop's fault.

You may need to sue the oil change place to get any kind of settlement but I'd start with an attorney-crafted demand letter. From what you've said they are liable but it's easy to just say, "we're not responsible" and hope you go away.

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    Spot on ... while it's easy to know they are responsible for the troubles, it's another thing to prove it. If it had been run without oil for any period of time, and it only takes 200 miles for it to get seized, I'd say it's pretty much a foregone conclusion the lack of oil is what did the engine in. Today's engines will run for hundreds of thousands of miles with proper lubrication and maintenance. If it's only gone 50k and has given up the ghost and it's right after the lack of lubrication? Seems pretty much the issue. Feb 7 at 22:35
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    Wouldn't one also expect the lawyer to collect a statement from the dealership that found the plug in the drain pan?
    – fred_dot_u
    Feb 8 at 1:01
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    I'd expect the lawyer to know his business.
    – jwh20
    Feb 8 at 3:12
  • @fred_dot_u I'd expect it unlikely for the lawyer to collect such a statement prior to writing a first demand letter, or even prior to filing a lawsuit. A demand letter from a lawyer is basically saying "You owe me. I'm willing to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit, which increases your costs, so pay/settle now." You don't need evidence such as the dealer's statement until later in the legal process, although it helps to have it and that it's made contemporaneously, so it's not unlikely the lawyer will recommend you get such a statement from the dealership, now and in writing.
    – Makyen
    Feb 8 at 10:30
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While it may be true that the plug wasn't tightened properly and the oil poured out, this in itself wouldn't cause engine damage.

The damage is caused by driving the car after the oil waring light came on.

Did you stop the car immediately, or did you continue driving for a distance?

If you stopped immediately and had the car towed, then in theory, there should be no damage. If you continued to drive ignoring the warning light, then you are in effect partly responsible for the damage.

To answer the question about how long it can take for the damage to show up, then it will vary greatly. Once a machined surface has been scratched due to a lack of oil, new oil will not be able to stop the moving surfaces coming into contact, so further wear will occur. It could take minutes or weeks for the damage to escalate sufficiently to be noticable.

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I once attended a country fun day where a dozen old cars had the oil drained and then charged about until they seized. I was amazed how long it took, but from memory, it was around half an hour and one was still ok after that. That would have been around 45 years ago and with modern oils I expect they would have lasted longer.

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