Anyone with mechanical knowledge knows if they find metal shavings in their motor oil, something likely is amiss. Understanding what has happened and what to do about it is another story altogether. If you have metal shavings in your oil, here is why and what you can do about it.
What Causes Metal Shavings in Engine Oil?
As you run your engine, the oil that helps lubricate it spreads around all moving parts. Here are some common causes of metal shavings in engine oil.
Over time, that oil in your engine breaks down, and friction between the moving parts increases. As the engine ages, that friction has more impact and chips and slices off metal filings. Friction is exacerbated if the oil is not kept up or dissipates, so it can no longer protect the engine.
In most cases, the oil filter catches the filings. Some filings, however, are too small and work their way through. These get collected in the engine with pooled oil but get stirred up anytime the engine is run.
Another source of metal filings in oil is bearing damage. There are several types of metal engine bearings. Often, the bearings are coated with a secondary metal like aluminum or copper to aid in the smoother operation of the engine.
As the engine is used, the plating around the bearings wears off. Additionally, the bearing itself can chip and flake apart.
Ironically, the metal filings can help a mechanic diagnose where the problem originates. In some cases, the filings can tell why.
If the filings are non-magnetic, they are likely the result of failed bearings. If the filings are magnetic, they could be either the backing material or engine steel.
What is decided in the assessment also helps determine how to address filings effectively.
The best way to describe shavings or filings in engine oil is that they look like specks of tiny pieces of metal. They will not always be metallic-looking, but they do look like metal.
Is It Normal to Have the Metals in Engine Oil?
Excessive metal filings or shavings in engine oil are not typical and usually mean something is wrong. Excessive filings can appear because of:
- Engine wear and tear
- Bearing breakdown
- An engine with insufficient oil
Regardless of the cause, an engine with metal shavings is a red flag.
Any indication of excessive metal filings in engine oil is a sign that friction is damaging the engine. If the cause is wear and tear, the fix is much different from the shavings caused by degraded oil or parts.
Shavings in oil can damage other engine components and can cause the engine to perform poorly. Metal in your oil can also clog hoses and inlets/outlets and block up oil from distributing correctly. Restricted oil flow can cause your engine to overheat and fail.
Apart from eyeballing metal shavings in oil, there are a few ways you can deduce if they might be present and affect your engine’s performance.
If your vehicle struggles to get going when you apply pressure on the gas pedal or if it lurches and then catches, it could be an indication of damaged oil or a damaged filter. The damage could be the result of metal shavings.
When friction is excessive in your engine, your vehicle can vibrate when you are idling.
When an engine knocks, it seems as though it is clunking and sputtering. That can happen if a buildup of debris or filings prevents the engine from burning fuel evenly.
When oil is obstructed or slowed down because of filings, it can lead to a ticking sound, particularly when you accelerate.
A poorly functioning engine will eventually result in a dashboard light. If the light is solid, you need to get the vehicle in, but the issue is not critical. If it is flashing, stop driving immediately and have your vehicle towed to your mechanic.
If you discover you have metal filings in your engine oil, the first thing you should do is take your vehicle to a mechanic. They can determine the cause and recommend any possible solutions.
These simple steps can help with engine oil that has metal shavings.
Sometimes a change of the oil can get rid of most of the shavings.
Replacing a worn filter can remove many shavings.
If the issue is severe, your mechanic might be able to repair a part and stop the shavings from appearing.
In the most extreme cases, an entire engine rebuild might be appropriate.
In some cases, even a rebuild will not work. Occasionally, buying a new engine for your vehicle is the smartest move, although in most cases, getting a new vehicle is a better option.
Here are some frequently asked questions about the metal shavings in your engine oil.
It does unless it has reached the replacement stage. It will not filter all filings out, however, as some are too small.
It can be. New engine parts frequently have rougher edges, and those will smooth over time and use. Shavings can be part of that process.
If the shavings are due to normal wear and tear, yes. If the shavings are due to something else, you can drive the vehicle, but you may be damaging it further. As soon as you see shavings, have your mechanic look into it.
The quality of the parts in use makes a difference but yes. With some engines, filings will appear until after the engine has been broken in.