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Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 7:51 p.m.

Holy crap, guys. Holy crap.

Car comes in today, the make and model of which I will not specify, but it was a smallish engine in a vehicle that sees mainly highway miles. In this case, roughly 15,000 of them since the last oil change, according to the lube sticker.

Oil light was flickering at idle when cold. Engine seemed to sound okay, so I carefully drove it around the block for a road test for other concerns. Oil light stopped flickering unless you bogged the engine down to <600rpm with the clutch. Could be bad pressure switch, engine sounds fine. Oil level is slightly overfull, and the oil on the dipstick is dark.

On the lift, vehicle has no oil leaks, including the oil pressure switch. (A failed switch usually leaks) It didn't click with me at that moment, but this also means that the car probably never needed to have oil added, either.

Pull the drain plug. Nothing comes out.

Nothing's coming out. The oil pan is vented to atmosphere, and the oil, which has been confirmed to exist, doesn't want to leave. It likes its home so much that it is completely ignoring gravity. Not only is the oil breaking the law of gravity, it is breaking the law of fluids, which is "Contained fluids want to be free."

I spin the oil filter off. No oil slurps out down the side of the block. The oil filter is a solid mass of jelly.

I stick a screwdriver in the drain plug hole. Come out, come out, wherever you are! I think to myself that this is like knifing a new bottle of ketchup, except clearly I was going to just be punching through a plug of sludge covering the drain hole.

Once again, I was failing to take into account other observations, namely the jellymould of a filter.

A little bit of ketchup-like black spooge glurps out, and then... nothing. I swirl the screwdriver around in there some more. A little more petroleum ketchup.

The engine had four quarts of frothy black ketchup in it, it had no liquid that you or I or anybody else would consider to be oil.

For about two hours, while working on other things, I would randomly walk by the car and perform my orbital lobotomy trick on the oil pan, and some more spooge would ooze out for a while, then just stop. There were no hard chunks. There were no liquidy bits. There were, thankfully, no shiny metallic particles. (The guy had just spent a ton of money on two of his other vehicles, and hey, we're human) There was only black ketchup, and somewhat thicker lumps of black ketchup.

This post is getting long, so I'll tell y'all how I corrected the issue in a subsequent post.

But for now... change your oil already! We don't say 3mo/3000mi because we like doing oil changes, we say it because healthy engines are happy engines and happy engines live a long time!

MrJoshua PowerDork
7/30/12 7:56 p.m.

Even at 15000 miles how do you turn oil into a gelatinous substance?

N Sperlo
N Sperlo PowerDork
7/30/12 8:00 p.m.

Reminds me. A friend was working at a shop. A lady came in with a Cadillac. The tire pressure light was on. She couldn't get it to go off, so she brought it in. Yep. 95 lbs of pressure in each tire will do that.

N Sperlo
N Sperlo PowerDork
7/30/12 8:01 p.m.

Also, this is what camera phones are for. We need proof.

Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 8:24 p.m.

Okay. The situation has been laid out. Now what do we do with it?

I post this here, not just to share a harrowing tale of mechanical woe, but also because GRM'ers are probably the sorts to buy cars that are cheap because they've had a lot of deferred maintenance, and this info may help someone save a lot of hassle in pulling an engine apart to clean the nightmare goo out.

First step was noted above: Drain as much of the old stuff out "naturally" as possible.

Next, we get kerosene. The drain plug goes in, a gallon of kerosene goes into the engine, and it sits for an hour while a BBQ chicken sub soup is ordered and consumed.

Properly nourished and thereby well-suited to take on the task at hand, a wide-mouthed gallon container is appropriated (says Nalgene on the bottom, discuss) and the drain plug is removed and...


...nothing comes out! The drain hole is stopped up again. Slowly, a plug of black Play-Doh oozes out, like watching the oil pan taking a poop. After an inch of petrochemical turd extrudes itself, a gallon of dark brown kerosene-based concoction flows out very rapidly. Only a little bit is spilled. The drain pan is brought forth and more screwdriver work is performed. Everywhere I swirl the screwdriver around causes the black ketchup to come forth. It's more liquidy, now, at least, but still thick enough in spots to stop up the plug.

After swirling the screwdriver around for a few minutes, with no end in sight, the drain plug is put back in and the kerosene is decanted back into the engine.

Repeat the above two steps three more times. When the kerosene was black, and I was bored with the whole process, it was time to get serious.

Like a political system that's all stopped up with E36 M3, we need to agitate.

Enter a new filter, three quarts of cheap ATF, and two quarts of kerosene. Engine is started - oil light goes out after a second like a normal engine, a good sign - and set outside to run at 2000rpm for a half-hour. We want to get the oil pressure higher than idle, we want the overfull oil pan to get all thrashed around by the crankshaft to hopefully blow the sludge off of everywhere we couldn't reach in the pan, we want to flood the valve cover with cleansing fluids, but we don't want the poor thing under any load. No ugly noises, no smoke. More good signs.

After this cleansing ritual is performed, the patient is allowed back inside, raised up on high, and the drain plug removed. Loud oaths are wailed as the smoking-hot, water-thin black fluid rushes out, splashing heavily on my hand. (I believe the exact sentence rhymed with "son of a duck") And, I do mean smoking hot, it looked really cool and I wished once again for my camera, which was sitting in its place in my laptop bag 12 miles away.

The screwdriver came back for an exploratory. No more ketchup in the pan!

We're not finished yet, of course. Next up is is three more quarts of ATF and a quart of Mac's engine flush. The bottle says to run at idle for five minutes, I let it go for ten.

The stuff drained out vaguely reddish! The oil filter was spun off and it was amazingly NOT clogged!

A new filter was appropriated, the drain plugged, and four quarts of engine oil installed.

The patient is allowed to roam around for a bit, then comes back and...


...the dipstick shows clean fluid, with just a little bit of residual goop from the dipstick tube!


madmallard HalfDork
7/30/12 8:50 p.m.

and there was much rejoycing

mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/30/12 8:53 p.m.

my first fiat spider came to me in a similar condition. I had to drop the pan and scrape the crap out

DukeOfUndersteer PowerDork
7/30/12 8:54 p.m.

bastomatic Dork
7/30/12 9:09 p.m.

Is it possible there was more than 15k miles on that oil change? We regularly go 7k miles between changes and can't imagine it getting that bad even doubling the mileage.

z31maniac PowerDork
7/30/12 9:21 p.m.
bastomatic wrote: Is it possible there was more than 15k miles on that oil change? We regularly go 7k miles between changes and can't imagine it getting that bad even doubling the mileage.

That's what I was thinking, 7500 on modern cars seems to be pretty standard.

wlkelley3 Dork
7/30/12 9:22 p.m.

Yeah, much heralded exaltations and hopefully the owner won't let that happen again.
My daughter did almost that on a Hyundai Elantra she was trying to kill, she didn't like the car. Wasn't cool for an 18yo to drive a 4-door mom-mobile as she called it. I changed the oil in it once and it came out in chunks. After talking with her I figured the engine went about 8,000 miles between oil change. Car went over 100,000 miles and I let her trade it in........on a Hyundai Tiburon. She likes Hyundai's now, has her third - a Tuscan.
Years ago I bought a ragged out Ford Pinto for cheap back when they were just used cars. This car burned oil when I got it. I just kept it topped off, had to add a quart a couple times a week and changed the filter regularly. After a few months of this it stopped burning oil and I had to change it regularly after that. Only car I made money on, sold it for more than I had into it after driving it about 15 months and 25,000 miles.

Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 9:28 p.m.

When I saw the lube sticker, I actually was hoping that he'd DIY'ed some oil changes. Most DIYers don't put any kind of maintenance reminder on. (I note that some Mann oil filters come with lube stickers now)

There's no chance that the oil interval was longer, unless the odometer was disconnected for a while. You see, the existing sticker was in my handwriting, and as a rule, I only ever make a sticker after an oil change is performed. Just in case something weird happens, like the car has to leave before I can start on it for whatever reason. (Weird things happening? Never!)

DoctorBlade SuperDork
7/30/12 9:30 p.m.

So there was a happy ending after all.

Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 9:31 p.m.
z31maniac wrote: That's what I was thinking, 7500 on modern cars seems to be pretty standard.

Except it's not, not really. The severe service table is generally half of that, and if you look at the fine print, the conditions that qualify for severe service are hard to avoid. Things like driving in dusty conditions (basically, if you live in the desert, farm country, or an industrialized city), or where it gets below freezing, or over 90-95F.

I think some parts of the PNW might qualify for the normal service table as long as you don't drive over any of the mountains.

Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 9:34 p.m.
DoctorBlade wrote: So there was a happy ending after all.

SHH!!! We're a very superstitious lot. Never say things like that until after the car has left the parking lot, and only then you wait until it comes back for normal service.

We never drain the oil drains on Friday afternoons, either. That's when the worst messes seem to happen.

Kendall_Jones HalfDork
7/30/12 9:35 p.m.

That seems above & beyond what a normal shop would do. Do you mind telling what the ballpark bill was for that?


Knurled SuperDork
7/30/12 9:48 p.m.

I do mind, in part because I don't know, in rest of it because I feel kinda funny talking about work stuff online, which is why I'm not discussing what kind of car it was, as well as making a few of the figures deliberately off a bit. (And why there won't be pictures)

I do know that we went time + material on it, but we're still on the losing end because these sort of things always cost more time than you think you're spending on it. I also do know that we still spent less time and material than if we pulled the oil pan and valve cover off, and we still would have had to flush the system anyway because of the goop in the oil galleries, so no matter how much the final bill is, it's still less than a traditional scoop-out.

We're not entirely out of the woods yet, we may have to do an oil pressure test if the light still flickers with hot oil. (Can't assume that it's just because the switch is in a dead-end passage that didn't get clean, after all) How long has the oil been like that? It's hard to imagine damage not being done.

bastomatic Dork
7/30/12 10:24 p.m.

Man 15k miles really? You don't wanna see my friend's Saturn then. She says she has been adding about a quart of oil every single tank for a while now as it's burning that much. Since that started, she also decided that she didn't need to change the oil anymore. Not sure how long ago this routine has been going on, but I'm sure it's been more than 30k miles at this point. I'll ask next time I see her.

EvanB GRM+ Memberand UberDork
7/30/12 11:19 p.m.
N Sperlo wrote: Reminds me. A friend was working at a shop. A lady came in with a Cadillac. The tire pressure light was on. She couldn't get it to go off, so she brought it in. Yep. 95 lbs of pressure in each tire will do that.

I bet it behaved very nicely with those pressures. You could probably load them up to a hundred.

Trans_Maro SuperDork
7/31/12 12:02 a.m.

I bet it leaks like a sieve in a short time.

Not because of anything you've done, more because it was so stopped up for so long that anything which might have leaked was glopped up with sludge.

Now that it's working like it should be, the oil will find it's way out.

Derick Freese
Derick Freese SuperDork
7/31/12 12:39 a.m.

Just a curiosity, but which engine was this? I'm not sure if I know of any current automotive engines that are so hard on oil that it suffers from severe breakdown in only 15,000 miles. Non-severe OCI for our car is 11,000 miles. My last Blackstone test confirmed that the oil was still in good condition when I took the sample as I was changing my oil last time, at 15,000 miles on the oil.

fasted58 UltraDork
7/31/12 2:17 a.m.

engine sludge? Toyota comes to mind, I dunno, just a wild guess

DeadSkunk Dork
7/31/12 6:46 a.m.

I worked with a woman who would add a quart whenever the oil light started to flicker. She never took any old oil out. I checked with her husband and he confirmed it. They ran that poor K-car into the ground over 7 or 8 years. When it finally crapped out it still had the original filter on it.

failboat Dork
7/31/12 7:19 a.m.

our brand new ford says right there in the owners manual 10k mile oil change intervals. seems a bit...high. having it changed at the dealership (a couple free oil changes), i have my doubts they are actually putting synthetic in there.... but we have been doing the 10k changes anyways out of convenience. or inconvenience.

I guess at most I am comfortable with 7k miles on synthetic, after that..seems like you are pushing it. i have no personal horror stories to back that up, I pretty much just picked a number I am comfortable with.

4cylndrfury UltimaDork
7/31/12 7:36 a.m.

sometime in the late 90s/early 00s, I was an hourly tech at a valvolube place. Had a guy come in with his hyundai to get its first oil change....at 40k miles

dude said "its got that 100,000 mile warranty, so Im good". When it came in, it was knocking severely, and was overheating. When we told him that the warranty is only good if you can document the regularly scheduled maintenance, he, well...the color kinda drained from his face.

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