Accidentally drove 20,000 miles without changing the oil... Now what?
June 8, 2014 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I bought a new Kia Sorento in July of 2012. I then stupidly put 20,000 miles on the car without a single oil change. The car is now burning oil at a rate of roughly 1 quart every 300 miles, so I know I broke something (my dad's theory is a damaged ring; roughly a $5k repair for engine rebuild). The car came with a great warranty: 3 yr/36k mile bumper-to-bumper, and 10 yr/100k mile power-train. Unfortunately, I have voided that warranty by not preforming the most basic maintenance. So, I'm not sure what to do now. Options I see are: -Take it to the dealer for repair and hope they don't ask/notice/care what I've done. -Take it to the dealer and confess my complete ineptitude. -Go to a random auto shop for repair (another act that will void my warranty).

For more detail on what happened:
A few days ago I punched the accelerator when turning out of a parking lot. The car shuddered, let out a big puff of smoke, and the Low Oil Pressure light came on. Since low oil is bad, I immediately turned in to an auto supply shop and grabbed some oil to put in the car. When I opened the oil cap, it's covered in thick oil tar and is smoking. It suddenly dawns on me that I don't remember ever changing the oil in the car. Prior to the Kia, all of our cars have had an oil life monitor on the dash, so I am used to relying on that feature to remind me. Horrified, I realized the Kia doesn't have one.

I put 20,000 miles on the car without ever changing the oil.

The next day I got an oil change, then drove the car like normal. But, after putting another 1,000 miles on it, the low oil pressure light blinked on again and the car was 3 quarts low. So, I got another oil change. Burning oil at this rate seems unsustainable, so time to face the music and fix my mistake.

Since I'm clearly not capable of handling simple life skills, I'm hoping someone out there more able than me can offer some guidance.
posted by lmpatte2 to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you live in the USA, which is a statistically likely assumption.

Repairs at a non-dealer facility do not inherently void your warranty due to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. However, that doesn't mean the car manufacturer can't make your life a bit painful by denying warranty claims with the non-dealer repair as the reason. Further, I don't think Kia will recognize your car's warranty any more due to failure to provide routine maintenance.

I'm not sure why you wouldn't take the car to the dealer for repair. The worst that they do is deny the claim. I do believe they will deny warranty repair with very high probability, but at the least you'll get out the dealer's suggested diagnosis out of the visit. You can then comparison shop between a few mechanics to get an idea of price range - if you're really looking at an engine rebuild, you'll find that even $5/hour in mechanics labor rates will add up to a significant amount of money.

I wouldn't go to a dealer and confess your ineptitude. That's asking them to deny your claim, whereas if you just go and say "hey, this has been burning oil, could you fix it?" at least gives a chance of them fixing it.

I'm hoping someone out there more able than me can offer some guidance

In general, the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule is actually really useful to follow and is not oriented towards suggesting overly expensive maintenance. The car manufacturer doesn't make money off of dealer repairs, so they have an incentive to make routine maintenance as little as possible (to keep customer costs as low as possible to maintain owner satisfaction) while preventing large warranty claims (which costs the manufacturer). You'll also notice that the maintenance schedule is usually based on a multiple of a certain mileage amount - for instance, Kia/Hyundai tends to use 7500 miles. That provides a reminder that when your odomoter rolls over a multiple of 7500 miles, something needs to be done, and you can look at the maintenance schedule to find out what.
posted by saeculorum at 5:13 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Warranties don't get "voided", as such. The dealer can decline to conduct a repair, but the warranty is still in effect. Further, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act basically says that dealers can't decline to honor a warranty because a third party conducted repairs or maintenance unless that third party was responsible for the particular failure in question. It's kind of splitting hairs, but just because you have a third party replace the engine doesn't mean the dealer can turn you away for unrelated repairs.

Your cheapest option is a used engine. There is some risk, and the dealer can (reasonably) decline to conduct warranty repairs on that engine.

The middle option is to have the engine rebuilt or replaced by an independent third-party shop. It's reasonable to expect the dealer to conduct warranty repairs if you can prove the shop a) used OEM parts, and b) those particular parts did not fail due to the third party's work. Convincing them that this expectation is reasonable may require attorneys.

Your "best" option is to have the dealer conduct all repairs. This is straightforward, will likely not require extensive headaches if future repairs are required that would be covered by the warranty, and will have the least effect on the car's resale value. It will, however, have the greatest effect on your wallet.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:18 PM on June 8, 2014

To respond to saeculorum's post, I recommend that you be completely straightforward and honest with your answers to the dealer's questions, but yes, it's worth it to involve the dealer because the worst they can say is no. The mechanic will very likely be able to tell with a moment's glance that the car didn't get oil changes on time, and the dealer will likely challenge you to prove that you did.

You may even get asked about oil changes before they pop the hood. It's a very common symptom of a very common failure mode.

But it won't hurt to ask.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 5:22 PM on June 8, 2014

Dealers are reimbursed by the mfg for repairs. They won't ask, no need to tell. They WANT to collect the money from the manufacturer. So take it to the dealer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:39 PM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The car shuddered, let out a big puff of smoke, and the Low Oil Pressure light came on.'s covered in thick oil tar and is smoking. ... after putting another 1,000 miles on it, the low oil pressure light blinked on again and the car was 3 quarts low

Just for reference, it is very unlikely it is as simple as a broken ring. Your engine is likely ruined. At the very least it will never be the same again (as efficient or as powerful). You have allowed your car to not only run on damaged and ineffective oil for a horrifically long time, but also allowed it to run out of oil before checking the level. Twice. A car that is 3 quarts low and only has about 4-5 quarts in it anyway is likely running with less than optimal oil pressure for a considerable amount of time. There's just not enough volume to maintain pressure in the engine and lubricate everything. A Low oil pressure warning is usually only effective at preventing damage when rapid oil loss (such as a sudden leak) occurs rather than (as in your case) running low slowly over time. If the oil pressure is triggered with an engine that is losing oil, it means it was running just above that triggering level for a considerable time.

The harsh truth section (mainly for others reading this thread later): It is insanely negligent of you to not not even check your oil level in 20,000 miles. Even with an oil condition indicator, you should be checking the oil level regularly. If the engine had been running on old oil, but also full, chances are the engine would be saveable. However, you gave it the worst of both worlds. An engine can (from new and within tolerances) lose a quart every thousand miles. So if you're not checking the level every thousand miles, you are being negligent. I know you know this now, but it is not just the fault of not changing the oil, but also not knowing it was dropping in level. It didn't lose that oil in the last 1000 miles of that initial 20,000 miles. It went down gradually and then damaged the engine from running low. Then when you changed the oil, the new oil just went out the same damage.

So your engine is pooched, to my mind. Any engine that burns 3 quarts in 1000 miles is damaged and a good sized repair, but any engine that has basically run out of oil to having the oil warning light on twice probably has bearing damage, cylinder wall damage and possibly crank/piston damage. I suspect the internals are all showing signs (heat damage, physical wear, other signs of overheating and friction through insufficient lubrication).

Honestly, your best bet is a replacement engine. If the dealership pulls that apart it will be obvious as a neon sign that it has run on poor oil and also run out of it. There is a very slim chance they will replace the engine on warranty, but it is very, very unlikely that this will happen. It will be cheaper to get a replacement engine (non-dealer) than have the dealership do the repair themselves. That's what I'd do. I suspect the engine in that car is a lost cause now.

They won't ask, no need to tell.

This is unlikely to be true. Dealers only get reimbursed by the manufacturer if the warranty claim was just - ie the manufacturer was at fault. This is not at all the case in this example (and impossible to hide, based on the likely damage). Any expensive repair like this will involve getting clearance from the manufacturer before they start as the dealer will not want to have to swallow the cost if they authorise the repair and Kia throw it out.
posted by Brockles at 5:56 PM on June 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Since you don't have to return to your dealer for routine oil changes, I would just play dumb and take it to the dealer. I would tell them that it recently started burning oil. They may ask when the last oil change was you can truthfully tell them just last week or whenever it was.
That's as far as it may go. Don't ask, don't tell. They may suggest that the oil change place used the wrong oil, do a change and tell you to see what happens. I would not confess to any wrong doing unless it becomes an issue. If they ask for maintenance records or something. Even then, I would doubt it would become an issue as people lose receipts all the time.
Obviously, something has to be done. I would start at the dealer and go from there.
Who knows, there may be a known failure or problem and they fix it under warranty.
posted by BostonCannuck at 5:57 PM on June 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't want to give you car advice; I want to give you person advice.

You cannot go back and change the oil every 3000 miles. This is over. The only thing you can do as far as the thrashing you are giving yourself is to fix it the best you can and promise yourself that you will never let this happen again - not because it makes you bad or inept or whatever, but because it's expensive. This has very little moral heft; it's just a mistake that costs a lot of money. You're going to hurt yourself here more than anyone else, so learn the lesson, pay the consequences, swear you'll never do it again, set yourself up with a system to remember to do your maintenance and to actually do it, and then move on with your life.

It's a lot of money, but it's only money. Be glad you didn't do something that hurt anyone; those are the mistakes that change your life. Take it seriously and set a better path for the future, primarily for your own benefit. Do not focus on beating the crap out of yourself over things you cannot change; it will not save you a penny. You sound like you're in a lot of pain over feeling like this means you can't function in society, and that's not true. It's a very expensive mistake, but you're unlikely to look back at your life and think that this was the proof that you deserved to live in a hole as you seem to be telling yourself you do. Do the best you can! And don't do it again. Oil is cheap. Engines are expensive. That's why you do it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:24 PM on June 8, 2014 [40 favorites]

Listen to your Dad and Brockles. Even your dipstick is going to show evidence of severely burnt oil and extreme heat. Just chalk it up as an expensive life lesson.
posted by snsranch at 7:24 PM on June 8, 2014

Every lubricated wear part in the engine is ruined. The cylinder walls are almost certainly scored beyond easy repair. The entire inside of the engine is coated with a varnish made of burnt oil. Attempting to fool the dealer into believing you did regular maintenance is pointless.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:30 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't write it off right away. It might not be that damaged, and even if it really is covered in awful sludge, it might still be fixable. Read this article. There have been cases of cars that have gone 60K miles between oil changes -- admittedly that's exceptional, but you might be lucky!
posted by miyabo at 8:02 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

While Brockles is giving you sound technical advice, BostonCannuck's approach is worth a try. It sounds like the car's borderline undriveable now, so since Kia have this legendary warranty, and they didn't think changing the oil was important enough to warn you with a dashboard light, what have you got to lose …?
posted by scruss at 8:34 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

okay, i read your question with a sense of doom, and then i read all the wise, spot-on comments with even more doom, and then i thought of something...

take your old buggy in and offer it as a trade-in on a brand new buggy! by the time they realize how fucked-up it is, it will be their problem and you'll be driving a brand new buggy! do it on a friday at the end of a month.
posted by bruce at 8:57 PM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

and they didn't think changing the oil was important enough to warn you with a dashboard light

But they did think it was important enough to put a maintenance schedule in the owners manual. And that's all that matters.

You broke it, own up and pay for it. Warranties are for manufacturing defects, not owner negligence.
posted by hwyengr at 9:00 PM on June 8, 2014

Do an oil change, put stop leak in it, drive it until it stops
posted by edtut at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2014

It might not be that damaged, and even if it really is covered in awful sludge, it might still be fixable. Read this article. There have been cases of cars that have gone 60K miles between oil changes

As I mentioned, if it were an engine full of oil that wasn't changed, that is a completely different matter from a car that runs out of extremely damaged (and ineffective) oil to the point the oil pressure warning light comes on. Twice.

Just so we're on the same page here, healthy oil pressure is around 40-60psi depending on the car. Less at idle, but usually over 15 psi at 1000rpm. Now oil pressure warning sensors usually trigger at 4-7 psi. They are not 'your oil is low' warning lights, they are 'stop now to avoid catastrophic failure' lights. If you have triggered the oil pressure warning light, under power, with 20,000 mile old oil, it is extremely unlikely that the resulting damage is fixable by just cleaning it up and trying again.

Having said that: This has very little moral heft; it's just a mistake that costs a lot of money. You're going to hurt yourself here more than anyone else, so learn the lesson, pay the consequences, swear you'll never do it again

That is a very important take-away from this. No-one got hurt, you didn't risk anyone's safety and it really is only money. Unfortunately, my assessment is that it will be a lot of money and (if you want to keep the car) the only way to recover the issue is to spend the money and learn the, admittedly hard to swallow, lesson.

take your old buggy in and offer it as a trade-in on a brand new buggy! by the time they realize how fucked-up it is, it will be their problem

This may work, but hopefully the total lack of morals required in this will prevent you doing so. It's just as likely to screw the next person to that buys the car. They may be in worse financial shape than you. I wouldn't do it and I'm happy to describe myself as an arsehole. ;)
posted by Brockles at 4:46 AM on June 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It is illegal (at least in the US) for a car warranty to become void simply because you take it to a non-dealer mechanic for service. The pertinent law is called the Magnuson-Moss Act.

That said, since it is still under warranty, take it back to the dealer and have the oil changed. It may be covered under warranty, or they may see that you didn't have the oil changed and charge you for the repair, in which case you need to take it as an expensive lesson.

3,000 miles is an old rule, perpetuated by oil companies and mechanics who want to make a buck. With improvements in oil quality and engine quality, most newer cars aren't 3,000 miles anymore. You should actually follow the mileage schedule listed in your owner's manual.

A while back, the state of California had an advertising campaign to try to break people of the 3,000 mile habit (less waste oil from less frequent oil changes being better for the environment). They have a website which still exists where you can check what your recommended mileage interval is:
posted by tckma at 7:05 AM on June 9, 2014

Did you even read the question? The warranty is not voided by non-dealer serviced oil changes, it is voided by not following the basic servicing requirements - potentially (and very likely) in a way that is provable. That is the issue with the warranty on the engine.

No-one here is suggesting a 3000 mile oil change. The one answer that does specifically describes itself as 'person advice'.
posted by Brockles at 7:51 AM on June 9, 2014

Just as an FYI - I had a KIA with the amazing warranty and did all the scheduled maintenance. The engine died at 60,000 miles and the dealer required me to jump through INSANE hoops to prove that I had done all the required services. I didn't go to the dealer for my oil changes, so I had to track down 60,000 miles worth of service records.

I eventually did, and the new engine was covered by the warranty, but they definitely made me prove that the new engine wasn't needed because of my negligence.

Good luck!
posted by Sheppagus at 8:22 AM on June 9, 2014

From my experience with Kia's I would not necessarily ascribe the issue you are seeing to not changing the oil. I know of at least two owned by immediate family members that were cared for according to manufacturer's directions, and were lemon-lawed due to oil pressure issues early on. I know of plently of cars that have gone well past 20k without a change and no noticeable issues. May have affected long term life but not immediate damage. Our new car didn't get it's first suggested oil change until 10k.

If it's still under warranty just take it in. It's not like they're going to confiscate the car or something because you waited too long to change the oil.
posted by Big_B at 9:00 AM on June 9, 2014

Honestly, I would simply take the car in and tell them you were pulling out of the drive and *BANG* it started blowing smoke. I wouldn't say a thing about going 20,000 miles without an oil change. You've done a couple of changes since then, anyway, so they really can't prove you didn't do regular maintenance without pulling the engine apart and looking very, very closely.

If the oil pressure idiot light never came on once during those 20,000 miles, it had plenty of oil. Dirty oil, to be sure, but still plenty.

Just take it in, and stick to the story.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:56 AM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't change the oil for too long after buying my first car. Not 20,000 miles, but maybe 10,000. Eventually the car needed extensive repairs to the valves, but it wasn't ruined.

Oil cooks in use, synthetic oils excepted. That's why it needs to be changed. Your engine is going to have tar-like buildup in various places. The machanic will not be fooled. They see it all the time.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2014

An acquaintance of mine had a Ford that he bought new. 1st oil change at 3k miles. 2nd oil change at 50k miles. 3rd oil change at 100k miles. He traded the thing in at 150k miles no questions asked. That's right: 150k miles on only 3 oil changes.

Unless your Kia leaked oil somehow, I'm thinking Kia is as much or more to blame for this as you. There's a reason they can sell them so cheaply. Merely my $0.02.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:37 PM on June 9, 2014

That's right: 150k miles on only 3 oil changes.

And some people eat bacon for breakfast every morning, smoke 2 packs a day, and still live to be 95. But the odds aren't great.

Change your oil, folks, and if you want your warranty to cover engine failures, even if it was a manufacturing problem, keep your oil change receipts if your dealer doesn't do the change. Because regardless of who's fault it is, they will always claim that you didn't keep up your end of the warranty by not following the required maintenance schedule.

If the oil pressure idiot light never came on once during those 20,000 miles, it had plenty of oil.

Repeating what Brockles said earlier, the oil pressure light isn't an oil level sensor. It's there to prevent immediate catastrophic damage only. You can still greatly wear your engine down by running with low oil levels, even if the light never turns on.
posted by hwyengr at 8:01 AM on June 10, 2014

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