How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage

Naomi O'Colman

How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage

How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage

How long can an engine run without oil before damage? Well, this post is all about the importance of oil in your car, and how long an engine can run without it. It’s a common misconception that an engine will start to overheat when not enough oil is present. Let’s discuss what happens when there isn’t enough lubricant in the system. And lastly, what happens when an engine runs out of lubrication entirely?

The quick answer is, without oil, a car can still run for up to 30′ but the damage already happens after 5′ of operation.

Why Is Oil So Important?

Just like any other living entity, engines need something to keep them properly lubricated. Without the lubrication, an engine will overheat, causing its structure to break down and wear out. Eventually, it will stop running altogether.

So why is oil so important? Well, it’s responsible for keeping all the moving parts of the engine in top shape for as long as possible.

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But why exactly do engines need any lubrication, to begin with? After all, aren’t they made up of metal components that can’t be damaged by mere friction?

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because that’s almost correct. The answer is really “they don’t need any lubrication” which automatically means “lubrication will make them run better”. Let me explain it to you this way.

Friction Forces

When metal pieces slide or rub against each other they tend to get worn out over time. But the problem isn’t the sliding itself, but the friction which causes it. Friction is an unwanted force that exists between two objects that are in contact with one another, trying to push them apart from each other.

The amount of friction depends upon the severity of their contact. When a metal body is sliding against another metal body, it will produce a certain amount of friction as long as they’re connected together. This means that over time their contact can wear down and possibly harm them.

Lubricant & Friction

So how does this relate to engines? Well, if the lubricant between the moving parts does not reach its proper level those parts will eventually reach a point where they become too hot for proper functioning and can melt or burn off.

How Long Can an Engine Run Without Oil Before Damage?

Without oil, a car can still run for up to 30′ but the damage already happens after 5′ of running without oil. The engine can burn off up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This would mean that the metal parts inside the engine would be overheating to varying degrees. This is what causes overheating, not insufficient lubrication. When this happens parts of an engine can warp or melt.

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With time, these wearied parts will simply wear down and become weak enough to break off. At this point, they’ll damage the engine itself and make it inefficient for its purpose.


An engine needs oil to work properly. It’s true that lubrication doesn’t always make an engine run better, but it does help so much for preventing damage and getting the most out of it.

The average American owns a car or SUV equipped with an engine stuffed full of metal bits that need lubricant to keep them working properly. If the oil goes down, there’s no telling what may happen.