Signs You Have Metal Shavings In Your Oil

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Your oil is the lifeblood of your engine and seeing there is metal inside your oil is a scary feeling. 

Metal shavings in your engine can cause severe damage to your engine if not addressed quickly. 

Unfortunately, determining if you have metal shavings inside your oil is challenging. The metal shavings are hard to see, and in some cases, they are not always inside your oil tank but inside your engine. 

Don’t stress; I’m here to help. 

In this article, I will go over six common signs that you have metal shavings in your oil and how you can prevent metal shavings in your oil. 

Let’s get started. 

1. Shiny or Glittery Oil

oil with metal inside

One of the easiest ways to determine if there are metal shavings inside your oil is to check your oil.

The metal shavings in oil are almost microscopic, making them very hard to see.

When looking at your oil, you want to look for small pieces of metal. These pieces of metal almost look like glitter inside your oil.

In most cases, people won’t notice that there are metal shavings in their oil if they look in their oil.

This is why it’s essential you carefully check your oil and inspect it properly.

Using the only dipstick to determine if there are metal shavings in your oil is difficult.

You want to wipe your dipstick on a clean white cloth. This will allow you to see any metal shavings easier.

Stick your dipstick into your oil several times and repeat the process.

When looking for metal shavings, you want to love anything shiny or glittery.

One way to help is to use a magnet. Run the magnet over your white cloth. If any metal sticks to it, then you know there are metal shavings inside your oil.

It’s important not to rely on the magnet method because many metal shavings won’t stick to a magnet.

2. Rough Idle

Rough idling is characterized by jerking or stutters when driving or starting a vehicle.

Many things can cause rough idle in a car. However, the overall reason for rough idle is that you make your car work harder than it has to.

Shavings inside your oil can make it harder for your engine to pump the oil it needs. This can make your engine run low and make your fuel pump system work harder than it should. This is especially true if your oil is old and gunky.

Over time, if you continue driving while there is friction and metal shavings build up, the rough idle will become worse.

The light jerking and shaking will become more pronounced, and in some cases, you can see the steering wheel move.

3. Ticking or Rubbing Noises

Ticking noises are another sign that you might have metal shavings inside your oil.

The ticking noises occur because the oil is not flowing properly throughout your engine.

This can be due to excess metal build-up inside your engine or due to a thick gunky oil.

In either situation, this will cause your engine to tick or knock. The main reason for this noise is that there is not sufficient oil to lubricate your engine component.

This lack of lubrication is your engine parts hitting or rubbing against each other.

4. Decrease Engine Power

Contaminated oil circulates slowly throughout the vital engine components causing excessive wear and friction internally.

This excess friction reduces your engine work harder than it needs to and decreases its power.

With a decrease in power, you might realize your car does not accelerate as fast as it did before.

Also, a decrease in power can make it hard for your car to shift past a certain gear or reach a certain RPM.

For example, you might realize that between 3,000 and 4,000 RPM, your engine begins to shake, struggle, or knock.

5. Engine Knocking

Contaminated oil can cause excessive wear on the piston connecting rod bearings making an engine knocking noise. 

Once your vehicle piston connecting rod bears start to knock, your rod can fracture or break at any time.

Make a scheduled appointment with your local mechanic to get your oil changed to avoid engine oil contamination. 

Make sure to follow your manufacturer owner manual on what kind of oil is needed for your type of make and model vehicle.

6. White Smoke Coming From Car Exhaust

White smoke coming out of your exhaust is another sign that you have metal shaving in your oil.

The white smoke is a result of contaminated oil.

In severe cases, metal shavings can cause leaks or extreme damage to other areas of your engine.

When this occurs, your oil and fuel can begin to mix together.

When this happens, the fuel that is burned will release white smoke. The thicker the smoke, the more serious the issue is.

If you do experience white smoke from your exhaust, you should visit a mechanic immediately to determine the issue.

7. Low Oil Pressure or Oil Pressure Light

When your oil pressure drops this is typically a sign that certain parts of your engine are not working properly.

Most commonly, the oil pressure will drop when the bearings inside your engine are not working properly.

The most common reason for this issue is that the friction is damaging your bearings and causing them not to work effectively.

Metal shavings inside your oil can contaminate your oil and cause clogs.

These clogs will prevent it from reaching the necessary engine components.

As a result, the increase in friction and low oil volume will result in your oil pressure dropping.

When your oil pressure begins to drop your low oil pressure light should turn-on on your dashboard. 

oil pressure vs oil level light

The oil pressure light looks very similar to the low oil levels light. The one exception is that it’s typically just the oil can while the oil level has oil pouring and, in some cases, a small level image under it.

If you experience this light, you should quickly check your engine oil pressure or take your car to a mechanic.

To check your engine oil pressure, all you need is an oil pressure gauge.

For a guide on how to do it you can check out the video below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Causes Metal Shavings in Oil?

The main cause of metal shavings in oil is friction and lack of lubrication.

When there is a lack of lubrication, the friction inside your engine will cause microscopic metal shavings. The metal shavings will make the oil look like it has small specs of glitter.

Checking your oil level regularly and setting scheduled oil changes based on your owner’s manual can prevent metal shaving in your oil.

How To Tell That Your Motor Oil Contains Metal Shavings?

There are several things you can do to determine if your oil has metal shavings. 

  1. Check your oil for a shinny or glittery effect. 
  2. Use a magnet to detect metal in the oil. 
  3. Empty your drain pan and inspect for any metal shavings. 
  4. Inspect your drain filter for metal shavings 
  5. Take your car to a mechanic for an oil sample analysis. 

Can Oil Filters Catch Metal Shavings?

Yes, oil filters can catch some metal shaving in your oil. But don’t expect your oil filter to catch every signal microscopic piece of metal flowing in your oil pan.

Remember your oil is constantly getting recycled back through oil passageways. This will cause some metal shavings to break loose from the filter and back into the oil flow.

In severe cases, the metal shavings can clog the oil filter and prevent oil from flowing to the rest of your engine.

Do You Need a Total Engine Rebuild if You Find Metal Shavings in Your Oil?

No, in most cases, flushing and replenishing the oil is sufficient to get rid of the metal shavings in your oil.

If the wear and damage caused by the friction inside your engine is severe, you could potentially need a partial or complete engine rebuild.

In most cases, the longer you drive your vehicle with metal shavings and with excess friction, the more damage it will cause.

Your local mechanic would have to take a look to determine the severity of the damage and what you need to do to fix the issue.

How to Prevent Metal Shavings in Oil?

Preventing metal shavings in your oil is simple. Follow the guidelines below to prevent metal shavings in your oil: 

  • Change your motor oil based following your owners manual  
  • Replace your old oil filter with a new oil filter during your next oil change 
  • Use oil that recommended in your owner’s manual 
  • Between oil changes, check your oil using a dipstick. 
  • Watch your oil pressure oil gauge and make sure you have good oil pressure. 
  • Inspect or take your vehicle to a mechanic if strange or new noises begin to happen 

Reasons For Engine Friction

Your engine has many moving parts that need oil lubrication. As a result, many different reasons can cause metal shavings in oil.

1. Low Oil Levels

If you’re running low on motor oil, your engine may not have enough oil to run properly. This can cause your engine components to rub against each other.

If any of your oil levels are low this can cause unwanted friction that can lead to metal shavings inside your engine. 

For example, low motor oil can pool on one side of the oil tank when you accelerate, preventing it from entering the engine.

2. Clogged Oil Filters

Clogged oil filters are another potential cause of excess friction. A clogged oil filter will not allow the soil to be pumped throughout the engine, even if your oil is full.

This can happen over time as oil filters get old and worn down.

3. Not changing your oil regularly.

Not changing your oil regularly can also cause friction inside your engine.

Old oil gets thicker when it’s overused. Even if you refill your oil, the old, tick, and dirty oil will deteriorate the new oil. 

This will make it less effective and harder for your engine to pump oil to all the necessary components.

Types of Metal Shavings in Oil

One way you can determine where the friction is located is by identifying the type of shavings they are. 

Since certain engine parts are only made of a particular metal, you can use this to identify where the metal shavings are coming from.

1. Iron shavings

Typically due to friction inside your engine’s crankshaft, camshaft, or valve train. Iron is typically associated with rotating engine parts. 

To determine if the metal shavings inside your engine are iron you can take a tritonal magnet. If the small metal shavings are attracted to the magnet then they are either iron or steel shavings. 

This is because only iron and steel stick to magnets while other types of metals don’t 

2. Chromium and Molybdenum Shavings

These are due to worn-out piston rings or friction inside around the pistons.

3. Aluminum Shavings

These shavings are caused by excessive wear on piston wrist pins or camshaft caps.

4. Brass, Bronze, or copper shavings

They are typically associated with friction inside the bearings and bushings of your car.

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