Home TroubleshootingMotor Oil Metal Shavings In Oil – Should You Be Worried?

Metal Shavings In Oil – Should You Be Worried?

by Kelvin Yates

Have you noticed something strange during your last oil change? Something like metal shavings in oil? If this is the case and you are in this situation, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic where we will go in-depth when it comes to these shavings.

Having a problem like this can be really frustrating. Especially if you ignore the problem and pretend like it’s not there. Since these shavings mean something and they shouldn’t be ignored by your side.

That’s why you need to work on your troubleshooting skills and learn all the possible causes that can cause these metal shavings in oil on your car. And not only the causes but also the way how you can diagnose the problem and learn how to overcome it. And we are going to help you out with your pursuit in solution for this issue on your car.

First, we will cover what are metal shavings in oil. Then we will see how serious is this problem and if you should be worried about it. Then we will learn the causes why there are metal shavings. This will help you immensely when diagnosing the issue.

After, we will see the problems that could arise when you have metal shavings in oil and then we will learn what you could do in this situation to easily overcome the problem. So, if you want to learn more when it comes to metal shavings in oil, follow along.

What Are Metal Shavings In Oil?

Before we jump into more complex topics, let’s cover what are the metal shavings in oil. We need to make a small introduction for the beginners who are not that experienced when it comes to cars. So, what are metal shavings?

Metal shavings are small pieces of metal that found their way into the engine oil. The important thing is to not be so afraid and think that your world will end if you start to notice some metallic shavings in your oil.

These small metallic particles sometimes are of the size of a human hair and it’s really difficult to see them. But they are there. Put the oil on your hand and you will notice some of these flakes on your hand. You can also use a magnet and put the magnet in the oil. You will see how some small particles are starting to stick and you will think that your engine is going to die soon. But the important thing is not to panic in these cases and try to be calm.

Metal shavings in oil are normal to a certain extent, especially for higher mileage engines. The metal shavings are one of the consequences of the wear and tear inside of the engine. So, you should not be that afraid of them. The important thing is to take some precautionary steps that we are going to cover later in the article.

Now in the following chapter, let’s see how seriously should you treat this problem of metal shavings in oil and what you can do as a precaution. Later on, we will discuss the causes for metal shavings in oil and why do they often happen. So, keep up with us.

How Serious Is The Problem Of Metal Shavings In Oil?

Now before we dive into the causes for metal shavings in oil, let’s learn more about the importance of this problem. Should you be worried or maybe not?

The short answer is that it really depends on the extent of these metal shavings. If these shavings are really small which means barely visible, then you shouldn’t be worried.

Metal Shavings In Oil

But if these shavings are looking like big chunks, then you should worry and take things seriously. There are rarely big chunks. But sometimes it happens when the piston rings break and cause a ton of metal pieces to fall in the oil pan. Or damage the cylinders. So, when you notice something like this, it means that you need to act quickly and try to solve the problem accordingly.

So, in order to further understand where this problem comes from, you need to take a look at the type of metal shavings that are there in the oil. Based on the type of metal shavings, you should guess what could cause the problem.

Types Of Metal Shavings In Oil

As we hinted above, let’s now discuss the types of metal shavings that are out there. As you know, based on the type of metal you can estimate what could be causing the problem.

That’s why in this chapter we will discuss the three different types of metal that you could find in the metal shavings in oil.

Aluminum Metal Shavings

Aluminum metal shavings in oil are often noticeable when there is too much wear inside of the engine. Let’s say that the engine block is made out of aluminum. Then the aluminum metal shavings will be present.

Some rod bearings are also made out of aluminum alloys. That’s why you should also consider them as well as one of the probable causes for metal shavings in oil.

Copper Metal Shavings

If you notice copper metal shavings then you are in big trouble. But why is this the case? What do copper metal shavings in oil mean?

Well, they mean that the rod bearings are pretty much done. If you notice copper in the oil which is a yellowish metal. It means that the rod bearings will soon be needed to be replaced.

If you do not replace the rod bearings. The engine will soon start to knock. And when the engine starts knocking, there will be a lot of damage and wear on the cylinder walls as well as on the crankshaft. So, beware of these copper metal shavings in oil. When these shavings happen, you need to take things seriously.

Cast Iron, Steel Metal Shavings

The last type of metal shavings in oil that we are going to cover is cast iron or steel metal shavings. These metal shavings often happen if the engine block is manufactured out of cast iron.

Other components made out of cast iron or steel are the piston rings, pistons, rods, camshaft, crankshaft. All these components when wear produces metal shavings in oil. Some of them are less while some of them are more. But to a certain extent, all these components could be probable causes for this problem to happen.

Reasons Why There Are Metal Shavings?

Now let’s take some time and learn the reasons why there are metal shavings in oil. Learning the reasons will help you out where you have made a mistake or understand how this problem really started and the actions that you make to prevent this problem to develop any further. So, let’s elaborate on the reasons for metal shavings in oil.

1. Rare Oil Changes

Now let’s discuss why the metal shavings in oil happen. What is the prime reason for this situation and the real culprit?

The prime reasons for metal shavings are the rare oil changes. Oil changes mean life for your engine. The less frequent the oil changes, the more wear and tear inside of the engine will be.

As you probably know, engine oil is a lubricant that is really essential for your engine and the life of the engine. If this lubricant is not performing as it should, it will start to damage the engine internals.

There will be more and more friction inside and the components will work rough and this will cause metal shavings to appear. The more the engine works like this, the bigger the extent of the damage inside will be.

Doing more frequent oil changers is a lifesaver for your engine. The sooner you replace the oil, the better. That’s how you will get the most miles out of this engine and this engine will never let you down and cause metal shavings in oil. Now let’s move to the next probable reason for this problem.

2. Worn Rod Bearings

The second most probable thing that could cause metal shavings in oil are the worn rod bearings. These bearings sit between the crankshaft and the rod. They are basically encapsulated by the rod.

Sometimes by design, meaning manufacturers using low-quality rod bearings or rare oil changes, the rod bearings can wear off prematurely.

Some models like the BMW M5 E60 and the E92 M3 are really notorious for developing this issue. And all this on relatively low miles.

It is very important to catch the rod bearing wear when the rod bearings are still in good condition. The more they wear, the more they lose balance. Resulting in engine failure in most cases. And this is not the thing you want. So, beware of copper metal shavings in oil.

3. Worn Piston Rings

The second reason for metal shavings in oil is definitely worn-out piston rings. I mean, these piston rings are notorious for breaking on higher mileage engines.

The older and more miles the engine has, the bigger the chance that these rings will get stuck into the piston ring and not contract. In the end, they will just break down and fall off into the oil pan.

Not an ideal thing though, this means that you are losing compression. So, beware of these bigger chunks that could look like they were part of a ring-like component.

When this happens as we mentioned, you will lose compression and also lose performance. So, these things go hand in hand. Don’t ignore metal shavings in oil.

4. Engine Damage

The third most common reason for metal shavings in oil is engine damage. As we know, sometimes there could be some internal damage, a piston can break or something else could get damaged and further damage the engine and cause wear and tear.

This is the most notable occurrence in overheated engines and engines that were running for their money. And by this I mean pushed really hard. Some engines don’t want that and they want to treat them nicely.

So, it frequently happens some engines have increased wear and tear of the internals and metal shavings as a consequence of this.

This is the last probable cause for metal shavings in oil. Now let’s move on and discuss the possible problems that these shavings could cause in your engine.

Problems That These Metal Shavings Cause In The Engine?

Now let’s discuss some of the problems that these metal shavings in oil could cause to your engine. These issues closely relate to engine damage. But in the following chapter, we are going to cover them in depth so you have a clearer understanding of the matter.

1. Car Won’t Start

The first problem that could happen when there are metal shavings in oil is the inability of the car to start. But why this problem?

Well, this problem happens because there is a lack of compression inside of the engine. The engine is basically struggling to find some compression to start but is unable since the components inside of it like the piston rings, bearings are all worn out.

This is basically engine death. This engine will not be able to run unless a rebuild is performed on it. The engine has to be rebuilt if you want to return the ability for it to hold compression and be able to start. Now let’s move to the second possible problem with metal shavings in oil.

2. Car Keeps Stalling

Another problem that could come up from metal shavings in oil is the situation when the car keeps stalling. This in fact is the precursor to the problem with the engine won’t start.

Before the engine dies, you will experience stalling issues. Also, the engine will not be able to make the same pulls as it did when it had good compression.

Overall, a really bad situation that you don’t want to happen to you. And this happens almost in all of these engines that suffer from metal shavings in oil. The engine simply doesn’t hold the compression and shuts off. Then you need to crank it again to start. That’s why you need to beware of metal shavings in oil.

3. Knocking Sound

Another very common problem that could be caused by metal shavings in oil is the knocking sound. When the engine starts knocking, you basically know that this engine is destined to the junkyard. But why does this happen?

Well, this happens because of these copper metal shavings in oil. The copper metal shavings are the early signs that there is something wrong with the bearings of this engine. And when replaced on time, you will have an easier time. You will not have to replace the whole engine.

But when the engine starts knocking, everything is out of balance. There is damage to the crankshaft, cylinder walls, pistons. Engine damage inside the whole engine. That’s why metal shavings in oil should not be ignored.

4. Check Engine Light

And the last problem that we are going to cover that could arise from these metal shavings in oil is the check engine light.

As you know, every engine has a knock sensor that is located on the side that detects if there is knocking. Even the slightest knocking this sensor will activate and will show the check engine message on your dashboard.

At first glance, you might be confused because of this action by your car. But if you grab an OBD2 scanner tool, you will be able to diagnose the problem by learning the errors that the sensors are producing. Then you can move on to solving the problem in your vehicle. And that we are going to learn next where we will discuss what you can do when you have metal shavings in oil.

What To Do When You Find Metal Shavings In Oil?

Now let’s see what you can do whenever you find metal shavings in oil? What will be the logical steps when this problem happens?

The first and most important thing is not to panic. Don’t panic, drink a glass of water and think about your future steps.

The first logical step will be to determine the material that these metal shavings are made of. If it’s copper, it means that there is a problem with the bearings. If it’s aluminum, then probably the block is broken. Or if the chunks are made out of steel, then these problems are caused either by the crankshaft, pistons, or camshaft.

Also, see if there are some chunks that look like part of a piston ring. This is a good lead as well. Either way, this problem will require deeper investigation and engine disassembly. Normally this is done if you care about the engine and its health.

Things like these can get fixed for the right price if they are detected in the early stages. If the engine is too far gone. Then you will need to replace the whole engine.

How To Fix Metal Shavings In Oil?

So, how you can fix metal shavings in oil? Well, the simplest thing you can do by yourself will be to flush the oil and clean the oil pan.

The oil pan will tell you a lot of secrets about the condition of your engine. There you will be able to find a lot of clues about what could be wrong with the engine.

Also, if you are more experienced you can also remove the rod bearings and see their condition. It will be a good idea to make a mild refresh if the rod bearings are worn out.

There you will also be able to see the condition of the crankshaft and see if there is any damage done to it. If there is, then the crankshaft should be polished if you want to return it to factory spec.

Overall, these are the things that you can do in this case. Or if you are experienced enough you can just pull the engine off and rebuild it. But this isn’t a beginner-friendly job. Even experienced mechanics don’t know how to rebuild engines the right way. That’s why when you have metal shavings in oil, the best thing you can do is take your car to a shop.

Cost To Fix Metal Shavings In Oil?

Now let’s discuss more about the cost involved in fixing this problem with metal shavings in oil. And this greatly depends on how big the extent of the engine really is.

Meaning that the bigger the damage inside of the engine. The bigger the bill for repair is going to be.

If you only need new rod bearings, you might expect to get the cheapest deal. This will cost you between $1,200 to 1,600.

Metal Shavings In Oil

Everything else will require complete disassembling of the engine and machine work. And this could be costly. You might even end up paying from $2,500 up to $5,000 for this. And when the repair bill is that high. Your best bet would be to just get a used engine.

Replace your engine with a used engine for $3,000 and you will be good to go. Normally, not every engine is cheap. So, you need to be aware of the costs involved in purchasing and also installing a used engine.

These costs could climb up to $4,000+. But in my opinion, a used engine with low miles is a much better alternative than rebuilding a high mile engine. That’s my take on this problem. Now, let’s conclude the article.

Facts: Preventing Metal Shavings in Engine Oil

  1. Regular maintenance checks and servicing can prevent problems in your vehicle or detect them early.
  2. Checking and replacing the oil, oil filter, and oil pan is an essential part of regular car maintenance to prevent engine damage.
  3. Metal debris from engine wear can chip off and find its way into the oil, causing damage to the engine surfaces.
  4. The oil filter is responsible for catching metal flakes, but it cannot catch them all.
  5. Bi-metal or tri-metal bearings that have low-friction surfaces can cause metal shavings if they fail.
  6. Metal shavings can cause reduced engine power, ticking noises, rough idles, engine knocking, and white exhaust fumes.
  7. Metal shavings in oil can cause damage to engine components if left unattended, resulting in premature engine failure.
  8. Restricted oil passages due to metal shavings or flakes can lead to engine failure.
  9. Regularly replacing the oil and oil filter can help prevent metal flakes in oil from causing issues in the engine.
  10. Familiarizing yourself with how your car handles can help you notice when something might be off, and taking your car to a repair shop immediately upon noticing any issues can prevent further damage.

Conclusion To Metal Shavings In Oil

In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to metal shavings in oil. First, we learned what are metal shavings. Then we covered the types of metal shavings and as we concluded, these shavings could be out of copper, aluminum, steel. Depending much on the damage that is happening inside of the engine.

Then we covered the reasons why there are metal shavings in oil. As we noted, the most probable causes are poor engine maintenance, wear, and tear, and other problems that often happen inside of the engine.

After we learned the reasons, we also covered what type of problems you might be facing when you have metal shavings. This might include rod knock, low compression, stalling, check engine light, etc. Lastly, we learned what you could do to handle this matter and also what would be the cost to sort this thing out. Overall, not a cheap thing to fix.

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