Engine Survival Stories

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Sep 8, 2005
Just wondering if anyone has any interesting/ amazing stories about engine survival - motors that shouldn't have kept running, but did, and what was done to keep them going...especially what additives were added to 'fix' them.....

My father had an 1989 Toyota Tercel, and I came home one day to find the drain plug and contents of the oil pan in the driveway, and him out doing downtown errands...dealer didn't put plug on tight. Drove all day on no oil, oil light only flickered a couple of times, according to him, and after being towed to the dealer and re-filled with oil, car ran fine for another two or three years, until wrecked in an accident. Used a bit more oil than before, but never blew up. Toyota reliability at its finest, I guess!

Another one I heard was a guy with an old Subaru with spun bearings...wanted to keep the car going as long as possible for as little as possible, so his mechanic filled his oil sump with pure Restore (4 litres!), ran the engine for a half hour, changed it to engine oil, and sent the guy off to drive the car for another year or so, before it was traded in! Apparantly ran fine...

Another one I read about was a person who had an old escort with a cracked block and spun bearings that filled his engine w/90wt gear oil and drove the car for another 10,000 miles....

Any other stories like this out there?
My Dad has an '88 E350 with a 460 in it. Back in 1990 he lived in the San Fernando Valley and went on a trip to visit my sister in the Great Pacific Northwest.

Before he left, he went to the local Jiffy Lube to have a LOF, and as they were checking over his van, they left the radiator cap loose.

He drove over the entire Grapevine and about 100 miles up I5 before he noticed his temp gauge pegged. He pulled into a gas station with a service bay, and was told he'd fried his engine.

Dad told the guy to fill it with coolant and he kept going.

That was fifteen years and a hundred thousand miles ago. Now his van has 130,000 miles on it, and it still runs fine.

Ford 460s are some tough engines!
1988 Mercury Topaz back in my college days. Starter it up one -30C winter morning and went back in the house to let it warm up. Came back out 10-15 minutes later to discover the oil light on and the lifters rattling. I was already running late and in a bad mood so I hopped in and drove. I figured once it warmed up a little the oil might start flowing. The oil light stayed on the whole way and the engine was noticeably down on power and very noisy but it made the 15 minute drive to school.

After class I took a tin can, filled it with gas, placed it under the oil pan and lit it on fire. 20 minutes later the oil was toasty warm and the engine started right up and the oil light went out. I had to repeat this procedure a few more times until I could get home to my dads shop to check it out. I dropped the pan to discover the pick up screen plugged with gasket silicone, likely from a botched oil pan seal-up at the factory.

Anyways, I cleaned it all up, put it back together and never even looked at the bearings. I drove that car for years after that and never had a problem. No power loss, oil burning, etc. I sold it to a friend who drove it for a few more years and it finally died in an accident with 400,000km on it. Those old 2.3L pushrod engines were tough!
When I was 16 (1989), I got a job & purchased a 1983 Chevy Monte Carlo. It had 100k miles on it when I bought it. It smoked like a freight train from the day I bought it & consumed approx 2 qt's of oil per week. I drove it from 1989 until 1993 without ever changing the oil (Stupid, I know). It burned so much oil, I always thought "Why bother changing the oil?" It had 180k miles on it & still ran OK (& smoked even better) when I traded it in 1993.

Funny thing is I had lots of other work done on the car while I owned it, & not one of the mechanics ever asked: "When's the last time you had the oil changed?"
When I was 16 (1977), my best friend and I planned to go the beach one nice afternoon. He got called in to work, and I managed to talk him into letting me borrow his beat up old Toyota Corolla (this was a really early one, late '60s version, I think). I thought this was pretty cool, especially since it was now me and two pretty girls. But that's a different story. After the 45 min trip to the beach, I became convinced the engine was not running well (no surprise really, if you could have seen the car). A few minutes after we left, I decided to stop for gas and check the oil, especially since the engine seemed even rougher. I pulled the stick, and you guessed it -- absolutely nothing. It took four quarts of whatever I could find to get it back to the full mark. I don't know what an early Corolla's capacity was, but it can't have been much more than what I added. When I reported this to my friend, he seemed unfazed, and said something to the effect that it used a lot of oil and he just waited until that "low oil" light came on and then topped off. I didn't see a light myself, but I have to wonder how many times that little Toyota had been pushed to the brink of death by my great (but car-ignorant) friend.
Iwas working at a parts store one day when a gal called and asked if I had a oil drain plug for a Fiat X19.I told her I had no listing but bring the old drain plug in and I would match it up with a new one.She came in about 20 minutes later with the car,she had noticed it was missing the drain plug when she saw oil on her driveway.Well with a laugh I found a drain plug that fit ,She poured in 4 qts of Raylube and started it up.It sounded like a singer sewing machine.
I had an ex girlfriend with a Mercury Zepher. 200 cu in inline-6.

She drove the car from Primn, Nv to Yermo, Ca a distance of 100 miles with a blown lower hose, "Hot" light on etc.

The car finally died at the bug check station in Yermo. She sat there untill it cooled, a trucker taped the hose up and filled the radiator with water.

She drove the car for 4 more years and eventully sold it. It was still runing as of 1998!
Last weekend, MIL had oil changed in 160k mile Honda accord. Then lost the main and/or balance shaft seal. Pumped all oil onto highway. Drove to shop that did the oil change with oil light on...~20 miles with little to no oil in engine.

Now, just a little rod bearing knock!

At least that thing still runs. I remember a few years back, the in-laws smoked the engines in 3 cars in one month!

Many years back we had a 1986 Golf with about 200k on it, when it was lost in a wreck. Compression was 155PSI on all cyls at that mileage. It had M1 15w50 from 40k (1989) every 15k miles or so, whatever conventional was on sale from OE to 40k.
Back in the early 70s we had a customer with an International AS110 pick up,it had been hard starting for a few days,then we saw them drive up on the forecourt and start pouring water into the radiator,after 4 cans it wouldn't start,so we pulled it in ripped of the cyl head.There was NO combustion chamber in cyl 5! Just a rusty water jacket and two valve stems,we never found a trace of anything else and there was hardly a mark on the piston.

Working on a stolen and recovered FJ40 Cruiser,it ran ok,but lacked power,sitting idling it would ocasionaly hic cup with a loud twaaaang! Maybe a valve is sticking and hitting a piston I thought.When I pulled the head the valves were ok,so started turning over the motor looking for damage,but it all looked good - then I noticed 3 pistons on TDC! I flipped out one piston top with a screwdriver.

Just a few months ago I was looking at a friends Hi Ace with a 3Y engine,it had a bit of a knock,but we couldn't find anything wrong,I suspected something between piston and head,but he just said I'll wait for it to blow.And blow it did a few weeks later - when I pulled the head one piston top was gone completely,but piston skirt,gudgeon pin and rod were fine.But there were HUGE holes in the cyl wall,massive damage.I never found what went through the engine,the valves were still intact,but I doubt if an alloy piston top could do that much damage to a cyl wall.
I've got a 1982 Granada with the 200ci straight six with 260,000 miles on it. It ran on dino ND30 with 12 month OCI's for twenty years. When I bought it for twenty bucks it took months for me to get the motor clean. Other than that it runs like a champ.
About 17 years ago I had decided to buy my father's old '66 Mustang convertible and get it restored. This car had been abandoned for 8 years in his yard and had sunken deep into the mud. The floor pans had already mostly rotted away before he had "parked" it, so the car was pretty much completely rebuilt with new panels and a new chassis, while the engine (a 200 ci straight six)and transmission were left in place. The engine already had 130,000 miles on it and had not been started or in any way serviced in eight years. We replaced the starter and battery and made an attempt to start it as it was and it started almost immediately. Without any further work, besides an oil change, it worked for several thousand miles. I noticed it was running hot and had it checked and discovered it had a broked rod and needed a valve job, but still was running.
Was on a large construction site in the Carribean for 26 months, late '70's.

We had all the different Japanese pick-ups, Toyota Land Cruiser, and many various passenger cars. We drove all these vehicles hammer down one hour each way to work. Sometimes we'd take shortcuts through cane fields on rutted dirt tracks as fast as we could go. The trucks were used all day long on the job in appalling conditions, vastly overloaded at times.

In two years, these trucks were beat into oblivion. They far surpassed the Land Cruiser in taking abuse.

Two brands stood head and shoulders above the others. Datsun and Toyota. Can't say either was better than the other but I liked the Datsun for some reason better.

I don't know if they still make them that tough, but believe you me, you could not kill either with a hammer.
Well, I just had 476 ppm lead on a UOA of 4200 mile old oil in my '95 Ford 300 cubic inch inline six. Found the PCV breather line unhooked and sucking unfiltered air for several thousands of miles. Since the airbox had sand depostis (I drive through a construction zone daily), it is likely that sand got in the engine. Also oil from the oil filter media felt gritty. The engine is still running and seemingly with little ill effect other than possibly loosing 1 or 2 psi in oil pressure (larger bearing clearances maybe

Originally posted by TallPaul:
engine is still running and seemingly with little ill effect other than possibly loosing 1 or 2 psi in oil pressure (larger bearing clearances maybe

Now's the time to go to 50 weight oil
! My 1989 F-150 with the same 4.9L had the upper radiator hose blow off on the highway. I reattached the the hose after about 1 mile but drove about 4 more miles before I could add any fluid. The old "gal" held up fine and in fact it ran better afterwards
. Maybe the extra heat burned the crap out of the engine. I was using Mobil 1 10W-30 at the time. In fact the truck is still running fine 5 years after this incident.

Back in '97 was headed home late one night after a long day. Lost newly-replaced water pump at 70 mph and continued to drive another dozen miles or so thru a truly bad part of town slower and slower as engine knock kept me easing up on throttle till moving at no more than 10-12 mph on I-45 with hazard lights on. Pulled into a convenience store and waited a few hours for engine to cool down enough to try putting some water in. Still blew back a few gallons as steam at first. Got it home and next morning replaced water pump, oil and filter.

Pulled heads to decarbon a couple of years and many thousands of miles later and could find no real evidence of damage; even varnish in a few places was more easily explained by age than by this event (not first time this car lost a pump; it lost a radiator and the pump one afternoon in mid '80's).

Radiator finally started leaking about 8-years after that night.

That was the one time since 1982 that I've seen truly wasted looking synthetic oil. Mobil One 15W-50.

Chrysler knew how to build 'em (V8-383).
2 stories
My first car I managed to drive it over 30K miles without doing an oil change to it,When the oil light would come on I would simply just add a quart!......I'm pretty sure my Dad is probably turning over in his grave LOL.

When I took out the 79 BMW 320i I ended up buying for a test spin I noticed the temp gauge was pegged out after about 8 minutes of driving.We had to drive it back to the house which probably took another 10 minutes.When I peeked into the radiator it turned out it was only halfway full!
Filled it right up and it didn't overheat again.
Bought it and it turned out to be a tough engine!
Never did strand me any where once.
My cousins 94 Honda on the other hand came on the borderline of destruction when he ran the coolant ran a little low.He runs low oil all the time but man that thing is really sensitive about the coolant level.
From the mid 70's -

A friend had been drivng his dad's small block Suburban for a few days and I go to lunch with him. I get in and when we take off I notice the oil pressure gauge is reading 0.

Me - what's with the oil pressure?

Him - The gauge must be broken. I've been driving it all week ( to and from work 25 miles each way ) and it's never read anything.

I roll the window down and notice the tapping. Not at all common for a hydraulic lifter small block Chevy.

Me - hmmm...

We go eat lunch and on the way back we stop for gas.

Me - Hey, how about we check the oil while were here?

Him - Ok, but it should be fine. Dad was driving it.

So we check it after leaving it sit for a minute or two and there is nothing showing on the stick. Nada, not a drop.

He adds two quarts. Still nothing showing. He adds two more. We've made it to the add line +- a little.

Him - S*%!.......

We drive back to work. Next week he tells me "dad had the Subruban towed to the Chevy dealer. The engine quit"...

Here's one:

1) 16yr old new driver takes '72 Dodge Polara to the park 12 miles away with friends. Comes to a steaming halt in the parking lot with temp light on. Tried to call Dad, can't find him. Found Grandad, comes down and we both stand there staring at it shrugging our shoulders. Grandad says "it's only about 12 miles back, let's see if it will make it home." It did - billowing huge clouds of white smoke as it came to rest in the driveway. Turns out lower rad hose was off - a little maintenance snafu overlooked by Dad doing some hose replacements the day before. Needed a complete rebuild, which it got. Don't know exactly where the hose with an untightened clamp actually let go, but it probably ran at least 20 miles with NO coolant and only about a half hour cool-down period before the last 12. Just enough time for it to dry out. Chrysler 383.
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