how low on oil can a standard car get before there is a mechanical problem

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Jun 10, 2015
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I knew a guy in high school who had a 318 and he would wait until it started knocking, then he would dump in 5 quarts. Claimed he had been doing that for 20k without issue.
Had a 318 in the '69 Plymouth I drove in high school. I was pretty good about checking the oil, though every now and again (usually in very hot weather) the oil light would flicker a bit at idle. That was usually an indicator I was about half a quart low and needed to add a bit.

Very tough engines, almost as bulletproof as the Slant-6.
 
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This is ancient history but will make you wonder. Back in the old days my wife had a 1975 Chevy Vega, she bought it new. Don't laugh it was voted "Car of the year" by some magazine. Anyway, she come down to my house for a visit, and said her oil light was flickering. I popped the hood and yanked the dipstick, nothing showing. I added 1 qt, 2qts starting to show, it took 3 qts of oil to make it to the full level. It only held 4 qts total. That car ate oil, didn't smoke or leak any oil that I could see. She drove that thing for another 10 years with no long lasting effects from being run low. I guess it all depends on what brand of engine your vehicle has in it.,,,

My father bought my mother a '72 Vega because she thought it was a cute little car. He wasn't impressed with the build quality at all, and said it probably wasn't going to last very long. And, he was right.

The aluminum head had a habit of warping away from the iron engine block -- there goes another head gasket. When it wasn't doing that, it was either jumping timing or refusing to upshift (automatic trans).

And then there was the rust. Oh God, the rust. All around the window trim, in the quarter panels...ugh.

Mercifully, the thing gave up the ghost at about 36K miles. My father picked her next car, a '75 Duster with a 318 under the hood. MUCH more reliable!
 
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May 9, 2016
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My 2nd car as a teenager was a '76 Vega.

Those things were so lousy that they caused many in that generation to swear off US cars for decades.
 
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My 2nd car as a teenager was a '76 Vega.

Those things were so lousy that they caused many in that generation to swear off US cars for decades.
Detroit never got the recipe down for small cars - Ford was the closest since the Escort was able to use a European platform(Ford UK/Germany Sierra), then back and forth between Mazda and Europe. GM struck out with the J-body and Chrysler had to resort to Mitsubishi(or the K-Car).
 
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Many moons ago, I was riding in a friend's '65 Mustang (289ci) and we took a steep off-ramp from a fly over that went over some RR tracks. The valve train started to clatter as soon as the nose pitched downward. 4 quarts low.....

One evening I was fueling up at the Chevron station right off of US-101. A woman walked up and asked me "How much oil does an engine hold?" I told her it depends, but typically 4 or 5 quarts.

"The oil light came on while I was on the freeway so I pulled in here. I already put 4 quarts in and there's still nothing on the dipstick."

She was driving a Ford Escort.
 
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Joined
Sep 8, 2005
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Just like OddBall said, I had a 1985 Buick Skyhawk that made me buy nothing but Japanese cars for the next 10 years after that.
Ironically, it was a 2002 Cavalier that restored my faith in GM. It was a good car.
 
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Jan 25, 2003
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There are other reasons besides mechanical damage why more oil is better than less. I would never under any circumstances operate an engine where the oil level was below the designated “low” mark on the dipstick. Your owner’s manual probably says the same thing.

Not always. Some engines have to be run lower in extreme applications because the oil will get into the crank and foam causing oil starvation if not kept below the normal minimum.
 
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I always keep my oil level in the cross-hatched zone. I try not to let it get lower than halfway down in that zone which is half a quart. However, I consider it safe to run as long as it's within that zone.
 
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May 20, 2016
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I had a '95 Taurus fleet vehicle, one day i deicded to check the oil and nothing was on the dipstick. I ended up having to add 2.5 quarts, but before it had ran fine. Without checking the level I would have just kept driving it.
 
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Oct 10, 2021
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Wisconsin
My daughter’s 2002 Blazer (4.3 V6) consumes a lot of oil. She drives short distances. I spite of my best efforts to admonish and educate her, she has run it countless miles with nothing showing on the dipstick. Either this is a very durable engine or it is so out of spec that there is little friction. She can go through a quart of oil in two weeks. In any event, I’ve given up on trying to educate her.
When she asks for money toward a new car.. and you laugh and say no. You dont need or care about having a running car. Because you abuse them. That might have some education value
 
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