How To Start A Car After Running Out Of Oil [Step-By-Step]

This is sure to be a familiar situation. You’re driving along and everything is going fine. Sure, the check engine light has been on for the past 200 miles, but you have always found it to be an unreliable indicator. 

You’ve always considered yourself a good judge based on sound alone, of how much oil is left in your car, and you don’t need some blinking light dictating your trip. 

Then it happens, the engine light was right after all and you hear the engine start to sputter until it dies. It’s no fault of your own, clearly you’re an educated driver who pays attention to such things. But on the off chance you might have neglected your car’s oil level for far too long, there’s still no reason to panic. 

There’s an easy way to get your car running again after it’s run out of oil, but you need to follow these steps very carefully. If you just frustratedly turn the key repeatedly, uttering words you never thought you’d say in front of your children, you run the risk of seriously damaging your engine. 

How to start a car after running out of oil

Step 1: Knowing You’re Out of Oil

If you have a newer model car, the engine light should be a good gauge to tell when you need to check your oil levels. Most current models include an interface display that can tell you precisely how much you have, but older models might still need to be checked manually.

If you have a very old, classic car, the only way to gauge how much oil is left is with a dipstick. 

Step 2: Turn off Engine

There may be a few signifiers that your engine is about to die. The two most frequently reported are the check engine light appearing and a loud, clunking or thumping sound within the engine.If you see the light or hear anything unorthodox, it’s wise to quit running the engine immediately. 

If your oil gets too low, you run the risk of overheating the engine. Parts of it could melt, and in general it’ll be damaging to your engine in the long run. 

The last thing you want to do in this situation is to try and force it or, if it dies, turn the key aggressively in hopes of rebooting it. You’re only serving to damage your engine. The best thing you can do is to shut it off and stop operating your car as soon as you’re in a safe position to do so. 

Step 3: Confirm You’re Low on Oil

Blinking lights and loud noises are indeed signs you’re low on oil, but it might not necessarily be the root of the problem. You’re going to want to get a closer look at your engine to confirm that it’s the oil that’s causing the trouble. 

If your oil level is fine but you’re hearing the same sounds you would if you were low, then it may be a sign of a much bigger problem, and you’ll want your car serviced immediately.

But if you can confirm that it’s the oil, then you already have an immediate, serious issue that needs to be addressed. Oil provides the grease necessary to keep the moving parts of the engine working normally. Without it, they’ll seize, or even break down. 

Top off your engine. For most vehicles, this is a fairly easy process, but some cars do require a professional mechanic to handle oil changes. Again, this is exceedingly rare, as car models are becoming more and more DIY-friendly. 

It may only require a little topping off on your part, but that should not be the end of the matter. Once your car is road-safe again, the first stop you make should be to a service station for a more thorough examination. This should include checking for any leaks that may have sprung. 

  • Step 4: Drain The Oil Channel

Drain whatever oil is in your vehicle from the engine, checking for metal particles. If you see a great deal of them, then the damage may be significant. If there are no particles, then fill up the oil and check to see if it’s leaking. You’ll want to determine any possible reasons for the sudden change in oil levels. 

  • Step 5: Remove Spark Plugs and Fuse

Remove the cylinder spark plugs from your engine. Fill each cylinder with oil and let them sit for a few days. If you need to start your car earlier, you can attempt to start the car with a breaker bar. 


Depending on how well your car performs using just the breaker bar, it will determine whether or not the engine needs to be repaired or entirely revamped. 

  • Step 6: Turn The Crankshaft

Turn the crankshaft counterclockwise for a few cycles. 

  • Step 7: Crank The Engine

With the spark plug still out of the engine, crank it with a wrench several times. This gets any residual oil moved through the parts of the engine. 

  • Step 8: Reinstall Fuse and Spark Plugs

Now that you know you can safely crank the engine, put the spark plugs and fuse back in. Though it’s advisable to leave the plugs out for a few days, it may not take that long. In some cases, they only need to be removed for a few hours. 

  • Step 9: Insert Key

Put your key in the ignition, but don’t turn it yet. Just leave it in for a few minutes to get the fuel to circulate. Do this about three to five times. 

  • Step 10: Start Your Engine, but Listen Carefully

Start the engine and listen to make sure it sounds normal. Don’t engage the engine yet, just listen for a few minutes to get a sense of how well it’s working. 

  • Step 11: Test

Test out your engine in different states. Leave it in park, put it in reverse, turn the wheel. Make sure that the car is reacting normally to your commands and there are no strange noises. Once you feel your car is back to its usual performative ability, you should be good to go. 

If you do experience further problems while driving, however, it’s vital that you get it serviced as soon as possible. 


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