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Metal Shavings in Oil: Why It Happens (and What to Do About It)

There are some problems that are sure to cause major alarm for any car owner and metal shavings in the oil are one of them. If you notice metal shavings in the oil while performing your regular maintenance, you will need to act quickly.

We analyze the cause of oil contamination and show you the problems it can create. We also review your next steps to ensure your vehicle performs as expected.

The most common reason for copper shavings in engine oil is a bad connecting rod or main bearing. If it’s aluminum or metal, it could be the pistons, a faulty oil pump, or worn camshafts.

Motor oil is necessary for proper lubrication of the engine and for parts to function as they should. Without this lubrication, the metal parts would interlock, reducing the life of the engine.

Sometimes the speed of the pistons and a lack of lubrication can cause some metal debris to break off from the internal components. In some cases, this would not be a big problem because the metal particles were captured in the filter and removed during a tune-up. However, if a large amount of metal shavings appear in the oil, this indicates that the metal components inside are falling apart.

RELATED: How Much Metal in Oil Is Normal?

1. iron shavings

If the shavings you see in the oil are iron, you have a problem with one of the rotating parts inside the engine. The camshaft and crankshaft are made of iron.

Additionally, several valve train parts can be made from iron. Either way, you are facing a serious repair that should not be delayed.

2. Brass, bronze or copper shavings

Bronze, copper, and brass have a unique appearance that unmistakably sets them apart from the rest. If you notice these colored chips in the oil, these may be worn buses.

The problem could also be caused by a faulty bearing inside the motor. Although these parts are small, they both cause big problems for your engine when they fail.

3. Chromium or molybdenum chips

This silver-gray chip may also look like aluminum. However, chromium and molybdenum are what pistons are made of.

When you see these chips, you can almost bet the pistons are worn. There may also be a broken piston ring.

4. aluminum shavings

These chips tend to occur due to engine surface wear. Various worn components can cause aluminum chips.

You may be dealing with the overhead camshaft bearings. If not, it could be due to the aluminum caps.

motor oil in the bucket

1. In slow motion

When your vehicle is idling, everything should be smooth. However, vibrations or jerks at idle may indicate that there are metal chips in the oil.

When there is not enough lubrication for the engine components, the metal parts begin to rub against each other. Over time, metal pieces fall off and end up in the oil. Rough idling is simply a symptom that the engine is not running as it should.

2. engine noises

When the engine does not receive the proper amount of lubrication, you will probably notice some strange sounds. Because oil is not moving freely through the engine, you may start to hear ticking noises.

In some cases, these sounds are present all the time. Other times, you will only hear a ticking sound when you first start the vehicle.

3. engine knock

Engine knocking is a common sign of engine failure. This may be because you neglected regular oil and filter changes.

The longer you allow contamination to build up in the oil, the greater the stress on the internal components. Engine knock should always be taken seriously and investigated before the engine fails.

4. Bad acceleration

A decrease in performance is always an indication that something is wrong with the engine. If you press the accelerator pedal but don’t see any response, you should take note.

Decreased engine power means that the engine cannot perform as it should. It could be under additional stress from contaminated oil.

5. Board lights

You may also notice a Check Engine light come on or see the oil pressure warning light. In some vehicles, a Service Engine Soon or Oil Change Reminder light illuminates on the dashboard.

Additionally, some alerts indicate that the vehicle may be experiencing reduced power. When you see an indicator, it is a sign that you should examine the vehicle immediately.

RELATED: Service Engine Soon Light – Meaning, Causes and Solutions

If there are very few metal shavings in the engine oil, there is often no problem with wear over time. However, there are many of them and this happens after a short oil change; You may have a problem with your engine.

While you would expect that fixing engine problems would be cheap and easy, that is usually not the case. However, the more you let something go, the more expensive it can become. What might be a simple fix like performing a quick oil change can quickly turn into a complete engine replacement.

Take your car to the mechanic for a complete inspection. They will be able to tell what type of damage was done and if it is repairable. In some cases, a part can be replaced, while at other times an engine rebuild may be a better solution.

Rebuilding the engine can be quite expensive. You’ll likely pay $2,000 or more, depending on the type of vehicle you drive. However, an engine rebuild gives you many new parts along with the engine. To perform a rebuild, the following will occur:

  1. The engine covers, hardware, and valves are removed.
  2. The pistons and rings will be disassembled and repaired.
  3. New gaskets and seals are added.
  4. Any other problems can be handled at the same time.

If you drive a small, compact car, an engine rebuild shouldn’t take long. However, if you have a truck or SUV with a big V8 engine, it will take a while. However, with proper engine maintenance and regular oil changes, you will never have to worry about metal shavings in the engine.


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