The Sunday morning after our return from Thanksgiving weekend, we loaded up Ben and Cassie, the black cocker bitch we had met and adopted one hour prior, into Homer, our Honda Odyssey minivan. We were going to the park, PetSmart, and who knows where else.
“I’m going to check the oil,” I said. I had noticed the engine running a little rough when we idled in a convenience store parking lot during the 360-mile trip home.
I grabbed some paper towels from the kitchen and propped open the hood. The dipstick offered little resistance as I withdrew it from its sheath. I held the end close to my face and turned it to reflect enough light to read it. There was no oil at the maximum fill line, and none at the minimum fill line. Below that, there was more of the same. Nothing.
When I wiped off the end, I felt only the dry rub of metal on paper towel.
I told Shannon we might have trouble, and helped her move everybody and everything to the Sebring. “We’ll buy some oil while we’re out.” The weather was about 72 degrees with a light breeze, and with winter fast approaching, we weren’t going to waste such a day.
When we returned from a great time, I moved the Odyssey from our slightly sloped driveway to level ground. It knocked and pinged loudly as I backed it down the driveway and parallel parked at the curb. I again checked the oil.
I looked at the driveway, where we always park Homer, for signs of an oil leak.
We had driven Homer at least 360 miles, and possibly twice that, without any oil.
The first mechanic looked at me after he heard it and said, “Oh, Mark, I’m real sorry. Your engine’s a goner.”
“Well, what can we do?” I asked.
“I don’t think you’ll have much luck trading the van in, once they hear this.”
Trading it in? I knew it was serious, and he confirmed it after patiently explaining how an engine’s rods prefer at least a little bit of oil pressure to operate. When they have none, they start making the sounds we were hearing.
Long story short, we got two local opinions, a sprinkling from an online Odyssey forum, and a confirmation from a mechanic in the family. The engine has been replaced and the mechanic just wants to drive its new home around a little Monday morning before turning it over to us.
The Odyssey forum folks were mercifully easy on me. One helpful soul typed, “I wish people would record the sound and post it here, but they never do.”
I laughed. He obviously doesn’t know who I am. Anybody who does knows that I don’t need an excuse to use my digital recorder, but given one, I’m all over it.
I took my recorder to work the next day and used part of my lunch break to capture the horrible knocking. Click the play button below to listen. You may have to click it twice.
Posting it was a breeze. This response stood out in my mind:
“Hey, that sounds like an engine that has been run without any oil! Oh, that’s right it is an engine that was run without any oil. As I think I said before in this thread, almost any other engine would have seized and left you stranded.”
Two things caused this misfortune. Here they are, in order of culpability:
- I didn’t check the oil before or during the trip.
- The oil lamp never came on.
Not that we live by the oil lamp. We’ve made our previous cars last well after they were paid for, and I don’t remember ever seeing it.
We had the oil changed about six months ago. Admittedly, that’s not quite as often as recommended, but it shouldn’t be time enough to burn through 4.5 quarts of oil unless there’s a major problem.
The engine we killed had about 120,000 miles on it. The replacement has about 60,000, and carries a 6-month, 60,000 (additional) mile warranty.
Did I say, “long story short?” Ha. That’s a good one.
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Left to Right: The hole left after removing the dead engine; the guys working to put the front axle, etc. on the replacement engine; preparing to place the replacement. Photos by Bob the mechanic.