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What Causes Metal Shavings in Oil?

Jun 7, 2021 ·

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Regularly servicing and performing maintenance checks on your vehicle is a smart thing to do to prevent problems from occurring or, at the very least, to catch them early.

You should be periodically checking your oil, oil filter and oil pan. The oil helps lubricate different parts of the engine. If there are issues with these components, they can cause damage to the surfaces in your engine.

One thing to look out for are metal shavings in oil. Metal debris has the ability to find its way into your oil and come into contact with the engine.

Keep reading to understand how this happens and how to prevent it from happening.

Sources of Metal Flakes in Oil

The oil in your vehicle passes through and around a lot of moving parts. Given the speed of these moving parts and the amount you use your engine, it makes sense that some metal could slowly chip off over time. This is a part of normal engine wear.

The oil filter is responsible for catching metal flakes, but it can’t catch them all. This is why checking and replacing the oil and the oil filter is an important part of regular car maintenance.

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Along with regular wear and tear, one of the major contributors to a buildup of metal shavings in engine oil includes bearing damage.

Engine bearings (including main, connecting rod, small-end and camshaft bearings) are often bi-metal or tri-metal structures. A low-friction surface (brass, copper, aluminum) bonded to a steel backing allows for longevity and efficiency. This multiple material composition can assist a technician when searching for the cause of metal shavings in oil.

If the shavings are nonmagnetic, a technician may determine that failed engine bearings are the cause. If the particles in the oil are magnetic, it could be the bearing backing material, or steel from the crankshaft or other engine components.

Signs Your Oil Has Metal Shavings

Familiarizing yourself with how your car handles and starts every time you get behind the wheel can help you notice when something might be off. Some things to look out for include:

  • Reduced engine power: If you’re finding that your car is struggling to accelerate when you step on the gas, you could have contaminated oil or a damaged filter.
  • Ticking noises: Metal shavings in engine oil can prevent the oil from smoothly flowing where it needs to go, which can cause a decrease in lubrication that results in ticking sounds.
  • Rough idles: A lack of proper lubrication can also cause friction to form between different engine parts. This can result in your engine vibrating or shaking excessively when your car is idling.
  • Engine knocking: Buildup of debris and metal shavings in oil can cause the deterioration of engine parts if left unattended. Knocking occurs when fuel is burning unevenly in cylinders, resulting in clunking sounds created by ignited fuel consuming air.
  • White exhaust fumes: Seeing white smoke coming from your car’s exhaust is a cause for concern, as it could indicate that oil is getting into your cylinders. If you see any, take your car to a repair shop immediately!

If your check engine warning light comes on, it could be another sign of metal shavings in your oil. Some late-model vehicles have oil pressure or oil change indicators as well.

Potential Problems

If oil with metal shavings passes between the crankshaft journals and bearings, damage like scratches or gouges can occur.

Metal shavings or flakes can also block or restrict oil passages. Restricted oil passages will drop oil pressure and flow to critical engine components, which can lead to premature engine failure.

If you’re wondering how much metal in oil is normal, some is OK, especially for a newer engine. However, excessive metal shavings in oil or newly discovered metal shavings once an engine has been broken in may indicate damage.

Prevention is key when it comes to metal shavings in oil, so replacing the oil and oil filter regularly can help eliminate the risk of metal flakes in oil causing issues in your car’s engine.

Perform Engine Maintenance With Training From UTI

If you’d like to become more familiar with systems in your vehicle, training from Universal Technical Institute (UTI) can help. Whether you want to use this knowledge to work on your own car or are considering a career in the automotive industry, the Automotive Technology program at UTI can get you the experience you need.1

The 51-week program covers the maintenance and repair of all kinds of vehicles and takes you through a range of systems. The Automotive Engines Service & Repair course specifically discusses how the oil system works, which can help you prevent buildup of metal shavings in your oil.

Interested in finding out more? Our Admissions Representatives are happy to help. Request more information here.

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