Why Are There Metal Shavings In Motor Oil?

Sometimes metal shavings end up in motor oil. Some people can find this confusing. Isn’t motor oil contained within the engine’s lubrication system? How on earth can metal shavings end up in motor oil? Read on to find out.

How Metal Shavings End Up In Motor Oil

 Image Credit: JaguarForums

We have good news and bad news. The good news is it’s fairly uncommon for metal shavings to end up in motor oil. The bad new is when it happens, it can shorten the life of your engine, or cause expensive repairs.

The engine has many different moving parts. Almost all these parts are made of metal. When the oil begins to break down and fails to provide adequate lubrication, metal shavings end up in the oil. It’s because the metal parts grind against each other.

Imagine filing your nails with a nail file. This creates powdery residue. It’s the result of the friction between the nail file and your nails. That’s pretty much what’s happening within an under-lubricated engine. When the engine is running at 3,000 RPM (for example), all the moving metal parts rub against each other fast. For example, a piston with a 3.5″ stroke travels 7 inches every revolution. So at 3000 rpm, the piston is traveling 1750 feet every minute, with only a thin film of oil to protect it. Without proper lubrication, the heat and friction between the metal parts would create small metal shavings. Metal shavings vary in size, but most of them are microscopic.

The Metal Shavings Contaminate The Oil

Shavings in oil
Image Credit: NewCougar

As motor oil runs through the engine, it picks up the metal shavings. The more contaminated the oil is, the more starved your engine is of proper lubrication. This creates a snowball effect: the dirtier the oil, the more metal shavings end up in the oil. It’s because contaminated oil creates even more friction between the moving metal parts. The only way to stop this is to change the oil and fix the problem.

The metal shavings alone are not the primary issue within your motor. They’re a symptom of a bigger problem: the lack of adequate lubrication. The best way to prevent this from happening again is to pinpoint why your engine is not getting enough lubrication.

The Most Common Causes Of Lubrication Issues Within An Engine

If you’re wondering why your engine is under-lubricated, consider these common causes:

  • Clogged oil filter.
    • Oil filters have a bypass valve. When your oil filter clogs up, it sends dirty oil to the engine via the bypass valve.
  • Waiting too long between oil changes.
    • Over time, motor oil becomes too thick and dirty to properly lubricate the engine.
  • Worn piston rings or cylinder walls cause increased oil consumption.
  • Clogged oil passageways cause localized oil starvation.

How To Tell That Your Motor Oil Contains Metal Shavings

Most metal shavings cannot be seen by the naked eye, unless they’re clumped together on a magnet. If metal shavings are collected on a magnet, they will look like silvery sludge. Some oil drain plugs have a magnet, but most don’t. So it can be hard to figure out that you’re driving with contaminated motor oil. If you don’t have a magnet on your drain plug, or in your oil filter, the best way to tell if your oil contains metal shavings is to have an oil analysis done. The oil analysis firm will be able to tell you how much and what types of metals are in your oil.

Can Oil Filters Catch Metal Shavings?

As shown in this post, disposable oil filters can’t catch metal shavings most of the time. It’s because most metal shavings are too small for any oil filter to catch. These particles can go right through a disposable oil filter. Filters are really designed to trap sludge, which is made up of much larger particles.

Why You Need An Oil Filter With Magnets

filter magnets

In a well maintained engine, it’s fairly uncommon for metal shavings to end up in oil. Yet, you want to use an oil filter with magnets. The engine is the most expensive component in your vehicle. So it’s always better to take precautions.

In this case, the best precaution to take is to use an oil filter with magnets. If you have contaminated oil running through your engine, you won’t know until it’s too late. Magnets in the oil filter will collect any ferrous metal shavings in the oil, giving you confidence that your engine will be fine. This post explains how magnets catch even the smallest metal particles in oil. 

Disposable oil filters don’t come with magnets. Yet, some reusable oil filters do. PurePower! lifetime oil filters come with high quality neodymium rare earth magnets. These magnets are among the strongest magnets on earth. They create a strong magnetic field within the filter. They also can catch even the smallest metal particles. With a PurePower! oil filter in your vehicle, you’ll have the peace of mind that metal shavings won’t ever damage your engine.