When the oil light comes on, stop the engine immediately.
First of all, you have a great column. It's thoroughly enjoyable, even for a mechanical nerd like myself! Here's my problem. My son has a 1988 four-wheel drive Ford Tempo which he took to a local service station for an oil change. About a mile from home, the oil light went on, and unfortunately, he drove the rest of the way home. We had the mechanic come down to the house, and he found that the oil filter had fallen off!! There was no oil in the car. The mechanic put on a filter and put in four quarts of oil. The car runs well now, but I am concerned that the engine has been damaged. What should I do?
TOM: Well, the first thing I'd do is give that kid a dope slap for driving home after the oil light came on. When the oil light comes on, you should always stop the engine immediately.
RAY: After that, I'd pay another mechanic to do an oil pressure test. It's a simple and inexpensive procedure. You should also get him to listen to the engine, and see if he can hear any rapping (he should listen for the bearings, not M.C. Hammer). If every?thing checks out, then all you can do is wait and see.
TOM: It's still possible that some damage was done--and it may mean the difference between getting 70,000 miles and 120,000 miles out of this engine--but it's going to be almost impossible for you to prove it. Only time will tell.
RAY: If, on the other hand, the oil pressure is low, or the bearings are making noise, then damage definitely was done. In that case, you have two choices. You can ask the mechanic for a new engine, and hope that his insurance will cover this kind of stupid mistake. Or, you can do what any red-blooded American would do: Sue his coveralls off. Good luck, Mel.