Should a car with 87k miles on it need a new oil pan?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am an owner of a 1989 Ford Crown Victoria which I purchased new. I've not encountered any problems in the 87,000 miles I've driven it. Lo and behold, when I had my oil changed a couple of weeks ago, I was told by the mechanic that my oil pan was starting to rust away. I am in my 70s, and have never heard of such a condition, having owned many, many American cars in the last 50 years. Does this seem kosher to you?

RAY: It's not unusual these days, Julius. Here's why. Since the energy crisis in the early 1970's, automakers have been obsessed with improving gas mileage. And one way to improve gas mileage is to reduce weight.

TOM: So when they asked the folks in the engine department to cut out some weight, one of the things they did was use a lighter oil pan. And the lighter the oil pan, the quicker it rusts through. So instead of rusting through after 200,000 miles in the old days (after the rest of the car had long since been rendered useless), modern day oil pans sometimes rust after 100,000 miles, when the rest of the car is still in decent shape. And it's not just Ford. All the manufacturers have been doing this.

RAY: They're learning, Julius. They probably figured the first owner of the car would keep the car about 90,000 miles (six years at 15,000 miles a year), so they tried to time the oil pan to last at least that long. So give them a break. They were only off by 3,000 miles!

TOM: Actually, the oil pan problem is even more pronounced on front-wheel-drive cars, where the exhaust system runs right by the oil pan. That extra heat from the exhaust speeds up the rusting process that much more.

RAY: So replacing the oil pan is just one of the prices we have to pay for increased fuel economy, Julius. Think about all the money you've saved on gas over the last 87,000 miles in this modern, fuel efficient luxury car....

TOM: And write a check for that amount and buy yourself a new oil pan.

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