Is it ever safe to start a car with no oil in it?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

Is it ever safe to start a car with no oil in it? I have a 2004 Honda Civic, and when I change the oil filter, it always drips all over the place, down the side of the engine and onto the struts or CV axles, I'm not sure which. My brother-in-law says to start the car after I drain the oil, and it will pump the oil out of the filter so I can remove it without a mess. I told him he is insane! Was I right? I told him I would rather clean up the mess than buy a new engine. -- James

RAY: I'm assuming your brother-in-law is a man with a very clean garage floor and lots of experience rebuilding engines, James. He's also nuts, by the way.

TOM: You should never, ever run your engine without oil. Not even for a few seconds. The engine is full of very expensive metal parts that slide along each other at high speeds. To keep them from ruining each other, engine manufacturers go through a lot of trouble to make sure these parts are ALWAYS bathed in oil.

RAY: They even go so far as to put a big, red idiot light smack in front of the driver's face that lights up if the oil pressure drops. Apparently, the light's not big enough for your brother-in-law.

TOM: So that's not a good option, James. But there's no perfect solution. Oil filters often are attached at odd angles, and crammed into hard-to-reach places. And they're generally hard to remove without spilling oil. On your Civic, the oil drips -- harmlessly, but messily -- right onto an axle.

RAY: What you CAN do is punch a hole in the oil filter with an awl. After you've drained the crankcase, slide your oil tub underneath the filter, loosen the filter a little bit to let air in, and knock a hole in the lowest part of the filter. Then go and take a break.

TOM: When you come back 20 minutes later, most of the oil will have drained out. Then you can grab the filter with a rag and unscrew it, with less oil running down your arm and onto your axle.

RAY: You'll never pass the white-glove test. But you'll be able to reduce the mess without reducing the life of your engine.

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