If you're burning (not leaking) oil, the problem will only get worse.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 1986 Olds Cutlass uses two quarts of oil for every gas fill up. The car appears to be burning oil since there is no leak. I can't afford a new motor or car. Is there something else I can do? Will the condition continue to get worse?

TOM: The answers to your questions, Irene, are "no" and "yes."

RAY: No, there's really not much you can do. And yes, the condition will continue to get worse.

TOM: The first thing you should do is confirm that it's burning the oil, because an oil LEAK would be easier to fix. Your mechanic can check this for you.

RAY: If it is burning oil, it's just going to get worse. The best you can hope for is to slow the rate of degeneration, kind of like what we're trying to do with my brother. We've got a couple of years worth of unanswered mail here at the garage, and we figure if we keep loading him up with oat bran, we might be able to keep him around til we're all caught up.

TOM: My guess is that your rings are shot, and that oil is seeping past them and into the cylinders where it's being burned. This is what happens to cars when they get old, or in your case, when they're not properly cared for. We actually wrote a pamphlet called "Ten Ways You May Be Screwing Up Your Car Without Knowing It" just for people like you. We're sending you a free copy, so you won't ruin your next car like you ruined this one (and by the way, anybody can get a copy of the pamphlet by sending $3 and a nude photo to....)

RAY: And while it's too late to save this car, Irene, there are a couple of things that might help. You might try changing the oil more frequently. Dirty oil burns faster than clean oil. And we've noticed that people who add oil to their cars THINK that adding oil is the same as changing the oil. But it's not. When you add oil, you replace the oil that's been burned, but you never get rid of the sludge, the nuts and bolts, and the scrap Navy warships that are floating around in there. So changing your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles may help.

TOM: You should also make sure you're using the right oil. This car calls for 5W-30. Lots of mechanics--and even dealerships--use 10W-40 out of habit. This is another misconception. People think that thick oil burns more slowly than thin oil. But that's not true either. Using 5W-30 may, in fact, slow down your oil consumption.

TOM: But these are just band aids, Irene. Sooner or later (probably sooner), you're going to need a new car, or at least, an engine rebuild. So change your oil more often and start saving your pennies.

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