A piece of plastic fell into my engine while filling it with oil. How much damage have I done?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

Two weeks ago, I was putting a quart of oil into my 1993 Saturn SL. Much to my
horror, the little plastic ring that's supposed to stay on the bottle after you
twist off the cap fell into the engine. It floated down into the engine before I
could fish it out. I've driven it since then. How much damage do you think I'll
do if I keep driving it? Any advice, other than to sell the car quickly? --

TOM: Brenda, we're sorry for not answering your question more quickly, but it
was accidentally forwarded to the newspaper's astronomy columnist. I guess he
automatically gets all the question regarding rings floating around Saturns.

RAY: That was bad.

TOM: I know. And I apologize.

RAY: Selling it is a little drastic, Brenda. I don't think you did any damage.

TOM: That little ring is probably floating around at the top of the engine
somewhere. It's unlikely to get in the way of any moving parts and break
anything, although it may position itself in the way of an oil drain hole and
keep some of the oil from draining properly.

RAY: That's not really a big deal, either. The real danger is if the plastic
ring melts and plugs up something permanently. I don't know the melting point of
that particular type of plastic, but it's probably higher than your typical oil
temperature (which is around 300 F). And my guess is that if it was going to
melt, it would have done so already, and you'd be writing to us asking about the
price of Saturn's replacement engines.

TOM: So, if it were my car, I'd leave it alone. Then, next time you need a new
valve cover gasket, ask your mechanic if he can fish out the ring, which is
certain to be sitting someplace on top of the cylinder head. If he asks why you
want a plastic ring, tell him it was your grandmother's, and it's of great
sentimental value to you.

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