How Much Metal In Oil Is Normal?

Finding metal shavings in the engine oil can be a sign of a worn or bad engine. But how much metal is too much? Let's find out!

How Much Metal In Oil Is Normal

Taking care of your car engine is priority number one. You get regular oil changes and ensure you never push the vehicle beyond its limits. So, if you see metal in the oil, it can be quite alarming. How much metal in the oil is normal and what should you do if you see it?

In this guide, we look at the normal amount of metal found in oil and discuss how this happens. We also examine the types of metal you might find in the oil and show you what to do about it. The bottom line is that metal in the oil is never a sign of anything good. 

How Much Metal in Oil is Normal?

It’s not uncommon for the engine oil to have minuscule metal shavings occasionally. However, these should be impossible to see through the human eye. However, if you notice a collection of metal shavings in the oil, it should be alarming. 

If you want to check to see if there are tiny metal particles, you can use a magnet. Another way to look for metal is to cut open the filter and pour out the oil from inside into a pan. 

To see how much metal is in the oil, you will want to drain it when it is still clean. You won’t be able to notice them as well if the oil is dark. 

At 10,000 miles, it’s common to see some metal particles as the engine breaks in. If you see them after that, you should be much more concerned. 

Once you notice some metal shavings, you want to perform an oil and filter change. After that, remove the filter again after a day or two to see what’s happening. If the metal shavings persist or there are more than just a few particles, you need to have the engine looked at immediately. 

RELATED: Metal Shavings in Oil – Why it Happens (& What to Do)

How Does Metal Get in the Oil?

If the engine is new, a few particles can just be a part of the break-in process. However, accumulating shavings that occur unexpectedly points to a sign of wear within the motor. Without proper lubrication, the metal parts inside the engine start to rub, allowing shavings to erode from the parts. These metal shavings are left in the oil, which can lead to further issues as they are circulated through the engine. 

Once the vital engine parts wear down, the damage becomes irreversible. That’s why it is so important to catch the issue early, before a new motor is needed. On top of that, you want to ensure regular engine maintenance to promote better lubrication. With a little care, you can avoid wearing out the engine components in the first place. 

What Do Metal Shavings Mean?

Metal shavings in oil have different meanings based on what type they are. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between some of the substances without experience. You might find that seeing a professional is best if you aren’t sure what you are looking at. Here are the different types of metal shavings you might find and what each means. 

1. Iron

These metal shavings indicate a rotating component within the engine is wearing. There are several engine parts that are made of iron that might be rubbing and wearing. 

For example, the crankshaft and camshaft are constructed from this metal. It could also be caused by any of the iron valve train components. With any of these parts, there will likely be a major engine repair in your future. Still, you will probably be experiencing other engine complaints by the time these parts start to wear out. 

2. Copper, Bronze or Brass

The appearance of these shavings is unlike any of the others, so they are much more recognizable. If you see any of these colored shavings, it’s possible you are dealing with bushings that have worn out.

It’s also possible that the metal is coming from a bearing that failed. These are all small parts but can lead to huge trouble when they are bad. 

3. Molybdenum or Chromium

Both of these metals look incredibly similar to aluminum. Yet, these metals are used to create the engine pistons. 

If you identify these metal shavings, it’s almost guaranteed that the pistons are wearing out. However, it’s also possible that the piston rings have broken. 

4. Aluminum

There are numerous parts of the engine that are constructed from aluminum. Because of this, it can be more difficult to determine what has gone wrong. 

Look at some of the parts on the engine’s surface. It could be an issue with either the overhead camshaft bearings or the aluminum caps. 

What to Do if There’s Metal in Oil

You probably won’t notice the metal shavings first unless you are doing an oil change. Instead, you might first recognize some performance symptoms that occur as a result of this defect. If the vehicle is exhibiting rough idling or there are unusual sounds coming from the motor, you want to have it looked at. Additionally, the metal shavings can cause a reduction of power or white smoke coming from the tailpipe. 

Of course, doing an oil change can confirm the presence of metal shavings. If you notice metal in the oil, you need to have the motor looked at by a professional.

Most of the time that metal appears in the oil, you are looking at a massive repair or complete engine rebuild. However, if you catch the problem early on, you might be able to walk away with a simpler repair. The key is not to wait at the first sign of trouble.

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Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of MechanicBase. He has been working as a mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.