What is Metal Shavings in oil: Causes and What to Do

There are several issues that should be a significant concern to drivers and car owners if they don’t want to have fainting experience in the long run, and metal shavings in oil are one of those issues.

Metal shavings in oil are considered a threat no matter the amount you see. If you see metal shavings in an oil dipstick while checking your oil level, do not take it lightly. You have to take quick action in fixing it.

This article explains metal shavings, causes, what you should do yourself when you see it, and when you need a mechanic to track down the cause of the metal shavings in the crankcase and fix it. First, what the heck is metal shaving?

What is metal shaving?

metal shavings in oil dipstick

Metal shavings are those chippings, flakes, or tiny metal particles in engine oil. It is typically a result of oil contamination or friction and wear in the engine moving components. So, what do metal shavings in oil look like? Metal shavings look like tiny metallic particles. They are mostly seen on the oil dipstick, crankcase, and oil filter.

Although metal shavings have different looks and each look indicates a particular problem. They are as follows;

Shiny aluminum particles: Indicates accelerated wear on engine surfaces.

Tiny copper, bronze, or brass particles: These particles look pretty different from other metallic particles. They indicate wear or damages on the engine bushings or bearings.

Tiny iron particles: If you see small iron particles, there are issues with the engine rotating components such as crankshaft, camshaft, and some valve train parts.

how much metal in oil is too much

What causes metal shavings, and where do they come from?

Every engine comprises several moving components, and the engine oil flows and travels through these components for oiling purposes. As these reciprocating components move on and around each other, they tend to chip off some metallic particles.

Now, the question is ‘are metal shavings in oil normal?’ These tiny metal shavings that chip off due to friction on the reciprocating engine components are normal. How much metal shaving in oil is normal? These small chippings from normal engine friction should not be seen with naked eyes. They are considered microscopic elements.

To curb this wear and damages from engine parts, the oil filter is introduced and designed to filter metal flakes in oil, but unfortunately, it can’t filter out all these tiny chippings. This is why it is recommended to do regularly scheduled oil and oil filter changes at the proper interval.

Aside from normal engine wear, another cause of metal shavings is oil contamination. The engine oil gets contaminated once foreign particles enter the engine via combustion, additives, vents, and normal friction between engine moving parts.

Some of the oil contaminants include dirt, acid, dust, water, carbon, and soot.  If the engine oil gets contaminated, it will not allow the engine to run as it should and you’ll face accelerated engine wear. For instance, if engine oil mixes with water, it will reduce the oil lubricating properties, leading to friction and quick engine wear.

Another cause of metal shavings is worn engine bearings/bushings. Engine bearings such as small-end, camshaft, main, and conrod bearings are usually tri-metal or bi-metal engine parts. A low-rate surface such as aluminum, copper, brass fixed on steel components provides efficiency and longevity.

These different materials used in engine design can help a mechanic track down the cause of the metal shavings and where they are coming from.

If you observe that the metal shavings in your crankcase are magnetic, it is likely from the crankshaft, camshaft, bearing’s backing surface, or other engine parts. And if the fine metal particles in engine oil are nonmagnetic, it is likely from a failed engine bearing.

What to do when you find metal shavings in the oil

Once you notice flakes in your engine oil, you need to take a simple preventive measure. As we explained above, metal shavings indicate frictions and wear in the internal engine parts. Once you observe it, you need to act fast because no engine (old or new) is safe from metal shavings, especially on a commercial ride, or if you’re always on the road.

Do regular oil and oil filter change every two to three months or ideally after covering 3,000 – 5,000 miles. If you bought a ride from a dealership, consider changing the oil and oil filter at 100 miles, 500 miles, 1,500 miles, 3,000 miles.

What can I do myself?

Once you observe metal shavings in your oil, take little of the engine oil for a lab test. They will analyze the oil and tell you where the metal shavings are coming from. This will only cost you about 30-35 bucks, and the result will be out in the next few days.

While waiting for the lab result, service your engine by draining and replacing the oil and oil filter. The reason for the oil change is, the oil filter might have collected too many contaminants, which will cause severe engine damages if it stays any longer.

However, you don’t have to relax after doing the oil change. If you’re a DIY enthusiast, raise your vehicle with a jack or car lift and support it with a Jack stand. Loosen the oil crankcase and clean it.

When do you need a mechanic?

Cruising your car around town with metal particles in it is a dumb idea. Do not think or even try it. It can lead to catastrophic engine damages, requiring an expensive repair or engine replacement.

Consult a mechanic once you notice this issue or after taking some necessary measures outlined above. You may have to go with the lab report. Why do I say so? Metal shaving is a problem and an indication of another problem in the inner engine components that’ll escalate if not thoroughly inspected and fixed on time.

Unless you’re a petrol-head with the right tool, you need a certified mechanic to track down the cause of those tiny particles in your engine oil and fix them on time.

subaru metal shavings in oil

FAQs

Q: What do shiny metallic particles in the engine oil indicate?

Shiny metallic particles in the engine oil are aluminum shavings, or molybdenum, or chromium shavings. If it is aluminum shavings, it shows wear on the engine surface. It could also be worn or wear overhead camshaft bearings or aluminum caps.

In contrast, if it is a molybdenum or chromium shavings, which looks similar to aluminum, it is likely an indication of broken piston rings or worn pistons.

Q: Is it normal to have metallic shavings in oil after the rebuild?

It is normal to have metallic shavings in engine oil after rebuild. That is why mechanics recommend doing oil and oil filter changes after one or two weeks of engine rebuild.

In any case, if you consistently notice metal shavings after doing the first oil change, you have a problem that needs your mechanic’s attention. Before panicking, I recommend you do another change of oil and filter. This time, add oil treatment. If the shavings persist, do not hesitate to consult your mechanic.

Q: Are metal shavings in oil bad?

Metal shavings could be normal or abnormal. So, how much metal in oil is too much? Any metallic particle that can be seen with open eyes is bad, and a threat to the internal engine components. It indicates accelerated engine wear, and if not fixed on time, it will cause severe damages, leading to expensive repair or entire engine replacement.

Q: Is it normal to see small metal shavings in oil?

As several internal engine components reciprocate, over time, they chip off tiny microscopic metallic particles. However, these particles are not seen without a microscope. It is never normal to see metal shavings in engine oil.

Although, metal shavings in the oil after engine rebuild is normal. It is pretty normal to see metal shavings before the first oil change when you rebuild your engine. But if the shavings persist after the first oil change, it should be of great concern and needs professional attention.

Final word

Do not overlook metal shavings in oil because it is a pointer of other problems on the internal engine components that will escalate to catastrophic damages if not handled properly and timely.

Regardless of the guidelines and information on how to fix metal shavings yourself, I recommend consulting your mechanic if you’re not a petrol-head or DIY enthusiast because of the consequences involved. Failure to do this may lead to regret when the consequences arise.

In any case, you have a role to play – preventive measures. Always carry out a regularly scheduled oil change, tune-up, and other maintenance services to avoid engine sludge formation and oil contamination.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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