Engine Failure -- Help Settle A Dispute About An Overfilled Crankcase

Tiny
JCBRESSLER
  • MEMBER
  • 2009 CHEVROLET TRAVERSE
  • 3.8L
  • 6 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 151,000 MILES
The engine on my 2009 Chevrolet Traverse suffered a catastrophic engine failure recently while on a family trip to Florida. The car was traveling at posted highway speeds on Florida’s Turnpike, when suddenly, without any warning, the car shuddered for about 5-10 seconds; then, the check engine light flashed; and about 2 seconds later, we heard a loud BOOM and felt the explosion as well. I could see some small debris flying behind my car, as well as a cloud of gray smoke.

We used our momentum to move to the right and then to the right-hand emergency pull-off lane on the Turnpike, on a portion that did not have a shoulder. Once I determined that I could safely exit the vehicle, I assessed that the issue was not related to a tire rupture, but saw a small pond of clear motor oil – about 1-2 cups, ultimately – form next to the car.

I had the car towed to a Chevrolet dealership with which I had a previous relationship. Upon inspection, they discovered that the crankcase had been filled with approximately 12 quarts of motor oil – which was far in excess of the 5.5 quarts that are recommended for the crankcase of my make, year, and model vehicle. They also observed a hole that was made when one of the engine components penetrated and exited the sidewall of the engine during the catastrophic failure.

My last oil change -- performed by a reputable, national brand -- occurred about 18 days prior to the issue. I had not accessed the hood or crankcase after the oil change, because I entrust that the professionals have properly done their job. I managed to drive 1,600 miles prior to the catastrophic failure -- almost entirely consisting of short-haul, around town hops -- prior to the lengthy, 800-mile sojourn from Greensboro, North Carolina to Southeast Florida. It is worth noting that the longer trip was split into chunks of no longer than 2.5 to 3 hours between stops -- though the last leg, driven in 98-degree temps, lasted about four hours prior to the engine failure.

As part of their analysis, Chevrolet noted that with a car of my age, it is surprising -- but not unexpected -- that the catastrophic failure would take time to build – the pressure situation, as it built, would take the path of least resistance to manifest itself. Upon inspection, the Chevrolet maintenance team noted several gasket leaks where oil had emerged as the pressure built -- notable, as no previous oil leaks have ever been observed from this car. Finally, with no other relief from the building pressure, the catastrophic eruption led to the ejection of a rod through the engine sidewall and an immediate and complete shutdown of the engine block.

The company performing the oil change sent an inspector to observe the vehicle, and to examine the evidence (both physical and testimonial). They ultimately decided to reject the claim -- not on the basis that they didn't believe that the oil was overfilled, but that there was NO WAY that the car could possibly have traveled 1,600 miles without experiencing the failure.

This is why I am posting this question on several forums -- consider this a "focus group" of sorts -- to try and either support the claim (backed in reality) that the car could have traveled as far as it did with its engorged condition; or agree that the inspector had the correct perspective.

I appreciate your feedback and look forward to a detailed response.
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Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 AT 7:32 AM

6 Replies

Tiny
HMAC300
  • EXPERT
Wow, what a problem I can suggest you get a court date on this for one reason is the people that are hired in to fast lube places. I'm sure that the company that changed the oil will say it's owner's responsibility to do maintenance checks. Like checking oil. Or that is one of the excuses they said to relieve themselves of responsibility. Having analyzed engine failure for GM North American operations I can tell you that much oil would have caused a bunch of problems that you explained like pushing oil through the seals and gaskets for one. I am however surprised that you got that far without a problem surfacing. It would be best to see how much coolant if any is/was in an oil sample to see if you possibly blew a head gasket and it dumped coolant into the engine and caused the overfill of oil. However not seeing this firsthand it is hard to give a proper answer. A sample should have been taken and analyzed right at get go to help support your case. If it were more oil than coolant then it would tilt in your favor. As far as the temp outside that would have nothing to do with the engine failure due to driving on eway which is very easy on an engine. When an engine is overfilled with oil it cause foaming or air in pan which would eventually get into system of not complete fluid lubing things like it should. As far as who is right or wrong is hard to say. Most mechanics will agree that it's not a good thing to overfill oil or you can overfill a tad and not have problems. But from what you are saying is a gross overfill and I would think give some type of problem quickly. However, having been a mechanic for 50 yrs today most people don't look under the hood unless they get a problem. Long as it runs ok change oil an d put gas in it and go especially with today's engines So I guess you'll have to take your answer from what I've written which from my perspective is still vague.
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Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 AT 9:47 AM
Tiny
HMAC300
  • EXPERT
One other thing to add in chart I'm sending in pic it shows two arrows which are for oil leaks the first arrow causes the second so oil Is forced out gaskets and seals because a pcv system in no way could keep up with that. Make sure to read first reply as well.
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Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 AT 9:53 AM
Tiny
JCBRESSLER
  • MEMBER
Thank you, HMAC, for your reply.

I had solicited feedback from another expert yesterday, and he seemed to be less willing to leave open ANY possibility that the car could have survived 1,600 miles given the overfill.

But there's absolutely no evidence to the contrary that the engine failed for some other cause.

I have some updated information for you that I was hoping you would consider:

1) If I was to tell you that the official report by an inspector indicated that the oil level in the crankcase -- as measured on the dipstick -- was noted as being four inches above the full mark, would this change the likelihood that I could have driven hundreds of miles - with no warning -- prior to the failure? I have no way of understanding what four inches equates to in terms of actual oil volume, but I suspect you might. Meaning -- if the oil was not filled to double the capacity, but somewhere above a certain tolerance of overfilling, could I have driven the mileage I indicated without any sign prior to the failure?

2) Given the fact that the engine has been removed from the vehicle now, and all of the oil has been drained -- is there any benefit to having the engine disassembled and examined at this time? Meaning, would we gain any definitive insights as to the cause of the failure? Or would we still not really know what ultimately caused the rod to eject (meaning, wear of components versus a catastrophic "break")? This will be helpful in helping me decide whether I want to pay to keep the core and pay to have the engine disassembled? If you were asked to do this dissassemblage, what would you charge? And would there be any value in the disassembled parts on the resale market?

Thank you in advance for your follow-up.
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Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 AT 1:46 PM
Tiny
HMAC300
  • EXPERT
Unless the oil was measured as to exactly how much the 4inches doesn't mean anything other than it's overfilled. I'm sure the inspector said that it is drivers responsibility to check oil so something like that could have been spotted sooner. Of course there wold be no reason to examine the engine now for rod ejection because there are probably more than one rod that are ready to go. I imagine it may be #8 that let go but that is an assumption as it' s furthest from pump. The only thing you can check for on a disassembled motor like your s after damage is to look for lack of oil in different areas or where air has gotten into it. Like maybe cam spalling or something similar but that won't show much I don't think. Like I said in very first reply an oil sample should have been pulled to see if it was mostly oil or 50/50 oil/coolant to cause the overfill. The engine may have been failing with the short hops but unknown to you but with the long haul that would definitely cause the air to build up due to overfill and steady speed. Only thing I can recommend is to find out where the HQ for the oil change company is and get a lawyer to maybe do a lawsuit. Or at least talk to one. If the HQ for oil company is not in your state it will cost them money to send a lawyer for that and they may agree to a settlement instead of a lawsuit. Make absolutely sure that where you took it for engine replacement that the mechanic enters that it was grossly overfilled with oil. You may get some payback even if the inspector turned it down. It's better than nothing. This is about all I can add due to not seeing it and just making a judgment call from my end
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Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 AT 5:07 PM
Tiny
JCBRESSLER
  • MEMBER
Thank you for being so cooperative, HMAC -- I had been meaning to clarify the one point about the substance that was found in the crankcase -- it was, 100 percent, unadulterated, clear, motor oil. No mixing -- like what would have happened with a blown head gasket -- occurred.

Additionally, when the Chevy dealer inspected the engine, they gave a small twist to the drain plug and only a few drops of water-like fluid dripped out -- their explanation? Any fluid present -- coolant and oil -- at the point where the rod shot through the engine would have ran down into the pan -- but by no means did 12 quarts run out -- as I observed, only 1-2 CUPS of oil exited the engine immediately after the failure.

Does this change -- or more to the point -- verify your thoughts that, yes, the overfilling could have caused the failure, and also, that I could have run the car on a series of short hops for 1,600 miles before the catastrophic event occurred?

This will be my last follow-up. Thank you for your time!

Regards,
Jordan
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Thursday, August 13th, 2015 AT 6:17 AM
Tiny
HMAC300
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I pretty much explained in the last reply so I have to stand by that. The oil should have had a sample taken however like I said because even if it looks like oil doesn't mean it is pure oil. I think your only option now is what I said in last reply to see if you can get some type of settlement. If that much oil was in the engine then there should have been a trail of oil on roadway when engine blew and undercarriage of vehicle should have been pretty wet
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Thursday, August 13th, 2015 AT 8:28 AM

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