What Causes Metal Shavings in Oil and What to Do?

Written by

Charles Bolte


Vernon Hoppe 

What Causes Metal Shavings in Your Engine Oil and What to Do

Metal shavings are metal flakes or small metal pieces found in your engine oil. After a rebuild as well as during or after the break-in period of an engine, it’s not unusual to spot shimmering particles. This is just natural.

However, this is not always the case. These may be warning signs of a failing engine. Be vigilant for big metal shavings measuring at least 2 – 3 millimeters in diameter. They are a sure threat to your car’s health.

Discover what causes metal shavings in your oil with the help of a trusted mechanic to regain your car’s health.

Causes of Metal Shavings in Your Engine Oil

Vehicle owners don’t usually know how to fix metal shavings in engine oil. A good mechanic can be worth your investment.

Here are pictures of metal shavings.


1. Engine Wear and Tear


Over time, excessive friction of bearings and other moving parts causes them to wear out and chip off metallic particles. They then find their way into your oil.

Metal shavings that are small and irregularly shaped should not be a cause for worry.

Changing your oil regularly and using the proper one for your car can help prolong the lifespan of your engine bearings. You should do so after 300 – 500 miles after your engine rebuild.

2. Poor Lubrication


Your engine has reciprocating components made up of metal. Insufficient or improper lubrication causes these parts to grind continually against each other.

Eventually, metal dust or metal shavings accumulate, causing excessive engine wear.

To avoid under lubrication:

  • Do not use the wrong type of oil for your engine. The viscosity grade specified in your car manual, not the brand, is the one that you have to follow.
  • Have regular oil changes and follow the maintenance schedules suggested by your car manufacturer.
  • Always check the amount of your oil levels.

3. Contaminated Oil


Metal pieces or shavings are one of the sources of contaminated oil. They are brown, silver or gray in color.

Once you see these, go to a lab for oil analysis and save yourself from the trouble of disassembling the engine. You have to know in detail what causes metal shavings in your engine.

The oil analysis result will provide written results that specify which components are wearing.

Signs of Metal Shavings in Oil

Watch out for the common signs of metal flakes or small metal pieces in your engine oil.

1. Reduced engine power


One of the tell-tale signs that your car is in bad shape is when there is no or decreased engine power once you hit the gas pedal. It could possibly be because of contaminated oil caused by metal shavings.

However, there are a host of other reasons for the poor acceleration of your car. See your trusted mechanic to find out the source of the problem and have it fixed.

2. Abnormal engine noises


Earlier on, we said that poor lubrication may be caused by metal shavings or metal pieces getting in the way, restricting the smooth flow of your engine oil. Ticking sounds at the start up of the car or during your journey tell you that something is just not right.

Other reasons for such weird sounds might be low oil pressure or wrong viscosity.

3. Engine knocking


A clogged oil filter causes knocking because the collection of metal debris in the oil filter restricts or blocks oil passage.

It also causes damage to the internal parts of your engine as they rub against each other without proper lubrication. Take your car to a garage for inspection once you hear clunking and knocking from your engine.

To prevent your oil filter from clogging up, change your oil filter as often as you have oil changes, and use high-quality engine oil.

4. Low oil pressure


If your oil pressure gauge reads low, there is a high probability that your worn bearings are starving for lubrication and that you have a clogged oil filter.

Here are three of the various things your mechanic can do to solve the problem of low oil pressure:

  • Check your oil level with a dipstick and add oil if needed.
  • Dispose your damaged oil filter and have it replaced.
  • Check for metal shavings in the crankcase and disassemble the engine once you find them. It allows for a thorough examination of its internal parts.

5. Rough idling


Pay attention when your engine is idle. Does it vibrate or shake continuously?

These are symptoms that your engine’s parts are not well-lubricated due to metal shavings in your oil.

Here is what you can do.

  • Put the right amount of oil in your engine.
  • Flush your engine oil if it has metallic shavings.
  • Have an oil change.

6. Check engine light is on


Most cars are quite smart. They can detect oil contamination caused by metal shavings.

Your ‘check engine’ or ‘service engine soon’ lights can illuminate the dashboard to warn you that your car needs immediate repair or replacement of its engine, components or transmission.

7. Timing Chain Wear


A timing chain gets worn with time, disintegrates, and leaves timing chain metal shavings in your oil pan or oil filter.

These metal shavings could be an indicator of a problem inside of your motor, specifically your timing chain.

Try to listen and watch for these common signs:

  • A break in your timing chain or a loose one.
  • A rattling sound from the chain.
  • Engine misfires.

Don’t delay taking your car to the garage once you encounter these signs. Let your mechanic find out what causes metal shavings in your oil.

Prevention and Solutions

How often should you change your oil filter to prevent metal shavings in oil?

You should have an oil filter and oil changes synchronized regularly or as per your mechanic’s advice. These prevent further accumulation of metal shavings in your oil and keep your car optimally healthy.

Ideally, you should replace your oil filter with every oil change. They should be carried out every 6000 miles for a petrol car, or every 10000 miles for a diesel.

Most importantly, you have to check your manufacturer’s manual. It contains information regarding the recommended frequency of your oil filter and oil changes.

How often should I check for metal shavings in my oil?

Here are some general guidelines for you to decide whether it’s time to have fine metal particles in engine oil checked:

  • During regular oil filters and oil changes. The mechanic checks for the amount and nature of the metal shavings.
  • During and after the break-in of your engine. When you start seeing big pieces of metal, that is the time you have to take your car to the mechanic.

There could be a lubrication problem. There’s also the possibility of some parts not fitted correctly.

When there are signs and symptoms of metal shavings in your oil, when your engine starts misbehaving, it’s giving you a nudge to take your car to a garage and have it fixed.

How can I tell if my filter is doing its job?

Your oil filter is responsible for catching metal flakes. The problem is that only the bigger particles in oil filters get collected, not the smaller ones.

Two factors determine the ability of oil filters to catch metal flakes: the size of the metal shavings and the type of filter used.

Try reusable oil filters with strong magnets because they collect microscopic metal shavings efficiently. They prevent the tiniest metal particles from mixing up with the oil in your engine.

How much does it cost to fix metal shavings in oil?

To get metal shavings out of your oil, you have to spend $500 – $1000. The cost can increase depending on the source of your problem.

The earlier you have it fixed, the better. It’s a pricey endeavor but will prevent you from severe damage.


Oil is the lifeblood of your car. Always use your eyes to inspect for metal in engine oil that may ruin your car’s health.

Excessive metal shavings visible to the naked eye spell trouble and should not be taken lightly. You might need an engine or component replacement or an engine rebuild when your oil gets contaminated by metal shavings.

Find out what causes metal shavings in your oil and have regular servicing and maintenance oil checks to get rid of engine issues and maintain your car’s optimum performance.

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