Going Cheap Can Get Expensive

Our cars are old, and our cars have things that aren’t exactly necessary for daily operation but do malfunction and require attention.  We came across a 944 that had a blown engine – the owner ran it low on oil and, well, things inside didn’t like that too much.  The short story?  Chunks of bearing material in places other than where you would want to find bearing material.

So we built another engine to take its place.  In doing so, we also did what we do to other parts of the car – we fixed a few things that needed fixing, rebuilt things like brakes and air conditioning, reupholstered the seats – made it into a nice car. Oh, yea, and changed all the fluids.  But as a retired law enforcement officer – investigator – I had to figure out why this engine lost its oil and what could have prevented the failure.  Gotta love a good mystery.

Above the drain plug on the passenger side – where the oil level sensor lives.

When pulling the old engine, something struck me as interesting.  Some engines have an oil level sensor in the oil pan – stuck into the side of the pan on the passenger side above the drain plug.  A yellow cable-wire is attached to it, and there is a heat shield protecting the sensor and cable from the nearby exhaust header.  This engine had the cable, although it was coiled up and zip-tied to some bracket nearby.  The heat shield was also there, covered in 35 years of grime.  But there was no sensor – just a cover plate.  Hmmmm…

So here is the possible answer to what happened with this engine and its owner.  He (or she) got cheap, and the eventual cost was an engine.

When the oil level sensor decides that the oil is too low, the oil light on the dash lights up and flashes.  Idiot lights that flash are supposed to indicate that something is really wrong and needs immediate attention.  Remembering that this is a car from the eighties, on board diagnostics and LED screens that talk to you were not available – the best they could do is flash a light at you.

When these sensors malfunction, they turn on the flashy light even though the oil level is fine.  (We found this on a 1988 924S Special Edition that had a bad sensor in the oil pan.  Replaced it with a used one – fixed.)  In this case, we are guessing that the owner had a sensor failure and the stupid red oil can light flashed over and over and over and over…you get the picture.  So a trip to the mechanic, and the correct diagnosis – replace the sensor.

Oil level sensor installed with the cable and heat shield

BUT – the sensor today is a Porsche-only part at $320.  Plus a $5 gasket.  Plus labor.  And you have to drain the oil, so add an oil change to it.  In all, maybe a $600 or higher repair.  And the only time that the stupid light ever came on is when it was broken.  At the time, the car was probably worth $3000 total, so turning off an annoying flashy light for $600 may not have made sense.  But our intrepid mechanic had a solution – a $25 cover plate and just a top-off oil, total less than $100.  “The car’s not worth it…put the plate on it.  Go cheap.”  (By the way, unplugging the sensor won’t fix the flashy light thing.)

So the wiring is tied up, the $25 plate installed, and the errant sensor goes in the bin.  Problem solved.  No more flashy blinky red oil light.

Until the engine is low on oil.

So why was it low on oil?  We really don’t know for certain.  What we do know is that someone along the line decided that 0W-30 full synthetic was a good idea, and why not?  That kinda like what they put in the new 911’s, right?  The driver put high performance 911 oil in an engine designed for 20W-50 dinosaur oil, and maybe with a little drip here, a little going-past-the-rings there, a little burn over yonder, and not checking the oil at all, the oil left the building.  Gone.  Not enough.  Metal on metal.  Grinding.  Heat.  Break off pieces.  Stop running.

And no sensor to turn on a little flashy light to indicate low oil level.  

So is there a lesson here?  First, check your fluids.  Often.  Second, try not to “go cheap” and cut corners.  Do it right and do it well.

Enough preaching.  Now go check your oil and enjoy your car.


Author: 924s944

After retiring from a career in Law Enforcement, Kevin Duffy turned his attention to one of his passions, Porsche 944's and 924S's. He owns 924S944.com LLC in DeLand, FL, rescuing and restoring forgotten Porsches, bringing them back to a useful life. He is especially interested in the rare-but-beautiful 924S Special Edition. He can be found at Porsche Club events, local Deland Area Cruisers events, and other car-related things including track days, tours and shows around the southeastern United States.

2 thoughts

  1. Great, great advice. While the overall value to repair value equation may be unfavorable owning a Porsche can be expensive at times and proper care is essential. Ain’t no such thing as a cheap Porsche. Spend it now or pay the price later

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