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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello, I'm new to these forums.

I have a 92 Sable with about 125k miles on it. I earn about $250 every other week, just to give you an idea of how much I can spend on repairs or whatever.

So, I don't want to drive my Sable into the ground, I want to keep it going, but I don't want to do every single repair it needs, either. I simply couldn't afford that. I want to do everything it needs done that is considered crucial to its life. The first stuff that I got done with my own money was a ton of front-end work: CV shaft, bushing (sp?) rod, and three of four tie rods, cost me about $400, but I considered it pretty important. Next up that I think I need to take care of is a possible oil pressure problem.

Ever since I got the car last July, the oil light has flickered red when idle and after the engine is very warmed up (like, after ten to fifteen minutes of driving). It instantly goes off when I start moving again, and it doesn't do it at all when I first start driving (as I said, only after I've been driving for awhile). A couple weeks ago I got my oil changed, and this improved the behavior of the light. Some trips (say, seven miles or less) the light will not come on at all. Others, between maybe seven and ten miles and more, the light will come on, but only towards the VERY end of my trip, and still flickering and only at idle. Also, it goes off when I put it in park, so when I say idle I mean in drive and stopped.

I am very happy that it comes on less frequently since the oil change, but it still comes on sometimes, and that means I still need to get it checked out. I called my local mechanic, and he told me it could either be the sending unit, the oil pump, or the bearings. He said you cannot determine what the problem is without simply replacing it, so I have to just try each thing and see. Is this true? Just making sure he's not scamming me. So first I'd have to replace the sending unit, about $50 installed. If that doesn't help, the oil pump, about $250 installed. If not that, the bearings, which I guess would require an overhaul or a new engine to fix?

My problem here is that I was not aware that he couldn't simply look and determine if the sending unit's bad or if the oil pump's bad, and considering I have less than $100 a week to spend, it would simply feel awful to spend in excess of $300 for maybe nothing at all, if the bearings end up being the cause.

So what do you think I should do? Can I have someone look at it to determine what's causing it before spending any money? Or should I just start replacing stuff and be prepared to maybe lose some major cash? $300 is a lot of money to me.

I should also note that the engine burns some oil, it can be smelled and I lose about a quart every six to eight weeks. Could this be the cause of low oil pressure or is it most likely unrelated?

Thanks for any help you can offer.
 

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First question, how much care has the engine been given in it's past? Has it recieved regular oil changes around 3k miles? Or where much higher distances traveled between changes. That engine should have no problem making it past 120k miles if it's been taken care of. If the oil wasn't changed frequently the pump pickup could have gotten clogged with oil sludge buildup, and neglect can also explain the smoking.

The switch could be bad but I don't think it is, as that's rare. It dosen't HAVE to be replaced to see if it's bad. The mechanic can pull it out and put an oil pressure guage in the spot to check what the real oil pressure is.

The reason the light comes on at idle with the car hot is because there is a lot less oil being pumped by the oil pump when at idle, and also oil is a lot thinner when hot. So the combination of the two add up to low oil pressure when idling. The oil pressure is also probrably lower than ideal when driving also.

The main bearings could also be shot, lowering oil pressure by letting too much oil pass through them. And since hotter oil is thinner oil, more will squeeze by when hot and the pressure will drop. Using thicker oil will help to keep the oil pressure up if you don't feel like having work done to that engine.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Honestly, I'm not sure if it's received the care that it should have. I'm not positive, but I really don't know if my father always kept up with it. Plus, for the many months that it was not driven between ownerships, I think a lot of oil, well, evaporated or something, because the first time I got oil added at a shop last October he said there was almost nothing in it. I'm sure the engine has received damage.

I did ask the mechanic if he could check the pressure with a gauge, but he said for the time (labor) it would take to remove the unit, check it, and reinstall it, it'd be about the same as just getting a new unit, since the unti itself only costs $10 anyway, it's the labor that brings it up to $50.

I'm a little angered about the thicker oil thing. When I got my oil changed a couple weeks ago, I asked about that, and he said it probably wouldn't help much, and that it was better to stick with a standard, so I got 5w-30. Now I wish I would've gotten something thicker, perhaps that could keep the light from coming on at all right now.

So if I think the maintenance hasn't been top notch over the years, does that mean it might be likely that it's bearings? Would that also mean that it's a waste of time to get a new oil pump and sending unit, since the problem will still probably exist afterwards? Or can that not be assumed just because maintenance wasn't perfect?

And finally, is this an immediate threat? I know, I know, I'm sure the answer is yes, unfortunately. I thought that maybe since it only happens at idle and towards the end of my trip that the engine might not be receiving all that much damage, but I'm sure it is.

So what should be my course of action here? Another oil change after only 600 miles to get a thicker oil put in? Go ahead and invest in a new sending unit and pump? Assume/not assume that the bearings are bad? Is this a very threatening and serious problem?

Thanks for any guidance!
 

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I've got 2 experiences to share:

First. My friends mom has a chev. blazer with 350k miles on it. The oil pressure light was on a lot, and atarted to become more frequent. My friend wanted to replace the oil pump but I told him to say screw it, look at the mileage, the main bearings are shot. He replaced the pump and it made no difference. The bearings are very worn, but surprisingly that engine also kept living.

Second. Customer at the volvo dealer I used to work for had a car with a flickering oil light. The engine had 330k miles, the bearings where fine, the pressure relief spring in the oil pump wore out, the pump was replaced with a used unit and oil pressure went back up to normal.

I don't really know what I'd do if i where you. I think I'd wait for the engine to go bad and then swap in a better one, as it may live a while. Since the one you've got smokes, it could be valve seals, or need new piston rings, which would end up costing more than a used engine + labor to swap.
 

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do you hear Knocking or clattering noise from under the engine while the engine is running?If so then your rod bearings are bad :(
 
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I don't agree with your mechanic on putting a gauge on it to test the oil pressure. Sure, it takes as much time to do, but suppose the pressure switch isn't the problem? Then it needs to be diagnosed further, and one of the first steps would be to put an oil pressure gauge on it. Back to step one. :)

The most important part of auto repair is proper diagnosis. In this case:

Put an oil pressure gauge on, and see if it's in the range it should be. If it is, replace the sending unit, and it should be fine.

If the oil pressure is not where it should be, put the old sending unit back in. You will now need to drop the oil pan and start looking at the things that can lead to low oil pressure. First is the pump/pickup screen. If the screen is clogged with goo, chances are that's your only problem. Replace the oil pump and screen assembly and you should be good to go. If the pickup screen is not clogged, and looks clean, chances are it's the bearings. Since the oil pan needs to be removed to check the oil pump, checking the bearings would only cost you a little more labor. (just an FYI so you don't get poked for more labor).

My thoughts are, it's either a bad sending unit, or the pickup screen is clogged.

Also, welcome to the TCCA! Hope you find the help you need!

-Bob
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for the replies everyone.

I hear no knocking or clattering when the engine is running.

So should I demand that my mechanic check my oil pressure first with a gauge? Then if it's okay, replace the sending unit, and if it's not, move on to the pump and skip the sending unit?

If so, after that, if the oil pressure is actually low, he could check the screen, as you said. If it's not clogged or anything should I even bother replacing the pump?

Also, before I do anything else, do you think I should get another oil change done now to put a thicker oil in?

Thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Or, should I get the screen checked first? Only because, if it's clogged, the oil pump is definitely something I'll want replaced, so I figure I should get the more expensive thing done first if I'm going to do it at all.
 

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Originally posted by Bob Gervais@Jul 4 2004, 07:55 AM
I don't agree with your mechanic on putting a gauge on it to test the oil pressure. Sure, it takes as much time to do, but suppose the pressure switch isn't the problem? Then it needs to be diagnosed further, and one of the first steps would be to put an oil pressure gauge on it. Back to step one. :)

The most important part of auto repair is proper diagnosis. In this case:

Put an oil pressure gauge on, and see if it's in the range it should be. If it is, replace the sending unit, and it should be fine.

If the oil pressure is not where it should be, put the old sending unit back in. You will now need to drop the oil pan and start looking at the things that can lead to low oil pressure. First is the pump/pickup screen. If the screen is clogged with goo, chances are that's your only problem. Replace the oil pump and screen assembly and you should be good to go. If the pickup screen is not clogged, and looks clean, chances are it's the bearings. Since the oil pan needs to be removed to check the oil pump, checking the bearings would only cost you a little more labor. (just an FYI so you don't get poked for more labor).

My thoughts are, it's either a bad sending unit, or the pickup screen is clogged.

Also, welcome to the TCCA! Hope you find the help you need!

-Bob
Bob said it best, one other thing. You could be ruining a good motor if you are running low oil psi and keep driving it.
 
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Yes, have your mechanic check the pressure with a gauge. If that's OK, then you know it's just the sending unit. If oil pressure is low, have the pump and screen replaced. Even if the screen's not dirty, the oil pump could be faulty.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Alright, will do. First gauge. If fine, replace sending unit. If not fine, leave unit be, and replace pump and screen. If still not fine, then check out the bearings.

Remaing questions:

1) If the bearings can be just "looked at," shouldn't that be done first? Or is it not possible to just look and see if there's a problem with them?

2) Does $250 sound about right for a new pump and screen including labor?

3) Should I get another oil change done immediately to get a thicker oil put in, or only do that if the problem ends up being the bearings? Or, should I not do that at all?

Thanks.
 
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If it's not the sending unit, and the pump screen looks OK, have them check the bearings as well. No need to throw parts on for nothing.

The price seems good for pump replacement, it's about a 4 hour job if everything goes well.

I would stick with the recommended oil for now, unless you're going to wait past your next oil change to do all this additional work.
 

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Either I missed it or he didn't say it. Which engine do you have. My 94 3.8 is doing the exact same thing and I still haven't put the gauge on it. But my bearings are fine, the screen is clear and the oil was changed and it still did it. I want to see what solves your problem before I waste money replacing stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I have a 92 3.8. I called my mechanic and I will get an appointment Thursday or Friday. I told him I want him to check the pressure first, because if he replaces the sending unit and it doesn't fix the problem, he'd need to check it anyway. He said he wouldn't need to check it, and in that case he would just go straight to the oil pump. So, sending unit first or checking it first? Hmm... Both would cost about the same ($50 or so).

I have no idea what brand of oil he put in it. Just know it's 5w-30. I bought a bottle of super cheap stuff at Autozone just to have to fill it up when it needs some. It's okay to mix brands, right?

Anyway, Thursday or Friday he'll either replace the sending unit or check the pressure (haven't decided which I'm going to ask him to do first yet!), and then, if the issue is not resolved, I'll swallow hard and spend a little over $250 on a new oil pump. If that doesn't fix it, I'll get another oil change, get some thicker oil put in, and hope the engine lasts me.

I really like this car. That might be surprising to hear from a 17-year-old kid but I do. It's big and elegant looking. Oh yeah, I have custom wheels on it, too, I never mentioned that. A lot of people think they look rice-ish and not good on that car, but some people, including me, think they look nice on it. Take a look. So hopefully it'll last me. If it ever dies, hopefully someone will be able to donate an engine to me so I can keep him going.
 

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Those wheels look nice on the Sable. It's not rice. Are those American Racing wheels? I agree with your views about the car. I'm 18 and I get ribbed about it being a granny car. But it sure has the power to haul ass with 5 passengers!
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Thanks!

I still need help deciding whether to have him check the pressure or replace the sending unit. I mean, if it's low, and he replaces the oil pump, and if the light's still coming on, we'll probably end up replacing the sending unit anyway, just in case. If I have him replace the sending unit on Friday, and if the oil light still comes on, he'd probably just go straight to the oil pump. Bob Gervais, you said that in that case, he would need to check the pressure first, but why? If the sending unit's new, and if the light's still coming on, then you know the pressure's low, right?

Just need help deciding this before Friday!
 
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Originally posted by archcommus@Jul 7 2004, 10:59 PM
Thanks!

I still need help deciding whether to have him check the pressure or replace the sending unit. I mean, if it's low, and he replaces the oil pump, and if the light's still coming on, we'll probably end up replacing the sending unit anyway, just in case. If I have him replace the sending unit on Friday, and if the oil light still comes on, he'd probably just go straight to the oil pump. Bob Gervais, you said that in that case, he would need to check the pressure first, but why? If the sending unit's new, and if the light's still coming on, then you know the pressure's low, right?

Just need help deciding this before Friday!
You need to check the pressure with a gauge. That's the absolute first step to finding out if the car has low oil pressure or not. The car has a low oil light only, which only helps when there's no oil pressure at all. A gauge will accurately determine how much pressure there is.

Also, there's wiring for the sending unit, that could be the issue too. (not likely, but there's always a chance). Here's a scenario:

Your mechanic replaces the sending unit, and the light still flickers. He pulls the pan, and finds nothing wrong with the screen, pump, or bearings. By your mechanic's logic, what comes next? In his opinion, he's already replaced/checked anything that could have gone wrong. So it's back to step one, diagnosing the car properly with a pressure gauge.

I don't mean to sound rude, it just ticks me off when a mechanic won't/doesn't know how/doesn't have the tool to properly diagnose an issue and just starts throwing parts at a car. He needs to find out what the problem is, and repair it. Replacing components without knowing the problem is only going to make things harder for him, and spend more of your hard earned money on things that are not wrong with the car.

If he's guessing, or refuses to fix it properly, find a new mechanic.
 
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