How Long Can I Drive with Bad Piston Rings? Answered!

Updated: | Author: Steve Freling | Affiliate links may be present.

Is your car belching out gray smoke from the exhaust pipe? Is it slow to accelerate? Do you smell burning oil? It may be due to bad piston rings! Keep reading to learn how to self-diagnose worn-out piston rings and when to replace them.

Piston rings are attached to the piston in a combustion engine. They help seal the combustion chamber and regulate temperature and oil flow. When they are damaged, the engine will not function properly.

If you’re looking for a quick answer, know that it’s best to replace worn piston rings as soon as possible to avoid costly engine damage. Realistically, you can go a few hundred miles without being forced to replace them, depending on the exact condition of your piston rings. But again, it’s always a good idea to get them replaced as soon as it’s feasible for you.

What is a Piston Ring?

There are usually three piston rings in between the cylinder and the piston of internal combustion engines. They help to seal the cylinder so the gas doesn’t leak in between the opening into the piston. Piston rings regulate the amount of oil needed to lubricate the engine.

Car engines produce a lot of heat! The piston rings help release some of the heat that builds up in the engine. Piston rings also help absorb the shock between the piston and the cylinder wall to keep your engine running smoothly.

Curious to learn more about piston rings? You can check out this descriptive page on piston rings from the University of Windsor.

How Long Is It Safe to Drive on Worn Piston Rings?

If you notice any of the symptoms of worn piston rings, it is best to get them changed as soon as possible. Some drivers wait a bit to change the rings because changing them requires the engine to be disassembled. This can be a pricey and time-consuming job!

However, worn piston rings will cause engine damage eventually. Even if you can drive with them, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea! Maintain optimum oil levels if you can’t get your vehicle into the mechanic right away in order to keep damage at bay.

Some vehicles may run for weeks on bad piston rings, but the issues caused by the worn piston rings will only get worse. For the sake of your vehicle, get them changed when you first notice the problem!

What Are the Signs of a Bad Piston Ring?

How can you tell if your piston rings are worn or bad? Here are some common symptoms of worn piston rings.

Excess Exhaust Smoke

If there is a lot of gray smoke pouring out of the exhaust pipe, that is a sign your piston rings may be bad. The smoke is produced by the excess oil burning in the engine. You may also be able to smell the burning oil in the car.

Sometimes, the smoke can also be blue. This indicates that engine oil is being burned after leaking into the combustion chamber. And piston rings are one of the most common culprits behind this, according to the department of environmental protection.

Crazy Oil Consumption

The piston rings keep oil from leaking into the combustion chamber. Worn piston rings cause oil leaks, burning oil, and excess oil consumption.

Loss of Engine Power

Vehicles with bad piston rings have a loss of compression in the engine. This means that when you step on the gas, the car will take longer to accelerate. Eventually, the car may lose all power and not run at all.

Hot Engine

The oil in your engine helps keep the engine cool. Since bad piston rings cause the oil to leak, the engine may become overheated. If the engine becomes too hot, the engine may be damaged.

How Much Does It Cost to Replace Piston Rings?

The piston rings themselves cost between $80 and $250 in most cases, but they’re not what makes the process expensive, it’s the labor cost associated with it.

Why is that the case? Well, replacing piston rings means a mechanic will need to disassemble your engine, replace the worn piston rings, and put it all back together. And trust me, the process is way more complex than what it’s sounding like.

Not all places offer this either. The ones that do offer this service, will charge you for several hours of labor cost. So, your total cost for replacing worn piston rings will run into thousands, depending on your car model. I’d say the minimum would be $1,000, whereas it can easily reach all the way up to $5,000 if we’re talking about fancy engines with modern bells and whistles.

Closing Thoughts

As you can tell by now, how long you can drive with bad piston rings depends mainly on the present condition of them. The easiest way to judge that would be to check for the symptoms of bad piston rings that I’ve laid out above. If you’re facing any of those with serious enough severity, it’s probably a good idea to replace the piston rings ASAP.

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About Steve Freling

Steve has worked for more than 20 years as an automotive mechanic, and later run his own repair shop for both cars and motorcycles. He's a maintenance freak, and generally pretty good at troubleshooting!

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