Your car’s longevity relies heavily on regular maintenance, such as, for example, changing your oil after 3000 miles. It can make a huge difference and help you avoid unnecessary repairs. If you cannot do this regularly, it will cause engine problems, with a complete replacement being the only option in most cases. If you don’t do this regular maintenance, in one of the worst-case scenarios, you’ll try to start your car one day, and you’ll find that your motor locked up. This is also called an engine seizure. 

So what is engine seizure? What causes an engine to seize? If you’re asking these questions, it might be too late for you. If you’re googling these questions, your next question is probably can a locked engine be fixed? And how much does it cost? Read to find out how to unseize an engine that has run out of oil.

What Is a Seized Engine? How to Tell an Engine Is Locked Up?

Engine seizure happens when your car won’t start, but electronics like the AC and radio are still working. This means your engine is locked due to overheating or lack of engine oil. Loud clanking sound and white emission smoke are signs before your engine locks up. 

What happens if your car’s engine locks up while you’re driving? You’ll hear a clanking noise from the engine, and then the vehicle will stop on its own. Engine damage can range from minor to severe, mainly due to the lack of lubrication. Sometimes an engine seizes up due to mechanical failure even if it’s parked and not running.

You may have trouble starting your car or hear knocking sounds while driving. Once you hear this sound, the vehicle will stop moving. If the car hasn’t been used for a while, the piston rings get stuck to the cylinders. So if you attempt to start the car, it won’t move because it has accumulated rust.

You can try to fix a frozen engine. However, fixing a car with a seized engine can be very expensive, costing thousands of dollars. Can a locked engine be fixed? Well, it can, but it’s very expensive. A seized engine repair cost will cost you in the thousands of dollars! If your car isn’t worth more than the cost of the repairs, your best bet is to sell it to a reputable junk car buyer.


What Causes an Engine to Seize?

Before you can unlock a motor, you must understand the potential causes. Different things may lead to the engine being locked up. Common causes include:

Reduced amount of oil

If the amount of oil in the engine is insufficient, it causes the engine to overheat. The oil in the motor acts as a layer that separates the piston and cylinder, thus preventing friction and overheating. This will cause the different components to melt, ultimately leading to permanent engine damage. A regular oil change should help you avoid a seized engine.

Water in the engine

A flooded engine contains less air, making it difficult for the pistons to work. This can happen if you drive through a flood or puddles. When a large amount of water enters the cylinders, the motor will be locked up immediately. In this case, a complete engine replacement may be the only option.

Build-up of rust

Rust can accumulate when a car is not used for a long time. Also, when small amounts of water enter the engine, rust may build up over time. This will cause seized motors whenever you try to start the car. Rust can also originate in your fuel tank, which is why you should have it looked at regularly. The same goes for your fuel filter. If you have an older car, you might want to get your fuel tank inspected to make sure no rust is developing in there. If there is, you’ll want to replace it or at least make sure your fuel filter is of high quality. This will do its best to prevent rust from being transported in your gasoline from the fuel tank to the engine. 

Failure of oil to circulate

Oil is a critical component of your engine that maintains its ability to run. If oil isn’t circulating, it can cause the motor to seize. Metal on metal parts need lubrication to run, and if they aren’t lubricated, it’s a good way to cause a seized engine. Oil is as necessary for the proper running of a car as using transmission fluid is necessary for the transmission to work. 

If this happens to your engine, it’s best to get a trusted mechanic to check your oil pump. If it has failed, oil won’t circulate and may be the cause of your seized engine. Luckily, if this hasn’t been going on too long, your engine may be salvageable. Replacing your oil pump and making sure oil is properly circulating is one of the cheaper ways of how to fix a locked-up motor

Two ways to recognize an oil pump failure is if you notice your engine overheating or the oil pressure gauge may be reading much lower than it should. 

Damaged parts of the engine

The piston, cylinder, or any other part of an engine can become faulty. If this happens, the car will not start. Although this is the least common cause, it can still cause you trouble, especially when you least expect it. Getting a mechanic to inspect your engine regularly can help you prevent this.

Vapor lock

Vapor lock is a rare cause of the engine seizing up. It occurs when the motor becomes too hot, causing the diesel to be converted to gas. Engines cannot handle this gas.

An indication that this has happened is when the engine starts sputtering and then stops working. It commonly occurs in old cars that have been left in the sun for long periods.

What Are Some Common Seized Engine Symptoms?

What are some seized engine symptoms that you can look out for? Here are a few to focus your attention on:

Loud knocking or cranking sound

A seized engine sounds like something that is cranking against another object. This is one of the first indications that something is wrong. This sound occurs as a result of reduced amounts of oil. So there is friction when the starter hits the flywheel. Over time, the sounds will become louder.


When the car fails to start, you may see smoke and fumes. Sometimes you may see fire coming out of the engine. If any of these happen, you can be 100% sure that the motor is locked up.

Oil light on

An engine that is locked will prevent oil from circulating properly. Once this happens, the engine control unit will indicate something is wrong. This, in turn, will activate the engine oil warning light on the dashboard.

Visible piston

When engine seizure occurs, the different components become loose. As you attempt to start the engine, the loose components will lodge into other parts. This makes the piston visible.

Failure of the car to start or accelerate

If you try to start your car, and it won’t turn over, you should consider seized motors as the cause. A car that won’t start clearly indicates that something is wrong with the engine. However, it is infrequent for a vehicle to fail to start without the other symptoms, such as a loud cranking sound or fumes coming out of the engine.