What to Do If Your Car’s Engine Locked Up

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

It’s every car owner’s worst nightmare. You’re in a hurry to get to work, jump in your car, and turn the key in the ignition– only to find that your car’s engine won’t turn over.

It may appear that your engine has seized or locked. Your car’s engine won’t turn at all when you try to start it.

However, this is only one of the reasons for a stalled engine. It’s one of the most prevalent and possibly the most expensive to fix, although it can also be caused by other issues. Perhaps you start your car on a day when you least expect it and hear an abnormally loud clunking noise. Your vehicle has shut off and won’t start, despite the fact that the tank is full and the battery is new.

Most likely, the engine has seized. What are your options now? Can a seized engine be fixed?

In this guide, we’ll break down what to do in the event of a locked engine and explore your options in terms of repairing or selling the vehicle.

What is a Seized Engine?

A seized engine is a severe mechanical malfunction that occurs when an engine’s internal components experience excessive friction, typically due to inadequate lubrication or oil starvation. In such cases, the moving metal parts within the engine rub against one another, generating extreme heat and causing the engine to lock up or ‘seize.’ This can lead to catastrophic failure and extensive damage, often requiring complete engine replacement. Proper maintenance, including regular oil changes and monitoring oil levels, is crucial in preventing engine seizure and ensuring the longevity of your vehicle’s engine.

What to Do if Your Car’s Engine Locks Up

You will be in a difficult situation if your engine becomes stuck. What do you do if you can’t drive your car? Repairing a locked engine can be expensive, therefore it may not always be the best option. Let’s look at the symptoms of a locked engine and your available options.

Understand the Symptoms of a Locked Up Engine

A locked or “seized” engine typically occurs due to mechanical failure. This typically happens due to oil starvation or a cracked engine block. Internal metal parts rub against each other when an engine runs out of oil or the oil doesn’t circulate as it should, generating large quantities of heat. Bearings designed to allow smooth movement grind against the crankshaft and camshaft, literally fusing themselves to other components.

This could happen when you’re in the middle of driving. Typically, your engine will make a loud noise and then cease operating on its own. Engine damage can range from minor to serious when engines seize due to a lack of oil.

An engine can also seize if it is not operating correctly due to causes outside of oil deprivation. Rusting causes the piston rings to ‘freeze’ against the cylinder walls. This is most typically observed on vintage automobiles that are about to be restored. However, oil deprivation is the most common cause of a locked engine. Lack of use can also be a cause as well.

Try Implementing Some Fixes

Now that you know what causes a locked engine, you might be wondering if there’s a method to fix it and get it unlocked. Depending on the cause, a seized engine repair may be feasible.

The bad news is that a stuck engine owing to a lack of oil is almost impossible to fix on your own– or even with the help of a mechanic. If this is the case, releasing a stuck engine may necessitate the replacement of various components, or, in the worst-case scenario, the entire engine. Oil deficiency can cause long-term damage to components in your engine. You might need to sell your car for parts or sell it to a car buyer as a last option.

You will need to wait for the engine to cool off if it is locking due to gasoline vapor. This fix allows the gas to revert to a liquid from a gas. Another option is to spray down your fuel pump with water. You may have to pay for a replacement if an engine freezes due to water.

There may be too much rust if your engine has seized after not being driven for a long period of time. Repairing this without spending a lot of money is challenging. Repairing won’t work if the majority of the pieces are rusty. Your car’s engine will need to be replaced. You may be able to save your engine if you contact a professional as soon as you discover difficulties.

Even with these fixes in mind, your engine may not be salvageable on your own.

Tow Your Car to a Mechanic– But Be Mindful of High Costs

A mechanic will be your next best option if the above fixes don’t work. Keep in mind that a locked engine can be expensive to fix– and that doesn’t include the additional damage your engine has accumulated due to the seizing itself. You might be looking at several thousand dollars to fix your engine.

It is estimated that rebuilding the engine will cost between $3,000 and $5,000. You may have to spend $5,000 to $10,000 if engine replacement is the only option. The engine will be torn down in both circumstances, and damaged parts will be replaced. Worst of all, these problems are not covered by insurance.

In many cases, this might not even be worth it. We recommend cutting your losses and selling your car in this instance.

Consider Selling Your Car

You must carefully consider if it is worthwhile to repair a locked engine. Depending on your circumstances, it may or may not be worthwhile. Consider how serious the problem is and how much it will cost to correct it. Some repairs are simple and almost always worthwhile. Other reasons for a locked engine, on the other hand, may necessitate more extensive repairs at a higher expense.

If you determine that fixing your broken engine is not worth it, you will still have some decent options. You don’t have to keep your car sitting in your driveway or garage, collecting dust and rust.

The most cost-effective approach is to sell the car as-is – which is easily done through an online car buyer like Cash Auto Salvage (get an offer by clicking here). You may then put that money toward a down payment on a reliable new or used car. In many circumstances, this is a far more cost-effective option than attempting to rebuild the engine. After all, you don’t invest money into a car with the expectation that it would operate forever.

How to Prevent Your Engine from Locking

If you’re reading this article preemptively and don’t have a locked engine currently, you’re in luck. There are different things you can do to prevent your car’s engine from locking or seizing. It all comes down to maintaining your vehicle on a regular basis. The most important thing is to replace your oil on a regular basis. That’s because a lack of oil in the engine is the most common cause of engine lockup.

Avoid driving through puddles since your engine will be damaged by the water. If there is a flood, try to lock your engine so that water does not enter it. Another strategy to avoid engine seizure is to keep the vehicle out of the sun for lengthy periods of time. Also, attempt to drive your car as often as possible to avoid rust accumulation in the engine.

Regardless, be mindful of what’s going on with your car. Watch for strange noises or smoke coming from the engine. Call a mechanic as soon as you discover a problem. Early detection of an issue can save you a lot of money. You can always sell your vehicle for cash if it’s too late to avoid a seized engine.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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