Locked up Engine: How to Unseize and What’s the Cost?

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Edgar Moulton.


Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

Table of contents

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. One of the most likely issues to arise is a locked engine.

So what is engine seizure? What causes an engine to seize? How can you fix a seized engine, and how much seized engine repair costs? 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?

What does it mean when an engine is seized? The simplest explanation for a locked-up engine is when it stops working due to mechanical reasons. An engine can become locked for several reasons, with lack of oil being a common cause. When there is no oil in an engine, it causes the different components to rub against each other. This friction creates a lot of heat. High temperatures can melt parts of the engine. This may lead to parts such as the crankshaft to wield into other components.

You may have trouble starting your car or hear knocking sounds while driving. Once you hear this sound, the car 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. It is better to sell the car and make fast cash instead of spending more money. You can sell your car with a seized engine to Junkcarsus, one of the best junk car buyers in the USA. We will pay you top cash for each vehicle you sell to us.

What Causes an Engine to Seize?

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

Reduced amount of oil

If the amount of oil in the engine is insufficient, it causes the engine to overhead. The oil in the engine 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, which makes 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 full 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.

Failure of oil to circulate

If oil can’t circulate, the motor will stop functioning. This is usually a result of the oil pump failing to push diesel to the engine components.

You may notice an increase in engine temperature, a strange sound if this happens. Also, the oil pressure indicator may show that the pump is not working sufficiently.

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 regularly inspect your engine can help you prevent this.

Vapor lock

Vapor lock is a rare cause of the engine ceased up. Vapor lock occurs when the engine becomes too hot. This causes the diesel to be converted to gas. Engines are not able to 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 that 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 is a clear indication that something is wrong with the engine. However, it is very rare for a car to fail to start without the other symptoms such as a loud cranking sound or fumes coming out of the engine.

Seized Engine Vs. Bad Starter

Often, a seized engine can be confused for a bad starter. It is important to correctly diagnose the problem since the solution for these problems is different. A starter locked up may also produce the same symptoms as a frozen engine.

One way in which mechanics can differentiate between the two is by manually rotating the crankshaft. Doing this helps eliminate the starter as the cause of engine problems. When the crankshaft can be rotated manually, then the likely source of the problem is the starter. If the crankshaft cannot be moved, the starter is removed, and another attempt is made.

How to Unlock a Seized Engine

Now that you know the causes of a locked engine, you may wonder if there a way to fix this and unlock an engine? A seized engine fix can be possible depending on the cause. The bad news is that it is nearly impossible to free a seized engine due to a lack of oil. If that is the case, freeing a stuck engine may mean that you have to replace different parts and, in worst cases, the entire engine. Lack of oil leads to permanent damage to the parts of an engine. As a last resort, you may have to salvage your car or sell it to a junk car buyer.

If the engine is seizing up because of vapor, you will have to let it cool for some time. This allows the gas to convert back into a liquid. Another option is to splash some water on the fuel pump. If an engine is frozen because of water, you may have to pay for a replacement.

If you have an engine seized from sitting for too long, there may be too much rust. It is difficult to fix this without spending a lot of money. If most parts are rusted, then repairing won’t work. You will have to get a new engine for your car. If you approach a mechanic as soon as you notice problems, you may be able to salvage your engine.

How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Seized Engine?

So how much does it cost to fix a seized engine? The cost of fixing a frozen engine is very high. How much the mechanic charges you will depend on the exact cause. You are better off selling your car than trying to free up a stuck engine.

If you want to rebuild the engine, it may cost you about $3,000-$5,000. In situations where the only solution is engine replacement, you may spend $5,000-$10,000. In both cases, the engine will be broken down, and damaged parts will be replaced. The worst part is that insurance doesn’t cover these issues. 

What to Do If the Price for Seized Engine Repair Is Too High

Once you can't find out how to unlock a seized engine, it is better to sell the vehicle. Otherwise, you will have to spend a lot of cash trying to repair or replace the engine. It is wiser to get extra cash than to have additional expenses. With Junkcarsus, a trustworthy junk car buyer, you can make a huge chunk of cash from a car with a locked motor.

Junkcarsus buys all types of vehicles, including those that have seized motors. We buy all cars with frozen engines. We can pay you fast cash for junk cars in most parts of the US. Get top dollar when you sell vehicles that are: 

  • Wrecked
  • Damaged
  • Burned
  • Totaled 

We will pay you a fair amount for SUVs, trucks, vans, and any vehicle with a blown engine. Working with our company has so many advantages, these include:

  • High pay
  • Instant offers
  • Free towing
  • Free paperwork
  • Same-day services

Selling your vehicle to our company is a very simple process. Call, send an email or fill the online application form. We will ask you a series of questions about your vehicle. This allows us to calculate a decent offer for your car. You will get an instant offer. Once you accept the offer made, we will arrange an appropriate time for pickup, depending on your schedule. We also provide same-day services. Our representatives will pay you cash for the car and haul it away at no cost.

Whether you have a hydrolocked car, a seized engine because of lack of oil, or a vehicle without tires, we can take it off your hands. Do not waste time and money trying to fix a damaged car. Let us give you money in exchange for your junk car instead. Call us today to get the best price for your vehicle.

Is There a Way to Prevent a Car Engine from Seizing Up?

The good news is that you can prevent an engine from ceasing. This is way cheaper than trying to unfreeze a motor that won’t start. It all boils down to carrying regular maintenance on your vehicle. The key is to change your oil regularly. That is because no oil in the engine is the main cause for an engine to be locked. 

Avoid driving through puddles as this will cause water damage to your engine. Try to lock your engine if there is a flood, so that water doesn’t enter it. Another way to prevent engine seizure is by not leaving the car in the sun for long periods. Also, try to use your car as much as possible to prevent rust from accumulating within the engine. 

In any case, stay attentive to what is happening to your vehicle. Listen for strange sounds or smoke coming out of the engine. Once you notice any problem, call mechanics right away. Fixing the problem early on can save you a lot of money. If it is too late to prevent a seized engine, you can sell your car for cash to Junkcarsus!

Edgar Moulton.


Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

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