The 5.3L Vortec 5300 Engine Burns Through An Abnormal Amount of Oil

Key Points

  • Design changes to the Vortec 5300 V8 engine led to excessive oil consumption.
  • Oil sneaks past the low-tension piston rings and burns off in the combustion chamber.
  • An inadequate warning system can leave drivers clueless to the problem before it's too late.
Oil being poured into an engine
Posted on
Author
Scott McCracken
Tagged
#engine

The Vortec 5300 is a small-block V8 engine found in many larger Chevy vehicles. The engine started consuming an abnormal amount of oil when GM changed their piston rings and switched to an Active Fuel Management system with the engine's 4th generation.

Consumption issues have been compounded by a somewhat useless oil monitoring system. Drivers aren't alerted about dangerously low oil levels until it's much too late to prevent damage.

Owners of the 2010-2013 Chevy Avalanche, Colorado, Express 1500, Silverado 1500, Suburban, and Tahoe say the engines regularly blast through 1 quart of oil every 2,000 miles.

Why the 5.3L Vortec 5300 (LC9) Engine Burns Through Oil

It all starts with the piston rings.

The Vortec 5300 engine is equipped with low-tension piston rings that do not maintain enough tension to keep oil from leaking out of the crankcase. The leaked oil finds its way into the combustion chamber where it burned off or turned into a carbon deposit.

A problem made worse by Active Fuel Management (AFM)

General Motors' AFM technology increases fuel economy by temporarily deactivating up to 4 of the engine's cylinders under light driving conditions.

The system also uses an oil pressure relief valves to spray pressured oil directly onto the piston skirts to reduce friction and heat within the engine. Unfortunately that excess oil overloads the piston rings which are already leaking on their own. The result is even more oil reaching the combustion chamber.

And if that wasn't enough there's the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) problem

Most engines have a certain amount of blow-by which is gas escaping past the pistons and ending up in the crankcase.PCV systems help trap that escaped gas and suction it back into the combustion chamber where it's actually useful.

In addition to collecting gas, the PCV system in the Vortec 5300 (LC9) is allegedly suctioning oil right off the engine's valve trains and sending it off to a fiery death in the combustion chamber.

An inadequate warning system

These problems, while frustrating, can at least be attended to if a driver knows that the oil in their engine is reaching dangerously low levels.

But GM's oil monitoring system in these engines only looks at conditions such as temperature and revolutions to estimate the oil quality, but does not measuring the volume of oil itself.

That means by the time an oil warning light comes on it's often too late.

Design Change and Class-Action Lawsuits

These oil leaks cause problems with spark plug fouling, ring wear, bent pushrods, camshaft wear, timing chain damage, rod breakage and more that can cost the owners thousands of dollars in repairs.

And as the complaints piled up, GM made multiple design changes to their Vortec engines in 2014. This included an improved sealing ring package, an AFM shield to deflect oil spray away from the piston skirts, and an oil level sensor.

Owners of 2010-2014 engines felt a bit left and started filing lawsuits looking for help from GM.

Lawsuits reach the courts

A class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Ohio says owners of the 2010-2014 Vortec 5300 LC9 engine have every right to be worried that multiple design defects will lead to premature engine failure.

As discussed above, the lawsuit points to four key defects:

  1. Oil rings that don't maintain tension
  2. Excess burn-off and carbon build-up due to the AFM overloading the rings with oil
  3. The PCV system vacuuming oil from the valve train and expelling into into the intake
  4. An oil monitoring system that doesn't alert drivers of low oil levels.

The lawsuit points to multiple service bulletins as evidence GM has known about some of these issues since at least 2007.

Lawsuits Regarding This Problem

Lawsuits about this problem have already been filed in court. Many times these are class-action suits that look to cover a group of owners in a particular area. Click on the lawsuit for more information and to see if you're eligible to receive any potential settlements.

  • Tucker, et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    Case Filed
    1. Case Filed

      A GM 5.3L oil consumption lawsuit includes Generation IV Vortec 5300 LC9 engines. The plaintiffs say the engine cannot receive proper lubrication, allegedly because the piston rings fail to keep oil in the crankcase.

    Class Vehicles
    • 2010-2014 Avalanche
    • 2010-2014 Silverado
    • 2010-2014 Suburban
    • 2010-2014 Tahoe
    Location
    Missouri
  • Airko, Inc., et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    Case Filed
    1. Case Filed

      A General Motors Vortec class action lawsuit alleges oil consumption problems plague the vehicles because of defective piston rings. The GM Vortec class action lawsuit includes these vehicles equipped with Generation IV 5.3-Liter V8 Vortec 5300 LC9 engines.

    Class Vehicles
    • 2010-2014 Avalanche
    • 2010-2014 Silverado
    • 2010-2014 Suburban
    • 2010-2014 Tahoe
    Location
    Ohio
  • Dismissed

    Szep, et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    Case Filed
    1. Dismissed

      The judge ruled the plaintiff lacks standing to maintain nationwide class claims because “named plaintiffs lack standing to assert claims under the laws of the states in which they do not reside or in which they suffered no injury.”

    2. Case Filed

      The alleged oil consumption causes low oil levels, insufficient lubricity and engine damage due to piston rings which don't maintain enough tension to keep oil in the crankcase. In addition, the plaintiff alleges the oil life monitoring systems make the problem worse.

    Class Vehicles
    • 2010-2014 Avalanche
    • 2010-2012 Chevrolet Colorado
    • 2010-2013 Chevrolet Express
    • 2010-2013 Silverado
    • 2010-2014 Suburban
    • 2010-2014 Tahoe
    Location
    Ohio
  • Martell, et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    Case Filed
    1. Case Filed

      The class action lawsuit alleges General Motors manufactured and sold vehicles that consume abnormally high quantities of oil because of numerous problems with the engines. The plaintiff claims the primary problem is the piston rings that don't hold enough tension to keep engine oil in the crankcase, resulting in low oil levels and inadequate lubrication of engine components.

    Class Vehicles
    • 2010-2014 Avalanche
    • 2010-2013 Silverado
    • 2010-2014 Suburban
    Location
    Oregon
  • Monteville Sloan Jr,, et al., v. General Motors LLC.

    Case Filed
    1. Case Filed

      The alleged oil consumption causes low oil levels, insufficient lubricity and engine damage due to piston rings which don't maintain enough tension to keep oil in the crankcase. In addition, the plaintiff alleges the oil life monitoring systems make the problem worse.

    Class Vehicles
    • 2010-2014 Avalanche
    • 2010-2012 Colorado
    • 2010-2013 Express
    • 2010-2013 Silverado
    • 2010-2014 Suburban
    • 2010-2014 Tahoe
    Location
    California

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Chevrolet generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

  1. 2nd Generation Avalanche

    Years
    2007–2013
    Reliability
    56th of 80
    PainRank
    12.69
    Complaints
    373
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Avalanche
  2. 1st Generation Colorado

    Years
    2004–2012
    Reliability
    48th of 80
    PainRank
    10.08
    Complaints
    378
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Colorado
  3. 1st Generation Express

    Years
    1996–2020
    Reliability
    15th of 80
    PainRank
    1.43
    Complaints
    74
    Continue
  4. 2nd Generation Silverado 1500

    Years
    2012–2013
    Reliability
    62nd of 80
    PainRank
    18.65
    Complaints
    85
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Silverado 1500
  5. 10th Generation Suburban

    Years
    2007–2014
    Reliability
    50th of 80
    PainRank
    10.7
    Complaints
    563
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Suburban
  6. 3rd Generation Tahoe

    Years
    2007–2014
    Reliability
    45th of 80
    PainRank
    8.9
    Complaints
    443
    Continue Front 3/4 view of a Tahoe

Further Reading

A timeline of stories related to this problem. We try to boil these stories down to the most important bits so you can quickly see where things stand. Interested in getting these stories in an email? Signup for free email alerts for your vehicle over at CarComplaints.com.

  1. Toss another lawsuit onto the ever-growing pile of GM Vortec oil consumption cases.

    The Missouri based class-action is the latest in a series of suits saying the 5.3L Vortec engine churns through oil because of defects in the low-tension piston rings. The problem is compounded by GM's questionably designed oil life monitoring system which doesn't warn owners when oil levels get dangerously low.

    In fact the system doesn't monitor oil levels at all, just the quality of the oil itself. So while the engine may be dry and on the verge of collapse, rest assured that last quart of oil is still in tip-top shape. 👍🏼…

    keep reading
  2. A new class-action is accusing General Motors of knowingly selling vehicles that consume abnormally high quantities of oil.

    It's not the first time GM has been sued for oil issues in the Vortec engine. Specifically (and stick with me here) the Generation IV 5.3L V8 Vortec 5300 LC9 engine.

    As with previous lawsuits, the plaintiffs say low-tension piston rings, oil spray from the Active Fuel Management (AFM) system, and agressive vacuuming from the engine's positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system are to blame.…

    keep reading
  3. GM owners are still trying to convince a judge that Vortec 5300 engines have oil consumption problems and don’t give owners adequate warnings when oil levels are dangerously low.

    According to the lawsuit, the Vortec 5300 engines in the vehicles consume extreme levels of oil because of defects in the oil rings that allow oil to invade the combustion chambers … The plaintiffs claim the oil pressure warnings can fail to activate in time to prevent engine damage, something GM has allegedly known is a problem with the Vortec engines.

    The judge had previously dismissed the lawsuit and doesn't seem too interested in complaints about fires, oil rings, or inadequate warnings.

    The plaintiffs have a small, uphill chance if they can amend their complaints.

    keep reading
  4. There's something funky going on inside GM's 5.3L Vortec 5300 engine causing it to use a higher-than-normal amount of oil.

    Some might even say it's excessive. A lawsuit filed in Minnesota says the problem is multi-faceted.

    1. GM used low-tension piston rings that allow oil to leak out of the crankcase and into the combustion chamber.
    2. The rings, which are already leaking, are then overloaded by a spray of pressurized oil from the Active Fuel Management (AFM) system.
    3. Even more oil is being burned off after being sucked into the intake by the engine's positive crankcase ventilation (PCV).

    That's a recipe for disaster, but the cherry on top is the somewhat useless oil monitoring system. Instead of measuring the volume of oil left in the crankcase, the system measures environmetal variables to determine the quality of the oil.

    Sure, there's only a pint of oil left in the engine but don't worry ... the oil quality is great.

    The lawsuit mentions GM has tried to improve the situation by updating the vehicle's crankcase ventilation and active fuel management system, but it never really helped. Eventually GM just updated the Generation IV Vortec 5300 engine and replaced it with a redesigned Generation V Vortec 5300 that stopped using low-tension oil rings and reintriduced an oil level sensor.

    keep reading

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint

    CarComplaints.com is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA