Oil leaks in cars are common; it happens all the time. Random oil spills and splatters are something every car owner faces. There are several causes for oil leaks. And even more, ways for it to happen. It’s figuring out the reason that is the frustrating part.
But “Why is my car leaking oil?”, “What are the different causes for oil leaks?” “How to know if you have an oil leak?” and “How do you fix the oil leak in the car?” In this article, we will answer all these questions for you.
Oil leaks in cars can happen due to many reasons. You might have a damaged gasket or a bad seal. Or maybe your vehicle suffered some damage. Depending on the level of the oil spill, the following can cause an oil leak.
An oil filter does what it sounds like; it filters contaminants from engine oil. This helps the oil stay clean, not causing any clogging or wear inside the engine. At the same time, an oil filter does get clogged if the oil is not changed. As the pressure builds up, the oil filter might rupture, causing oil leaks.
Another reason for oil leaks is a loosely fitted oil filter. Since oil inside an engine moves with a certain pressure, a little space is enough to cause a leak. Be on the lookout for this situation after an oil change when the mechanic may not have correctly installed the filter.
Oil leaks from oil filters can also happen if an incorrect oil filter is used. In this case, the oil filter might not seal properly, causing problems with oil pressure and leaks.
A valve cover gasket is a rubber seal meant to seal the valve cover and the upper portion of the engine cylinder head. Over time a gasket gets hardened due to heat and pressure while developing cracks. This causes unexpected and sudden leaks if the oil pressure rises. Or slowly as you drive your car daily.
Depending on the type of engine, your car can have one or multiple gaskets. If you drive a V-6 or V-8, you would have two valve covers. While in a straight-4 or 6 cylinder engine, you only have one.
Generally, a valve cover gasket lasts between 20,000 to 50,000 miles. If not replaced, the oil leaks can cause fumes or fire because of the heat produced. Or, the continuously depleting oil can ruin your engine due to wear and tear.
Drain plugs are plugs that are used to drain engine oil. It is located under the car and attached to the oil pan. If you’re under the car, it’s hard to miss. Since all the engine oil gets accumulated in the oil pan, a loose drain plug can cause oil leaks. A leaking drain plug would have oil stains around and directly underneath it. If you recently got an oil change, that’s more of the reason to inspect your drain plug.
An oil pan is an oil storage facility where all the oil is collected when not in use. That is when you are not driving or when your engine is turned off. It is also the place where oil is cooled by the air passing on the surface of the oil pan.
Generally, oil leaks from oil pans are rare since they are tightly fitted. But any sort of damage or a loose-fitting pan can cause an oil leak. An oil leak can also happen if the oil pan gasket gets worn out, just like the worn-out valve cover gasket.
Well, these were the common reasons behind oil leaks. But how do we know if we have an oil leak? What are the symptoms we should look for?
Oil leaks in automobiles have some direct and obvious symptoms. A little looking around will reveal the symptoms, which can include:
Oil spills are the most obvious symptom of an oil leak. If your car is leaking, it will create some sort of spill or splatter under your vehicle. Depending on the intensity of the leak, you might see a few drops or a small puddle. Whichever it is, having an oil spill right under your car means that your engine oil is leaking. And you should get it looked at immediately.
If the check engine oil light is illuminated in your dashboard, that’s another sign of an oil leak. Since it is designed only to light up when the oil level is too low, it is the perfect indicator for oil leaks. If the light turns on while driving, you should stop and inspect your vehicle. If it lights up when you turn on your car, look for oil spills.
In any scenario where the check engine oil light comes on, check the oil level.
Smoke coming from the engine can be caused by several things, including a malfunctioning cooling system, wiring faults, or fluid leaks. For example, transmission fluid, brake fluid, or engine oil can smoke when it leaks onto a hot engine component.
If you find your engine smoking, pull your car over where it’s safe to do so. Turn off the engine and let it cool down for a while. Then, pop the hood to spot the trouble. Also, don’t use the fire extinguisher unless you see flames. Otherwise, the extinguisher will ruin more than it will save.
Apart from working as a lubricant and a filter, engine oil also works as a coolant. It cools down the engine as it flows through the various components. In the event of an oil leak, the oil level decreases with a decrease in the cooling effect. This can cause the engine to overheat.
Oil leaking from the valve cover can fall on other engine parts. And, since they are piping hot when driving, they create a burning oil smell. If you get any acrid smell, it is probably burning oil under your hood.
While there are multiple reasons for oil leaks, finding its root is pretty simple. Inspecting a few areas can easily get you to the cause of the oil leak. Start by:
Inspecting the symptoms: Start by looking for any kind of symptoms. See where the oil spill is coming from and at what intensity. Or, if you don’t have oil spills, is there smoke or a burning smell? Both can happen due to an oil leak in the engine bay. Keep in mind that engine overheating can be caused by heavy oil leaks or a low engine oil level.
Look below your car: If you have an oil spill, check below the vehicle. See if your oil pan or drain plug is leaking. A quick way to confirm this is by cleaning the oil and checking in again after some time. If you see more oil, your oil pan or drain plug is the likely cause.
Look under the hood: Another place to inspect is your engine. Open up the hood and see if you have any oil stains. Look around your valve cover or the oil filter if it’s located there. If there is some oil directly under the filter, then that’s the problem.
While a few drops of leaked engine oil may seem minor, it could be an early warning sign of something more significant. After noticing spilled oil, check the engine oil level. If needed, add oil before operating the engine. If the level is OK, then drive to an auto repair shop. If you see a large amount of spilled oil, then you may want to consider having your car towed to a mechanic.
Depending on the root cause of the oil leak, fixing the problem may be simple.
First, spot the problem. If the leak is coming from the oil filter or the drain plug, try tightening it. Of course, always be aware of hot engine parts and ensure the car is set to park, the emergency brake is engaged, and it’s safe to be looking into or under your vehicle.
Next, consider a “stop oil leak” additive for an older car with a leaking gasket. This liquid is added to the engine oil and helps to expand any gaps in the seal. This approach is not a permanent solution but can be a helpful temporary fix.
Complex oil leak issues like a damaged oil pan or valve cover seals are best handled at the repair shop. Never ignore an engine oil leak. As with any car problem, if you are uncertain about what to do, seek the help of a professional mechanic.