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What is an Oil Pan Gasket?

Oil Pan Gasket

Your vehicle’s engine has a lot of components. From the engine block itself to the cylinders, spark plugs, and more. At the bottom section of the block, covering the crankcase and bolted to the engine, you’ll find the oil pan. This apparatus is the reservoir for motor oil that flows through the engine to lubricate and cool moving parts. The oil pan gasket itself seals the oil pan to the bottom of the engine block and prevents oil from leaking as it moves from the pan to the engine and back. Because oil is constantly flowing, no vehicle is impervious to oil leaks, though. Often oil leaks stem from the oil pan or from a worn oil pan gasket. Here’s what you need to know about the oil pan gasket in your car.

What is a Gasket?

Gaskets, in general, are used as sealing and cushioning material, placed between two surfaces and joined by bolts. So, what is an oil gasket? As the definition above suggests, the oil pan gasket seals the area between the oil pan and the engine block to prevent oil leaks and keep oil out of areas it needn’t be. The type of gasket that is in your vehicle will depend on the material of your car’s oil pan. A pressed steel pan, for example, uses a formed rubber gasket while aluminum pans use some form of liquid silicone as a gasket. While the engine is running, oil flows through oil ports to lubricate components within the engine. The oil is housed in the oil pan, connected to the engine’s block, the oil pan gasket is what sits between the two. The seal the gasket creates allows for expansion and contraction from the heat produced by the engine. The cushion the gasket provides prevents damage from occurring due to vibrations the engine creates.

Types of Gaskets

Your vehicle is equipped with a few gaskets including the head gasket and valve gasket. Similar to the oil pan, the valve covers require gaskets to seal properly. Valve cover gaskets are made of a material that contours the edges of the valve cover at the cylinder head. This gasket also prevents engine oil from leaks as it moves through the valves, camshaft, and other components. The head gasket, which you may be more familiar with, has more responsibility compared to other gaskets as it lines the outer edge of the cylinder head and the areas between the cylinders and oil and coolant distribution ports. All gaskets, no matter where they’re housed, are comprised of durable materials including steel, stainless steel, and aluminized seal with rubber coating. Because they’re used to prevent leaks and are often under an incredible amount of pressure and heat, they must be durable to withstand such conditions.

Oil Pan Gasket Leak Symptoms

With use and wear, after some time the oil pan gasket will begin to fail. Like any rubber component, they begin to dry and crack, preventing them from doing their job. When the oil pan is warped, and the gasket has failed, your biggest clue will be an oil leak. You may also notice:

  • Low Oil Level – Oil leaks are often difficult to locate, making a leak from the oil pan gasket almost impossible to find. A lower than usual oil level is a sure sign that there is an oil leak. Your vehicle’s oil light may also illuminate alerting you that oil levels are low.
  • Overheating – Along with coolant, motor oil helps keep the engine cool by reducing friction and heat. If oil levels have dropped, the engine will have difficulty preventing heat produced by friction, resulting in an overheated engine.
  • Oil Spots Under the Car – Puddles under the car for any reason are always cause for concern. While oil can leak for a number of reasons, this may be a result of a failed oil pan gasket. Because of its rubber composition, age paired with constant exposure to heat causes it to breakdown and begin to leak.
  • Black Smoke – The most common sign that the oil pan gasket has failed is black smoke coming from under the hood. The smoke produced is a result of oil dripping onto the exhaust manifold.

Making sure the oil level in your vehicle is at the normal level is very important. Check your oil often to ensure oil levels are normal as low oil levels are a clear indication that something is wrong. Running your engine without the proper amount of oil can lead to major engine damages. Any time your engine shows signs of difficulty, be sure to take your car to a trusted automotive professional. Allowing your engine to smoke as a result of a leak, can cause additional damages to oxygen sensors and other components from being saturated by oil which can cause sensors, gaskets, and other vital components to fail. Further, overheating engines can cause serious and permanent damage to the engine that may lead to replacement or extensive repairs.