Well, this is embarrassing. You’ve just pulled out of the driveway after having parked your vehicle for a while, and there it is–a puddle of brown, greasy-looking liquid. In some cases, it may be pretty easy to identify when your car is leaking oil when parked, but quite difficult to know for sure what the cause is. Oil leaks aren’t just unsightly, they could indicate some major issues within the engine. So, what causes a car to start leaking oil and how can it be fixed?
Identify Where Your Car is Leaking Oil
In the past, the most obvious sign of an oil leak was evidenced by a brown, greasy spot found in your garage, parking spot, or driveway. Today, though, many modern vehicles have protective shielding that often catches the oil long before it hits the ground. That may be good for your driveway, but not so good for you when trying to identify a possible major leak. Low levels of oil are most certainly a sign of leakage. For that reason, it is recommended you check your oil levels often.
An oily engine is a pretty good sign your engine is leaking oil, so open the hood and get a closer look. Excess greasy components could indicate seepage from several areas within the engine. The last and final indication that your car is leaking oil is the smell of burning oil. Because the engine gets so hot, when oil leaks onto various surfaces of the engine it burns and emits an unpleasant odor.
Causes of Car Leaking Oil
The severity of an oil leak can depend on the size and location of the leak. A serious leak will deplete your oil levels faster and possibly lead to serious engine troubles. Even smaller leaks can prove detrimental depending on their location. A leak at the front crank seal or timing cover will reduce the vitality of the timing or engine drive belts. A leak at the valve cover gasket will cause oil to fall onto the scalding exhaust manifold, which increases the possibility of smoke or fire.
Damaged Engine Gaskets or Pans
Items located underneath your car are vulnerable to road debris and can be easily damaged. The oil pan, for example, is located at the bottom of the engine and is used as the reservoir for cleaning, lubricating, and cooling the engine. Punctures from rough roads or debris can cause the oil pan to leak. Often, the pan’s gasket that seals the pan succumbs to leaks due to wear and tear, cold and heat, and other road damage. These kinds of leaks are often difficult to locate and repair.
Valve covers are meant to keep the oil inside the engine and are secured with rubber or cork-like gaskets. Rubber products, especially in severe climates, wear out and become dry and brittle, preventing them from creating a proper seal, which results in leaks.
Located at the bottom of your vehicle’s oil pan is the drain plug. An essential component, this apparatus is removed hundreds of times throughout your car’s life in order to perform oil changes. A drain plug that isn’t properly aligned, overtightened, or that’s too loose at install can also cause leaks.
Missing or Damaged Filler Cap
The oil filler cap is the area that has direct access to your engine for adding oil. To see if your car is leaking oil, remove the cap to check your oil levels. If the seal from the cap wears out, is loose, damaged, or missing, it will cause significant leakage. Inspect the condition of the seal when you check your oil and replace the cap if it is broken or shows signs of wear.
Oil Filter Issues
Over time, oil filters can wear out, loosen, or become misaligned. Going too long between oil changes can cause oil to become contaminated. Contaminated oil breaks down and causes degradation of seals and gaskets, which may also cause oil leaks. The oil filter is made to trap contaminants from the engine oil. Replace the oil filter with every oil change to ensure your engine is protected.
Faulty Rings or Valve Seals
Leaking or worn-out engine valve seals or rings can deplete your vehicle’s oil level. The seals are engineered to prevent oil from leaking out as it travels around the camshafts and valves. Often unseen, these leaks can result in engine misfires or other serious engine troubles.
How To Fix an Oil Leak
In order to fix an oil leak, the leak must first be identified. Though there are several items on the market to help resolve oil leaks, the best way to ensure the issue is resolved is by taking your vehicle to your local service center.
Identifying the primary cause of the leak is crucial to your engine. However, not all oil leaks are visible. For that reason, it’s imperative that you check your engine’s oil levels often between oil changes:
- Make note of the levels to determine how much oil your engine may be losing.
- Check your oil when the engine has not been running for at least 30 minutes, giving time for the oil to settle back into the pan.
- While the engine is off, remove the dipstick, wipe it off with a clean rag, and place the dipstick back in.
- Remove the stick again and read the level indicator. Levels that measure full or slightly below full are acceptable. Anything less than that will indicate the necessity for a top off. If the level is consistently low, this could indicate a serious problem and should be addressed immediately by a trusted technician.
No matter the cause, it is imperative to fix an oil leak as soon as one is identified. If you notice your car is leaking oil when parked, see oil on the engine itself, notice a smell of burnt oil or smoke, or notice falling oil levels, bring your vehicle to the nearest Sun Devil Auto. By being proactive and repairing the leaks sooner rather than later, you may be able to prevent major engine damages.