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Why Is My Car Leaking Oil

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Seeing a few spots of oil on the floor of your garage might seem like a minor issue to most car owners, but if neglected, an oil leak could cost you up to $4000 dollars in damages of your vehicle’s engine block. Common causes of a vehicle oil leak include broken seals, damaged oil filter and pans, and blown head gaskets. You should avoid driving without a car with a leak for safety, environmental and economic concerns. Cars that are leaking oil will become damaged further if driven and will be costly to repair, they are also environmental and fire hazards.

You can fix your oil leak from $35 to $1200 depending on the cause of the leak.

Common Causes Of An Oil Leak

The reasons for an oil leak can include:

  • Broken Gaskets
  • Broken Seals
  • Damaged Oil Filter
  • Damaged Oil Pans
  • Oil Plan Plug Was Improperly Installed Or Is Dislodged
  • A Blown Head Gasket
  • Bad Engine Block Seals

Broken Gasket Or Seal

Engine gaskets are meant to specifically prevent the spillage of oil. They do sometimes malfunction and gap thanks to the rising and falling temperatures within your engine block. The controlled gasoline explosions that power your car forward burn hot! Gasoline burns at around 495 degrees F, which is hot enough that the metal parts of the engine, and their seals do some serious expanding.

When the car is parked, it will return to around the outside air temperature. So these engine parts are exposed to temperatures with a 400 degree swing or even more. When parts expand and contract, it leaves room for gaps in the seals and lower engine pressure, which can cause oil leaks.

You can diagnose if your seals or gaskets are the issue by taking your car into a mechanic and having your oil leak problem diagnosed.

Damaged Oil Filter Or Damaged Oil Pan

A symptom of a damaged oil filter, in some cases, is leaking. A compromised oil pan can also cause this issue. Cars can sustain damage to their oil pan by driving on uneven surfaces or hitting road debris. A damaged oil pan will usually cause a fast leak of oil, which will lead to a large puddle of oil. Once an oil pan is damaged it will need to be replaced to keep the car from leaking oil.

Oil Pan Plug Is Damaged Or Dislodged

A similar is issue can be caused by an oil pan plug that happens to be dislodged or not put in properly. If not fully tightened, an oil plug will cause a leak. Fixing this issue is relatively simple, the oil pan plug just needs to be reinstalled.

If the oil pan plug is damaged this is a different story, you can remove the plug and replace it with a rubber plug temporarily, however the steel thread will need to be replaced with a plug that is standard for the make and model of your car.

A Blown Head Gasket

If your car has a blown head gasket, one of the symptoms could be that the car is leaking oil. The car will also likely be producing white smoke, the radiator and coolant will be bubbling, the oil will have a white residue and the engine will be overheating. A blown head gasket is a very serious issue and the car will not be in the condition to drive without causing further damage.

Usually the head gasket will only warp if your car overheats, which is caused by a lack of coolant or an improperly functioning water pump or damaged radiator. Coolant is a vital fluid to have in your vehicle to prevent costly repairs.

If you’ve blown a head gasket, we hope your car is under warranty because this repair will be expensive! The cost of this repair is around $1500 dollars.

Engine Block Seal

The engine block seals could also be the culprit behind your leaking oil problem. The engine block seals are rubber and may have deteriorated to the point that they no longer function effectively. If this is your issue, it will be the top of the engine block where the leak is taking place.

Camshaft Seals

If your car has a timing belt the camshaft seal could be the leaking component. Similarly to the crankshaft, your car’s camshafts are on the interior portion of the engine. The seal sits at the end of each camshaft and prevents oil from leaking out of the end and into the rest of the engine.

If the camshaft is your issue, one of the signs is that you will find oil on the rear of the engine just below the valve cover. You may also get smoke pouring out of the engine. In some cases it is smoke you can smell but not see.

Front And Rear Crankshaft Seals

The crankshaft is another internal engine component that like the camshaft, sticks out from the engine. Similarly to the camshaft the ends of the crankshaft has seals that keeps the oil in. When these seals break, the oil will leak into the front of the engine.

If a crankshaft seal leak is small, oil may start to accumulate on the underside of the engine. But if it’s a large leak, there may be a visible oil leak in the front of the engine.

Timing Cover Gasket Seal

Only older vehicles have timing belts, most modern vehicles have a timing chain which is much more durable. The timing chain is lubricated with oil. The timing chain is protected by the timing cover. The timing cover gasket and seal keep the oil sealed into the timing cover.

Like the other seals we’ve discussed, the timing cover gasket is made of rubber that will eventually break down and leak.

If oil is leaking from the center of the engine near the front, it is typically a timing cover leak. But a mechanic will need to inspect your vehicle to determine whether the timing cover or timing cover gasket needs to be replaced to address your oil leak.

Symptoms Of A Leaking Car

Oil Pooling On The Floor Where The Car Is Parked

You can tell if it is oil depending on the color. The oil will be brown where as if the puddle is pink it may be transmission fluid or if it is blue or orange it is likely coolant. All of these fluids are toxic and the repair should be made to your vehicle as quickly as possible.

Low Oil Indicator

Most cars have complex undercarriages that may prevent the leaking oil from ever making it to the ground. In these cases you will have to rely on your maintenance lights to tell you if there is an issue. Your car has hundreds of sensors that tell the computer if there is an issue with a vehicle. Be sure not to ignore any of these warning lights when they come on.

The Engine Block Is Covered In Oil

If you open the hood of your car and find that the engine block is covered in oil, you likely have a pretty significant leak.

Fires And Smoke

Leaking oil is a fire hazard. The fire may start in your exhaust manifold, and cause smoke to pour from your exhaust. If you know you have an oil leak it should be fixed immediately to avoid safety compromises.

Is An Oil Leak Serious?

Oil leaks can be both minor or major depending on where the problem is stemming from. A minor leak might come from a broken oil filter, where as a major leak would be if you have a blown head gasket.

If the leak is quickly draining oil out of your car then it can be considered serious. Some leaks are extremely slow drips and aren’t as serious. Regardless of what the cause of the oil leak is, the issue should be addressed promptly for the sake of your car, your wallet and the environment.

If left untreated the issue will likely escalate into more severe damages for the vehicle. Be sure to get your car to a mechanic at the first sign of an oil leak to avoid greater repairs.

How To Confirm Your Car Is Leaking Oil

Before we jump into cost, let’s confirm your car is actually leaking fluid and that that fluid is oil. There are a few ways you can do this.

  • Using The Dipstick
  • Confirming Your Car Is Leaking Fluid By Checking For Puddles

You can confirm if your car is leaking oil by checking the location under your parked car for puddles of fluid, keep in mind that not all fluid leaks are from oil and you may be leaking brake fluid, transmission fluid, or coolant instead. To identify what the car is leaking you should check the color of the puddle. While many of these fluids are brightly colored, like coolant which will be blue, orange or green, engine oil will be a dark brown color. Keep in mind that any leak is bad, both for your car and the environment. These chemical fluids are toxic to fish and other animals if exposed.

You can also continuously check the oil level in your car using the dip stick feature. The dip stick will have two dots, one represents a minimum and the other the maximum levels of oil. You never want to allow your oil to get too low and you should check your oil levels frequently. In doing this you will be able to determine if the vehicle is leaking oil or burning through oil prematurely, and be able to get your car to a mechanic quickly to diagnose the cause.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix a Leak?

The cost of repairing a car that is leaking oil will depend on the cause of the leak, the size and location, the car and where you live. In some cases a car is leaking oil due to a damaged oil filter which can be replaced for $35- $75 depending on the car. The range of repair costs for an oil leak are from $35 to $1200. On average a car will an oil leak will cost $600 to repair.

This average is high because of how expensive SOME oil repairs are. A blown head gasket is going to top off at the high end of that range where as a broken filler cap will cost $100.

The cost of repairs will be greatly influenced by how long it took you to make repairs and how serious the damage is to your vehicle. If you have a major leak that was neglected and you drove without oil for hundreds of miles, you may have a very serious repair on your hands which will cost a lot.

It goes without saying that the les the damage, the less significant of a repair and the less you will spend repairing the car. If you want an accurate assessment you have to get the car diagnosed because the causes of an oil leak vary so widely.

Cause Of Oil LeakAverage Cost Of Oil Leak Repairs
Blown Head Gasket$2,000
Damaged Oil Pan$1,100
Cracked Engine Block Repair$3,200
Engine Replacement$4,500
Degraded Seals$750
Damaged Oil Filter$50
Broken Filler Car$100

As you can see with the chart shown above, most of these expenses are going to cost you a good bit of money. The engine block of your car is especially difficult to access and make repairs to which will drive up the cost of labor.

Can I Drive My Car With An Oil Leak?

It is not advisable to drive a car with an oil leak for a few reasons:

  1. You can burn out your engine driving with insufficient oil levels
  2. A car that is leaking oil is a fire hazard.
  3. You can prematurely damage other parts of your vehicle like hoses and seals.

A small leak can quickly turn into a large one if the car is driven. A car with a slow oil leak should be taken to the mechanic immediately to diagnose the problem. If left untreated and the car is driven, the oil leak can become more severe and drain the car of its oil. Driving a car without oil will be detrimental to the mechanical health of the car. Without oil, you can burn out your engine which will likely total your car. A new engine block will cost $4,000 to $5,000 to replace and install.

A car leaking oil is also a fire hazard. Your car ignites fuel to propel itself forward, but if the oil in your car ignites either from heat or a spark, you could have a serious vehicle fire on your hands which will destroy and total the car.

Finally, leaking oil can degrade engine parts that aren’t meant to be exposed to them. Seals and hoses made out of rubber shouldn’t be covered in oil. The cost of replacing these parts should they become damaged is upwards of $750.

It is advisable not to drive your car with a leak, unless it is a minor leak and the car has plenty of oil in it and you are taking it just a short distance to the mechanic. Other than these conditions, do not drive a car with an oil leak.

Is It Safe To Drive With A Minor Oil Leak?

While it isn’t a great practice, you should be okay to drive your vehicle for short distances after confirming you have an adequate amount of oil in your car. I wouldn’t say it is safe, but it is less risky than driving a car with a major leak. Regardless of severity, the car should still be taken into the mechanic immediately.

With a minor leak you can opt to drive the car to the mechanic instead of getting it towed if your mechanic is under 7 miles from you. We wouldn’t recommend going further than this with a car with a leak. Make sure you have adequate oil levels before you drive a car with a minor oil leak.

Is It Safe To Drive With A Major Engine Leak

A car with a major oil leak should never be driven. Have the car towed to your mechanic for a diagnosis and repairs. You risk causing more damage to the car by driving it not to mention exposing yourself to fire hazards and the environment to toxins form the leaking oil.

Will My Oil Leak Problem Get Worse Or Break My Car

Yes, your leak can get worse by driving your car. A minor leak can quickly become major and before you know it, the oil that should be lubricating parts could be in areas of the car it shouldn’t be, on the street or on the floor of your garage. You can break your car by neglecting an oil leak as some parts require oil to function and others shouldn’t be exposed to oil. Be sure to take your oil leak seriously and get the car to the mechanic as quickly as possible.

Damages and Dangers from Oil Leaks

Oil stains can stain the floor of your garage, but this is really one of the smaller concerns from a leaking car. A car that is leaking oil is a fire and environmental hazard. Oil is flammable and may catch fire if it is in parts of your car where it shouldn’t be.

In addition, oil is toxic and shouldn’t be released into the environment. You could be poisoning the water ecosystems in your area and even poison one of your pets. Motor oil can contain lead, zinc and even arsenic. From the garage and the streets these substances can easily be washed into the gutters and storm drains and then into the environment. This runoff can be extremely toxic to plants and animals.

If that isn’t enough for you to get the car to the mechanic, consider the economic impact to you. If you don’t repair the car and continue to drive it, you will likely have some exceedingly high repair bills in your future. You can burn out your engine block, radiator, HVAC system, and damage the seals and rubber components in the vehicle prematurely.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil When Parked

Your car isn’t just leaking oil when it is parked, this just the only time you are going to notice the symptoms of the leak. Noticing oil on the ground is a sign to immediately take the car to a qualified mechanic.

Is The Position Of Your Oil Leak Important

The position of the leak can give you some insight as to what is causing the leak as well as determine what parts are being soaked in oil that shouldn’t be.

If the leak is small, the location matters. If the leak is in the front of the crank seal or timing cover, it will shorten the life of the timing belt or other engine drive belts. These parts are extremely expensive to repair.

If the leak is from a valve cover gasket, the hot oil may end up leaking oil into the hot exhaust manifold which could lead to fire.

Why It Is Important To Repair Your Oil Leak?

If left untreated, an oil leak can wreak havoc on the mechanical integrity of your vehicle causing future breaks. In addition oil leaks are an environmental and safety concern.

Oil Leak But My Car Is Not Losing Oil

If you’re noticing that your car is leaking fluid that you think is oil, but the oil in your car isn’t getting any lower, there are a few reasons why this might be the case.

  • Your car isn’t leaking oil but is leaking a different fluid
  • The leak is small enough that you haven’t noticed the missing oil

If the fluid leaking out of your car is not brown, it is likely that your car is leaking either coolant or transmission fluid instead. Both should be taken with as much seriousness as an oil leak.

It could be possible that your leak is so small that it is hard to quantify using the dip stick. You should still take the car into the mechanic to get the problem diagnosed.

How To Prevent Oil Leaks

There are a few ways you can help to prevent oil leaks in your vehicle, but the threat will never disappear completely.

Get Frequent Oil Changes

Over time the oil will break down and need to be replaced. You need to keep the integrity of the oil high to prevent your car from breaking down. Another wonderful benefit of frequently replacing your oil is that you know sooner rather than later if there are issues or if you have a leak.

Your car manufacturer has put together a detailed service schedule for the car, and some vehicles need their oil changed less frequently than others. Some cars only need their oil changed every 10,000 miles thanks to advances in the car industry and improvements in the quality of fluids.

Leak Preventatives

You can also purchase additives for the oil which softens the seals of your car and can even stop small leaks. This is a great preventative measure, though it is not a solution to an existing leak

How Many Miles Between Oil Changes?

Your manufacturer has put together a detailed maintenance schedule for the car which involves a time frame or a mileage count at which maintenance should be performed. The standard for older vehicles is every 3,500 miles where as new vehicle’s need oil changes every 7,000 to 10,000 miles.

Some vehicle owners prefer to change their oil every 6 months, which is fine, you can’t change your oil too frequently though it may not be necessary.

All vehicle’s are going to differ on when an oil change is required. Check the maintenance schedule put out by your car’s manufacturer for more detailed info on when you should replace the oil in your car.

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