Concerned about a mysterious oil puddle under your car?
In some cases, it could be due to an oil pan leak.
This Article Contains:
- What Causes an Oil Pan Leak?
- 6 Symptoms of an Oil Pan Leak.
- How Serious Is an Oil Pan Leak?
- How Much Does it Cost to Repair an Oil Pan Leak?
- How to Diagnose an Oil pan Leak
- How to Fix an Oil Pan Leak
- 3 Other Sources of an Oil Leak (If It’s Not Your Oil Pan)
Let’s get to it!
What Causes an Oil Pan Leak?
An oil pan is made of aluminum or stamped steel, and forms a tight seal with the engine base through an oil pan gasket. It stores the motor oil that keeps a running engine lubricated. It also has a drain plug screwed into it that helps with the oil change process.
But why would it start leaking oil?
Here are 5 common causes behind a leaking oil pan:
1. Worn Oil Pan Gasket
The oil pan gasket can develop cracks over time due to frequent temperature-related expansions and contractions in the adjoining metal components, resulting in oil leaks.
A leaking oil pan gasket is often the leading cause of oil leakage.
2. Damaged Oil Pan
An oil pan can develop a crack or a hole from debris impact encountered on the road while driving. It can also leak due to a worn drain plug, which can happen over frequent screwing and unscrewing during any oil change.
3. Improperly Tightened Parts
Loose bolts that hold the oil pan in place, or a loose drain plug after an oil change, can lead to an oil leak.
4. Inadequate or Improper Sealer
Using an inadequate sealer or one not recommended by the oil gasket manufacturer can result in an oil pan gasket leak.
5. Contaminated Contact Surface
Oil, grime, and particles deposited on the surfaces of the engine block and the oil pan prevent the pan gasket from forming a tight seal. This results in a leaking oil pan gasket.
Now that you know the reasons behind a car leaking oil, let’s explore the symptoms.
6 Symptoms of an Oil Pan Leak
Here are six indicators of an oil pan leak:
1. Oil Puddle or Stain
You may notice a puddle of black or brown liquid under your parked car if you have significant oil leakage. However, a small leak may result in a less noticeable oil stain, so it’s good practice to pay attention to any unexpected droplets under you car.
2. Illuminated Low Oil Level Sign
The low oil level warning light will show up in your car’s instrument panel when you have a substantial oil loss. This is especially alarming if you’ve recently refilled fresh or new oil.
3. Smoke From the Engine
An oil pan gasket leak may let engine oil trickle to the heated exhaust manifold and pipe, which burns instantly and releases smoke.
4. Burning Oil Smell
A strong odor of burning oil is a good indicator of a car leaking oil. This happens when the leaked oil gets in contact with the heated engine exterior and burns.
5. Engine Overheating
If your engine has lost a good deal of engine oil, it’ll result in a low oil level and overheating due to inadequate lubrication. This can lead to irreversible engine damage.
6. Oil-Coated Undercarriage
A severe oil pan gasket leak can result in the oil getting blown backward along a moving vehicle’s undercarriage.
Having learned about the symptoms of an oil pan leak, let’s see if you can take a chance to drive with it.
How Serious Is an Oil Pan Leak?
Oil pan leaks eventually lead to oil loss which can have a detrimental effect on your vehicle. This makes it a moderate-to-serious issue that can quickly progress into a troubling problem.
Moreover, engine oil is flammable and can catch fire upon coming in contact with hot engine and exhaust parts. It can also damage sensors, rubber hoses, and seals designed to be used in an oil-free environment.
If you have no option but to drive with a leaking oil pan, keep an eye on the engine’s oil level, and get the problem fixed ASAP. It also helps to carry along some extra motor oil and a fire extinguisher for emergency use.
Next, let’s talk about the repair costs.
How Much Does it Cost to Repair an Oil Pan Leak?
Here are estimates for repairing an oil pan leak, depending on the issue:
- Oil pan gasket: Around $140-$810 (the pan gasket costs about $40-$100)
- Oil pan with drain plug: Around $150-$500
However, labor costs can vary across vehicles depending on the ease of accessibility to the oil pan.
Now, how do we get to the actual source of the leak?
How to Diagnose an Oil pan Leak
It’s important to correctly diagnose the leakage’s source before it can be fixed, lest the oil leak repair expenses and efforts get wasted.
That’s why it’s best left to a qualified mechanic since they’ll have a better understanding and the right tools to identify the issue.
Here’s what a mechanic would do:
- Use jack stands to raise the car.
- Clean the undercarriage using brake parts cleaner and water and let it dry.
- Spray the suspected oil leakage sites with white foot powder.
- Turn on the engine.
- Use a source of bright light to look for any signs of an oil leak on the sprayed undercarriage.
Let’s explore what they’d do if the diagnosis points to a leaking oil pan.
How to Fix an Oil Pan Leak?
A leaking oil pan will lead to oil loss with possible damaging consequences.
So, if you know how, you should check if all the oil pan bolts and the oil drain plug are tightened as per the manufacturer’s specifications.
If you don’t know your way around car parts, it’s better to let a professional mechanic deal with it.
If they find that the leak demands something more than tightening a loose bolt, here’s what they’ll do:
- Park the vehicle on a level surface, engage the parking brake and place wheel chocks to arrest the rear wheels.
- Raise the vehicle using a jack and jack stands.
- Disconnect the cable at the battery’s negative terminal.
- Remove the drain plug to drain the engine oil.
- Gain access to the oil pan by removing the required components.
- Remove the oil pan bolts, gasket, and oil pan.
- Clean the engine and pan contact surfaces with a solvent to ensure a perfect seal.
- Replace the leaking oil pan gasket or the oil pan.
- Place the bolts into their respective positions and tighten them using a torque wrench.
- Screw the oil drain plug back into the pan and tighten it using a torque wrench.
- Lower the vehicle to the ground.
- Refill the engine with fresh oil (new oil).
- Reconnect the cable to the battery’s negative terminal.
- Start the engine and check for oil leaks.
Note: A mechanic would also check the drain plug and its gasket for signs of wear and replace them if necessary.
Alternatively, you could try using a stop leak engine oil additive to fix the leak. However, these additives provide a temporary oil leak repair solution, and you’ll need to get the oil gasket replaced eventually.
But what if the leak isn’t from the oil pan?
3 Other Sources of an Oil Leak (If It’s Not Your Oil Pan )
It’s easy to misinterpret the cause of an oil leak, given the multiple sources that it can arise from, including a worn camshaft seal or damaged head gasket.
So, it’s possible your engine oil leak may not be due to an oil pan issue.
Here are three other common sources for oil leaks:
1. Oil Filter
Oil can leak if the filter is not installed properly or if the oil filter gasket is damaged.
2. Oil Pump
The gasket attaching the oil pump to the engine block may get worn, causing an oil leak and a low engine oil pressure.
3. Valve Cover
The valve cover is sealed against the cylinder head using a cover gasket. Loose bolts on a valve cover or a worn valve cover gasket (rocker cover gasket) may lead to an engine oil leak.
A leaking oil pan may be fixed by tightening a loose bolt, or require a gasket or pan replacement. While you can tend to the former yourself, the latter is best left to a qualified professional.
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