Engine oil is critical for lubricating and keeping the engine’s metal components free from dirt and debris.
So, if you have an engine oil leak, it’s not only messy but potentially catastrophic for your engine and personal safety.
This post will explore the top eight causes and five common signs of engine oil leaking from your car. We’ll also examine the severity, safety for driving, repair costs, common fixes, and other engine fluid leaks.
This Article Contains:
- Top 8 Causes of an Engine Oil Leak
- 5 Common Signs of an Engine Oil Leak
- How Serious is an Engine Oil Leak? 3 Critical Reasons
- Can I Drive With an Engine Oil Leak?
- How to Fix an Engine Oil Leak?
- How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Engine Oil Leak?
- What If the Leak Isn’t Engine Oil? 4 Other Types of Fluid Leaks
Let’s get this rolling.
Top 8 Causes of an Engine Oil Leak
Your car’s engine comprises several critical components that can cause a severe or small oil leak.
Here’s a comprehensive list of the most common causes:
1. Broken Gaskets
Gaskets (mechanical seals) fill the space between two or more mating surfaces, preventing an oil leak.
Over time, the valve cover gasket, cylinder head gasket, etc., undergo wear and tear due to friction, load and compression, oil pressure, and high temperatures.
Compromised gaskets could result in an engine oil (motor oil) leak.
2. Cracked or Dried-Out Seals
Like the valve cover gasket and timing cover gasket, your vehicle also comprises several oil seals, like the crankshaft and camshaft seal, that keeps engine oil from spilling.
Eventually, these seals dry out, crack, or get damaged, causing a motor oil leak.
But here’s the thing: diagnosing a crankshaft or camshaft seal leak is tricky, so it’s best to consult a professional.
3. Bad Oil Filter
Moreover, since oil filters trap contaminants, your oil filter can get blocked with debris, resulting in an engine oil leak.
Pro tip: Replace your oil filter roughly every six months or after 5,000 to 10,000 kilometers.
4. Loose or Over-tightened Oil Drain Plug
While a loose oil drain plug is a common reason for an engine oil leak, it’s only likely to happen if you’ve fastened it by hand. In such a scenario, the oil drain plug may come undone while driving, resulting in an oil leak.
In contrast, over-tightening the oil drain plug could damage the threads, eventually resulting in an oil leak.
5. Damaged Oil Pan
Since the oil pan sits underneath your vehicle, it can easily get damaged due to road debris, accidents, or hitting a speed bump.
Typically, a cracked or punctured oil pan will result in a significant leak, leaving big puddles of oil under your vehicle.
6. Excess Oil in Your Engine
Oil leaking from your car could happen due to an overflow of excess oil. It could also be due to an oil spill while getting an oil change.
When this happens, you’ll notice an oil puddle under your car, but the engine oil light on your dashboard won’t be lit up.
7. Irregular Oil Changes
Engine oil contains several additives, like a cleansing detergent, anti-rust, and friction-reducing agents. So, if you don’t change your oil regularly, it can lead to a buildup of dust and debris, resulting in the oil turning thick.
Thicker oil adds pressure to the oil gasket seal, which may weaken the seal and result in oil leaks.
Additionally, the concentration of the additives tends to decline over time, making your engine parts more susceptible to corrosion and an oil leak.
8. Driving in Extreme Conditions
Driving in extreme conditions, like high saline places or freezing temperatures, could also lead to an engine oil leak.
Salty conditions tend to corrode the metal components, resulting in more frequent engine oil leaks. And long drives or excessive acceleration in cold conditions can strain the gaskets, seals, and other engine components, reducing their durability and causing oil leakage.
Now we know what causes a car oil leak, let’s find out how we can prevent oil leaks from becoming catastrophic.
5 Common Signs of an Engine Oil Leak
Catching engine oil leak signs early can help you prevent severe engine issues and safety concerns.
Here are five common signs of your car leaking oil:
- Oil puddle in your driveway: Dark brown or yellow puddles in your driveway or parking spot indicate an engine oil leak.
- Engine smoking: An engine oil leak can sometimes leak oil onto the exhaust manifold, causing smoke to come out of the engine area. This occurs when the engine block is overheated due to a low transmission fluid, brake fluid, or oil level.
- The smell of burning oil: When leaking oil drips onto heated engine parts, you’ll notice a thick burning oil smell from your car. You might even hear a sizzle. But note that the burning oil smell can occur for several reasons, like a faulty valve cover, broken oil filter, or engine oil pan.
- Lit low engine oil light: An illuminated low engine oil light on your vehicle’s dashboard comes on when your car has low oil pressure. It could also occur when your vehicle is low on oil or has dirty oil.
- Engine overheating: An engine oil leak can lead to a rapid decline in your engine oil level. Without adequate engine oil, your pistons will grind against other engine components, resulting in your engine overheating.
Next, let’s review the safety concerns an engine oil leak poses.
How Serious is an Engine Oil Leak? 3 Critical Reasons
Though engine oil isn’t highly flammable, it can still cause fire and pose other major safety threats. Let’s take a look:
1. Fire And Safety Hazard
An engine oil leak leading to fire is rare (but possible). The average engine temperature ranges between 190-220 ℉, and engine oil ignites at 300-400 ℉.
However, driving with a low engine oil level could lead to a sudden spike in engine temperature, increasing the chances of engine oil burning.
2. Engine Damage
Sometimes, a small leak could result in the engine oil level gradually dropping below the minimum mark.
If neglected, the engine’s rubber hose or seal could deteriorate prematurely due to the heat generated from the lack of lubrication or the debris accumulated. This can damage the car’s radiator and HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and cooling system) or lead to permanent engine damage.
Used engine oil contains toxic agents like lead, zinc, and arsenic shaved off the engine’s metal components. If this leaked oil gets absorbed into water or sewage systems, it could contaminate our waterways.
Let’s find out if you can still drive with an oil leak.
Can I Drive With an Engine Oil Leak?
It depends on the leak’s severity.
You can drive if you have a small leak but good oil levels. However, get the leak fixed ASAP. Also, consider bringing extra oil to top up if you have to go somewhere in an emergency.
However, avoid driving if you have severe oil leakage or your oil levels are below the minimum marker. If you keep the engine running despite low engine oil levels, you could face severe engine damage or permanent failure.
Wondering how to fix an engine oil leak?
Read on to find out.
How to Fix an Engine Oil Leak?
Fixing an engine oil leak is complex. However, here are some checks you can do yourself:
- Check if the oil drain plug is correctly installed. If that’s fine, inspect the vehicle’s undercarriage to determine the root cause of the engine oil leak.
- You can use an additive like the oil stop leak to soften or condition a lousy rubber hose, seal, or oil cap if it’s a small leak (leaving an oil spot or two).
- Should the cause of the oil leakage be something more severe or remain undetected, your best option is to get your mechanic’s help to resolve it.
Before you contact a professional, let’s ensure you’ve got a fair idea of the estimated repair costs.
How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Engine Oil Leak?
Repairing engine oil leaks ranges from $100 to $2,000, sometimes even higher, depending on the severity of the oil leak, the type of vehicle, and labor costs.
Here are the average estimated repair costs, excluding labor:
- Oil cap: $8-20
- Oil drain plug gasket: $30-50
- New engine oil filter: $30-75
- Repairing gasket damage: $80-$200
- Repairing an oil pan: $100-$550
The oil stain in your driveway could be other engine fluids too.
Here’s what you need to know:
What If the Leak Isn’t Engine Oil? 4 Other Types of Fluid Leaks
Engine oil leaks aren’t the only fluid leaks you could face. Here are four others you should know about:
- Brake fluid leak: A brake fluid leak could hamper your braking power or cause complete brake failure. Luckily this type of leak is easily identifiable and is mainly caused by a faulty brake line or worn-out brake pads.
- Coolant or antifreeze leak: When you have a coolant leak, your car may take longer to warm up. You may also see steam coming out of the hood while driving or after you stop.
- Power steering fluid leak: The consequences of a power steering fluid leak are as severe as a brake fluid leak. Moreover, you’ll notice a hissing sound under your vehicle’s hood, and your steering might feel heavier.
- Transmission fluid leak: If you notice the smell of burnt oil while driving or after, you may have a transmission fluid leak. Faulty oil seals, hoses, or a head gasket could cause this leak.
While a small oil leak may not pose immediate concerns, it can be catastrophic if neglected. But diagnosing and fixing the issue is complicated, so it’s best to consult a reputable auto repair provider.
AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile auto repair service that you can easily book online. You also get upfront pricing and a 12-Month, 12,000-Mile warranty on all repairs.
Get in touch with us today for an engine oil leak or other repairs, and our expert mechanics will resolve the issue right from your driveway!