Ever wondered what are the ill effects of an oil leak and do you know the best ways to avoid? Yes, it’s easier to just ignore the small puddle of oil forming under your car since we generally see it everywhere but the cost of driving with a low oil level and ruining your engine is astronomical compared to the cost of repairing most oil leaks.
Leaks left unchecked can get on rubber hoses or seals and cause them to degrade prematurely. Leaking oil can cause ugly stains on your driveway and are an environmental hazard. And worst of all, engine oil leaks are a fire risk in your engine compartment and can result in catastrophic engine failure at the worst possible time, not that there is a good time for catastrophic engine failure :-) so fixing oil leaks should be your number one priority.
On the other hand not all leakages are caused by engine oil, it could be some other type of car fluid leaking.
These vehicle fluids include:
Antifreeze Fluid Leak – If you notice a patch of thick fluid that is yellow, pink, or green in color around or under your car, it may indicate that you have an antifreeze leak.
Steering Fluid Leak – This type of leak typically occurs around the front area of the car. The fluid can either be brown or red in color and it is usually thin.
Water Leak – Water leaks can often be served underneath the car. If you have this leak, you are likely to see a small pool of clear and odorless liquid.
Transmission Fluid Leak – If y
our car is stationary, you may notice a thick patch of brown or red fluid around the mid-section of your car which may point to a transmission fluid leak.
Brake Fluid Leak – If you notice an oily patch that is has a clear to brown color near the passenger side seat or around your car’s wheels it may indicate that your brake fluid is leaking.
A fluid patch under or around your car may indicate that you have either of several of the leaks highlighted above. However, the leaks above are not as common as engine oil leaks so what are the causes?
The vast majority of leaks are due to degraded engine gaskets, oil pan leaks, oil seals or bad connections. Crawl under the car and check the oil pan seals. While you’re there also check the oil pan drain plug. Next check the timing cover seal and the valve cover gaskets. Problems here can require extensive repairs that are not cheap. The severity of your oil leak depends on a few different factors:
Leak size and location
Time or miles driven per day
Engine oil capacity
How often you change your oil
Why is My Car Leaking Oil?
This biggest factor that determines how risky it is to drive with the oil leak you have is the leak size and location. The leak size obviously matters as larger leaks can lower your oil level faster which can lead to problems before you have a chance to catch them. Leak location also matters even fo
r some slow leaks. For example, a leak in your valve cover gasket can allow oil to leak onto your exhaust manifold which is so hot it can cause smoke or even a fire making it a very dangerous leak. Similarly, a leak from the timing cover or from your front crank seal will allow oil to get
on your timing belt or engine drive belts shortening their life not to mention making a mess. A leak, like a rear main seal leak, that is low on your engine will make a mess but won’t put any other components at risk. For more information about rear main seal leaks, try reading our article rear main seal stop leak.
Can I Drive With an Oil Leak?
The answer to this question depends on the time of day that you drive. The amount you drive per day also plays into how dangerous it is to drive with your oil leak. Short commutes, less than 15 kms, have less of a chance to lower your oil level to a dangerous point before you check your oil again. If you sit in stop and go traffic for 2 hours every morning, your oil level might be dangerously low in just a few days. Also, many oil leaks will increase their flow rate as your engine gets warm and heat soaked so longer commutes can increase oil loss. Lastly, those of us that drive shorter distances in stop and go traffic should get our oil changed more often due to the severe driving conditions so the level is being topped off more often.
How Often you Change your Oil
As we mentioned earlier, an oil change will leave your engine topped off with fresh oil. If you still get your oil changed every 5000 kms with conventional oil, you probably will get your oil changed before the level gets low. If you use longer-lasting synthetic oils or have long oil change intervals in your car, even a small leak can cause a d
angerously low oil level before your next oil change.
The goal, in the end, is to maintain a safe oil level in your vehicle’s engine. A proper oil level will ensure the oil pump can draw oil up from the oil pan, and push it through the oil filter so it can be distributed to the important moving parts in the engine. A proper oil level will also ensure proper lubrication of the crankshaft, connecting rods, pistons and piston rings. Lastly, especially in performance motors or heavy duty trucks, engine oil can reach high temperatures during heavy loading and a proper oil level can ensure the oil does overheat and break down. Given that the severity of your oil leak depends on so many factors that cannot be determined by looking at the size of the puddle left or the number of drips you see, it is important to regularly check your engine oil level on your dipstick. A good interval to start checking your oil at is once per week. Set a specific time of day or location to help you remember. If you check your oil for 4 consecutive weeks without seeing a significant change, you can consider checking it every other week, or once per month. At a minimum, check your oil once per month and before any long trips. If you notice your oil level steadily dropping during your regular checks look for oil stains on the g
round after it has been parked for more than an hour. Also, you can look at the bottom of the engine to see if there are any oil spots or drips. If you notice a significant drop (more than ¼ of the dipstick) in a week’s time, check carefully for new leaks or other problems.
A leak of any kind should be addressed immediately, but an engine oil leak even more so. Knowing what causes engine oil leaks will help you know where to look and how to start fixing it yourself. Don’t ignore it, or hope it fixes itself. Be proactive. Protect and preserve your vehicle’s performance so you can keep it on the road where it’s meant to be