The Causes of Oil Leaks and How to Fix Them

Published on: 20 October 2015

The Causes of Oil Leaks and How to Fix Them

Have you ever reversed out of your driveway or a parking spot and seen horrible, unsightly oil stains settling themselves in for a long, stubborn stay? Aside from being an inconvenience, oil leaks are a very worrisome problem for a car owner, especially if you understand the gravity of this fault in the first place.

Ignoring an oil leak can lead to more grievous car problems, such as a damaged engine, premature degradation of parts and, most frightening of all, a fire in your engine that could lead to total engine failure. Definitely not something you want to go through – even if you do have car insurance!

So, firstly, how can you tell if you have an oil leak? Here are some indicators:

  • The telltale puddle below your engine. Red liquid means that the leak is probably transmission fluid. Green or orange with a sweet smell is likely to be coolant, and brown is most likely engine oil. This may be more noticeable if your car has been sitting overnight.
  • Check your oil levels regularly by removing the dipstick. If the level drops very quickly (like in a week or a fortnight), you probably have an oil leak.
  • Watch for blue-hued smoke out of your exhaust pipe.
  • After you have driven for a while (even a short distance), sniff around the engine and see if you can smell burning oil. It will have a very distinct smell!

Now that you have determined that you do, in fact, have an oil leak, you are probably wondering why? Here are a few things that can cause an oil leak, and how to fix them:

  • The oil filter: Oil filters do wear out over time, and sometimes the parts associated with the filtration system (particularly in some car models) can cause a leak at the filter.
    Solution: Your oil filter should be changed every time you change your oil. Take your car for regular services – they usually change the oil filter when they replace the oil.
  • The oil filler cap: An oil leak doesn’t necessarily just drip down from the problem area. If the filler cap on top of your oil tank, where you pour in the oil, is dislodged (which can easily happen during a simple fender bender or mishap over a pothole), or missing; the oil can spill out over bumps and with jerky car movements.
    The solution: Check your oil filler cap to ensure that it is well-fitted and serving its purpose of keeping all the oil in.
  • The oil drain plug: At the base of your engine sump is a plug - similar to the plug that you have in your bathtub. Worn out threads in the plug, or a loose, misaligned plug, is often the common cause of an oil leak.
    The solution: The plug is only accessible on the underside of the vehicle, so if you would like to check it yourself, get under the car and check the plug for any fresh oil around it that may be dripping down.
  • The sump gasket: We saved the most common cause of an oil leak for last. The gasket is a seal that joins the sump and engine block. Over a prolonged period of time, a buildup of old oil that turns to sludge can result in pressure that compromises the seal in the gasket, resulting in leaks.
    The solution: This is a more complicated fix, and may require a mechanic to replace the gasket. If you can see that all of the other causes listed above are not the reason for the leak, then you may need to have your sump gasket checked by a professional mechanic.

Sometimes there are other reasons why your oil may leak, including damage caused to the sump when driving over debris, potholes, or even damaged sustained during a fender bender. By sticking to your car’s service schedule, checking your oil regularly and keeping an eye out for any of the telltale signs of a leak, you can protect your engine from the devastating effects of an unnoticed oil leak.

Now that you know what causes oil leaks and how to fix them, you are well on your way to maintaining and caring for your car affordably and on your own. Take your responsible car owner habits one step further and get affordable car insurance with MiWay.