Proper oil quality and oil levels are essential to a healthy engine. Leaking oil not only causes a series of immediate issues like overheating, it can cause serious irreparable damage to your engine and other components if left untreated.
If oil leaks are spotted early on, they can usually be treated easily and relatively cheaply. If you think the oil in your car may be leaking, look for these tell-tale signs before taking your car in to the shop.
1. The unmistakable burning oil smell
Even before a leak may be visible, small amounts that touch hot components will burn. While you may not immediately see smoke, the smell is unmistakable. It is a distinctly acrid, industrial smell.
2. Snap, crackle and pop
If oil is leaking onto hot components, you may also hear what sounds like something being fried. Just like when something is dropped into a hot panl, when your engine oil leaks onto hot parts it reacts with dirt and debris and sizzles. This sound indicates a likely leak.
3. Smoke from under the hood
If a larger amount of oil is leaking and burning, you will see visible smoke coming from under the hood. Not only does this suggest a leak, it can also rapidly deteriorate other components in the vehicle. If you see smoke coming from your vehicle’s engine, get it checked by a professional immediately.
4. Slicks under your vehicle
Due to condensation and a few other things, your car will occasionally “leak” onto a driveway or parking place. This can make it difficult to detect when your car may be leaking oil, rather than simply shedding water.
Unlike water, oil will leave a stain on whatever surface it sits on. Check to see if the puddle under your car evaporates or if it leaves a brownish or yellowish stain. You may even want to slide a piece of cardboard under your vehicle to get a sample you can inspect more closely.
5. Running hot
The engine oil in your car keeps friction down. This keeps the engine from overheating. If there is a significant leak and your level and pressure are low, this will cause friction and heat to build up in the engine. Keep an eye on the engine thermometer on the dash panel. If your engine is running hot, it is possible you have a leak.
6. Indicator light
Your dash panel also features an indicator light (and perhaps something more detailed than that). When this light illuminates it indicates that something is wrong with the level or pressure. Do not ignore it. Sometimes driving the car up or down a steep hill might cause it to misread the amount, in which case the light would go back off once the car levels out. If the light comes on and stays on, take it in.
While one of these symptoms alone does not necessarily mean you have an oil leak, several of them together means one is likely.
An oil leak is a serious problem because it can wreak havoc on an engine. While the leak itself is mostly just an annoyance, your car needs it to function. If you ignore the problem long enough, you risk serious and expensive engine damage. Don’t mess around. Take it in, or if you’re handy enough, look for it and fix it yourself.
For more car care tips and maintenance help, check out the Strutmasters blog.