You’re just finishing up a long day of work and head out to leave the office. You get in your car, turn on the ignition, and start to drive away. All of a sudden, someone flags down your car. You roll down the window to see what they are concerned about, when they tell you that a dark puddle had formed beneath your car. Uh-oh. Sounds like the signs of an oil leak. Let’s review how to tell if your car is leaking oil, why is it leaking, can you drive with a leak, and how to fix it.
Is My Car Leaking Oil Or Another Substance?
It is important to determine which liquid is leaking from your car. There are various options that can be the mysterious fluid that has formed a puddle under your car, and each answer has a different problem and solution.
If the fluid is red, this usually means that it is transmission fluid that’s been stored in the car for a long time. In some cases, antifreeze can leak red, but it’s typically transmission fluid. If the leak is blue, then that looks like windshield wiper fluid that’s leaking. If the fluid is more of a pink color, then that’s usually a steering fluid leak.
If the liquid that is leaking out of your car is a dark brown color, then it’s usually motor oil or older brake fluid. Therefore, if you see a dark puddle below your car, you have experienced an oil leak and will need to determine why it’s leaking and how to repair it.
Why Is My Car Leaking Oil When Parked?
Broken Seals or Gasket
Once you stop driving and your car is parked, a car’s engine block and the head will be hot from the heat generated while driving. The metal components expand when they’re heated, which in turn, puts pressure on the seals and gaskets. The engine seals and gaskets are meant to prevent an oil leakage. However, once the engine begins to cool down, the metals contract, which leaves gaps between the seals and the metal parts. These gaps can cause an oil leakage, since there won’t be enough pressure to prevent an oil spill. Taking your car to an auto shop to see a mechanic can help determine if it is a faulty oil gasket, a leaking seal, or a bad valve seal that has been worn over time, and allows oil to leak through.
Damaged Oil Filter or Damaged Oil Pan
If your oil filter is damaged, the oil can leak as it runs through the filter and flows into the car’s engine. If it isn’t the oil filter but the oil pan is damaged, this can leave a puddle of oil under your car after you’re done driving. When your vehicle is going over lower-lying portions of the road or roads with potholes, an oil pan can become dented if it is hit with enough force to cause some damage. The aftermath of this trauma can be a quick leak that occurs when the car is parked that slowly gets worse over time.
Oil Pan Plug Is Not In The Right Spot
Your oil pan plug can be damaged if you see that it has stripped threads or it is not properly inserted or fully tightened. To provide a quick fix that can temporarily replace the mechanism is a rubber plug. Unfortunately, over time you will have to get a full replacement with long-term materials. Getting a permanent repair typically involves replacing the plug with a steel thread that is the correct size for the unique shape for your car. This fix can help remedy a car that is leaking oil when parked.
A Blown Head Gasket or Engine Block Seals
When you drive an older car, a blown head gasket could be a common reason for the oil leaking from your car. Also, the rubber materials that are supposed to seal off of your engine block might have decomposed over time. This could cause the oil to leak from the top of the engine block.
If you’re driving a car without an ample amount of coolant, this can cause the engine to overheat. An overheated engine can cause the head of the cylinder to warp out of the correct shape and cause the head gasket to leak. If you live in a cold-weather climate, an engine can freeze if you don’t have enough antifreeze in your car to keep the water in your system from freezing due to the colder weather.
Can I Drive With An Oil Leak?
There are various factors which influence the ability of to drive your car while you have an oil leak. The factors determine the safeness of driving, and the possibility of it as well. The severity of the oil leak depends on the leak size and the spot, the time or miles that you drove that day, the engine oil capacity, and the number of times you change your oil. Assessing all of these factors can determine whether or not it is safe to drive, and can also determine why your car is leaking oil when parked.
Possibly the biggest influencer that determines whether or not you can or should drive with an oil leak is the leak size and location. The leak size is crucial because the bigger size of the leak, the more oil can seep through and out of your car. The bigger-sized leak also means that the oil will flow out of the leak quicker, increasing the amount of oil that will be wasted. The leak location is also influential in determining if you can drive your car. If you have a leak in your cover gasket, this can also cause oil to leak into your exhaust manifold. If this happens, the heat produced in the exhaust can produce smoke or even cause a fire. If you find a leak in your timing cover, oil can then get onto your timing belt, which causes it to become damaged quickly and also cause a mess in your car. The most ideal type of leak to have, if you’re going to have a leak at all, is a rear main seal leak, since it is low on your engine and won’t damage any other parts of your car.
The second influencer on whether you should drive your car with an oil leak is the time of day that you typically drive. The amount you drive per day also plays a part in the danger of driving with a leak. If you only drive short distances, typically less than 10 miles, you have a lower chance of lowering your oil level to a risky point. If you drive over 10 miles, or are sitting in traffic for extended periods of time on your commute to work, your oil could get to an extremely dangerous level in just a matter of a few days. Additionally, oil leaks can become more hazardous as your engine becomes warmer. The increased heat causes the oil to increase the flow rate, making oil leak quicker. If you drive farther distances or for long periods of time, your engine has more of a chance to become hotter and cause an intense leak. Lastly, if you drive very short distances but are in stop-and-start traffic, you should get your oil checked more frequently and changed due to the driving conditions that require a lot of stopping and accelerating.
The third factor which can influence whether or not you should drive your car with an oil leak is how much oil the engine in your car can hold. If you have a car that can hold numerous quarts of oil, then just a small drip wouldn’t affect your oil level drastically. If you have a vehicle that has less oil capacity, then a few drops of oil leaking from your car will have more of an effect on your oil level.
The last factor which can determine if you should drive your car with an oil leak or not is how often you change your oil. An oil change will leave your vehicle with a fresh tank of oil. Most people with conventional oil will try to get their oil changed every 3,000 miles. For those who use synthetic oils, a small leak can cause a very low oil level, which will usually happen before your next scheduled oil change.
Maintaining a proper level of oil in your car ensures that the process of moving oil from the oil pan and through the oil filter will occur seamlessly so that it can get to other parts of the car. In addition, a good oil level ensures that mechanisms are lubricated properly, like the crankshaft, connecting rods, piston rings, and pistons themselves. Lastly, a proper oil level ensures that the oil can overheat to the right temperature and be able to break down and move properly.
These factors we’ve just discussed highly influence the likelihood and the safety of whether or not you can drive your car with an oil leak. An oil leak isn't something that should be overlooked, since if you let it go for too long, it can cause more problems in the future. If you do discover an oil leak, you will need to pay to fix the leak so that your car will stop leaking oil when parked.
How Much Does It Cost To Fix a Leak?
Depending on the damage done by an oil leak and how long you have waited to start the repair process can influence how much you will have to pay to fix the oil leak. The average cost for an oil repair is approximately $150-$1,200. Obviously this is a huge range of prices, so you will have to go to a technician to gain an estimate and see what price you’re going to have to pay. The less damage that has been done to your vehicle by the leak, the less you’re going to have to pay.
If your main issues are a broken filler cap or a broken oil filter, the price would be only around $100 or so to fix the parts. For a damaged oil pan, expect to pay upwards of $1,000 to remedy the problem. For a degraded or broken gasket, the price depends on which seal it is. If it is a blown head gasket, then this costs a lot more money and labor to fix, costing upwards of $2,000 to properly fix the gasket.
Unfortunately, the prices only go up from here. If you have a cracked engine block, you first have to decipher if the cracked engine block is even repairable. The average cost of repairing a cracked engine block is usually from $2,500-$3,500. After this, you also have to replace the engine. Replacing a regular motor costs between $4,000-$5,000, and upwards of $10,000 for a performance engine.
How To Prevent An Oil Leak
Get Oil Changes More Often
By regularly changing your oil, you can ensure that everything is running smoothly. Be sure to check the oil filter, which is imperative in the oil’s quality, and can cause a leak if it’s misaligned. Make sure you check the oil pan, filler cap, and drain plug to ensure they are all in good condition and working properly. Be sure to stick to the service schedule that has been laid out by the manufacturer or your specific technician. Some more modern vehicles are equipped to only get their oil changed every 10,000 miles, but make sure you double-check before assuming.
The Type Of Oil In Your Car
Some newer brands of oil contain extra ingredients that stop or prevent leaks from occuring due to old and worn-out gaskets. The additives included in the oil are called seal conditioners that keep the seal flexible and able to work properly.
Leak Stopping Additives
You can purchase an oil that has leak-stopping properties which can soften the seals and stop small leaks. Even though this isn’t a long-term solution, this is good for stopping small leaks in a short time period.
What If I Don’t Have Enough Money To Pay For The Repair Of An Oil Leak?
If you have a cracked engine block and don’t have the money to pay for a fix, you can always decide to turn your car in for some extra money. After you remove all of the non-metal components from your car, you can bring it into CashcarsBuyer in order to gain some extra money, prevent having to get your engine block fixed, and have the chance to put aside some cash for your next vehicle purchase.