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How to Find Out Where the Oil Leak Is Coming From

Intro

There’s nothing worse than seeing that psychedelically colored puddle under your car after pulling out of your parking spot. When your car is leaking oil, there could be a million reasons why. In this guide, we’ll review 7 places to check for an oil leak so you can find out where the leak is coming from.

A Safety Warning

When there’s oil on the floor, you need to make sure your kids and pets are out of the area. This liquid can make them really sick if it’s ingested.

If you’re going under your car to look for oil, make sure you have protective glasses on and keep your mouth closed. Oil might drip down on your face so you want to be prepared.

Finally, never look around when the car is hot. Don’t go under the car when it’s running. Make sure it’s in park with the handbrake on before climbing under the car. These simple tricks will keep you safe during this process.

Before Checking for a Leak

Before you start checking for a leak, there are a few things to check. This will ensure it’s actually oil leaking before you start looking for an oil leak. There are some other liquids that could be leaking and tricking you into thinking it’s oil.

Look at the Color

Put down newspaper to see the color of the liquid. If it’s amber, then it’s oil. If it’s a bright color like pink, green, or blue, then it could be antifreeze or windshield wiper fluid.

Check the Consistency

Take a small amount in your fingers and rub your fingers together. Oil is thin and feels really lubricious. It should feel slick between your fingers. If it’s sticky, then it’s not oil.

Use Your Nose

Take a whiff of the liquid and see. Oil should smell like chemicals. Comparatively, antifreeze smells sweet.

Check the Level of Your Liquids

Finally, go ahead and check all the levels of your car’s liquids. This applies to your oil, power steering, windshield wiper fluid, and antifreeze.

7 Places to Check for an Oil Leak

After determining that the leak is definitely oil, it’s time to start looking. Put on your trench coat and grab your magnifying glass – it’s time for some detective work.

Gaskets

Anywhere there’s a gasket, there’s room for error. A faulty, cracked, chipped, or degrading gasket will cause fluid to leak out.

This is generally the most common place that you’ll find an oil leak. When you shine a flashlight in the area, you’ll find a shiny section of oil. You will also feel it on your fingers if you touch a leaking gasket.

Oil Filter

If your oil filter is bad, oil will drip from it. The filter has a gasket on it and it gets threaded into the underside of your car. If the gasket or threads aren’t properly seated, oil will drip from the bottom.

Crawling under your car and shining a flashlight on your oil filter will tell you what you need to know. If the filter is covered in oil, you found your suspect.

Grab a new oil filter and make sure it gets properly seated when you install it.

Oil Plug

Your oil sits in a big reservoir with a plug at the bottom. When you want to change your oil, you take out the plug and drain the oil.

In most cases, a plug is just a threaded bolt that might have a gasket on it. If your oil plug is damaged or not fully screwed in, that’s probably the culprit.

Get on your back under the car and shine your flashlight up. Find your oil pan and locate the oil plug. Touch it and see if your fingers come back covered in oil. Ensure the plug is fully tightened.

If you just changed your oil and your car is leaking oil, an improperly seated oil plug is probably the culprit.

Oil Pan

While you’re down there, you should also check the oil pan. Your oil pan is made of thin metal that gets bolted to your crankcase with a gasket between the two pieces.

Look at the rim of the oil pan where it connects to the crankcase. Can you see shiny spots or do you feel oil? Check the bolt holes as well and then look along the body of the pan. If you see oil, trace it with your finger to see if you can feel a crack. Locate the origin of the oil if there’s a trail.

When it comes to the oil pan, there are a few major reasons why it would leak oil:

  • The bolts aren’t fully tightened
  • The gasket is cracked, deteriorating, or out of position
  • There are cracks or holes in the oil pan
  • The rim of the oil pan is bent or damaged, causing an improper seal

Oil Cap

If the problem is with your oil cap, it’s time to do cartwheels – this is the easiest problem to fix on this list.

Stop your car and pop the hood. Look for your oil cap. It’s a hand-sized plastic piece that says “OIL” on it or has a picture of an old-timey oil can. Can’t find it? Maybe it’s missing. A missing oil cap will cause an oil leak, so getting a new one should fix your problem.

If you find the cap, check to see if it’s fully seated by twisting it clockwise. Otherwise, remove the cap and inspect it. If there are cracks in the plastic or a faulty gasket, it’s time to replace it.

Make sure your oil cap is firmly tightened on your car.

Valve Cover

Make sure your car isn’t running and pop the hood. Take a look at the area where you found your oil cap. That big chunk of metal under the cap is your valve cover. It covers your valves (believe it or not).

There’s a gasket that runs along the perimeter of your valve cover, and it’s known for causing issues. Since it’s such a large piece, there’s a lot of room for error.

It’s not rare to have a gasket that isn’t fully seated because it moved a little while the valve cover was installed. Check the rim with your finger after the car cooled down. If you spot oil then take off the cover and get a new gasket.

Head Gasket

Your head gasket is a wide rectangle of metal. It has holes cut all over the place and it’s right under your valve cover. This is another part that loves to get twisted, dented, and cut. If you have a bad head gasket, it might be hard to visually find out.

A telltale sign is finding radiator fluid in your oil. Some other signs to look for are milky, white oil, bubbles in the overflow tank for your coolant, and white smoke coming from your exhaust pipe.

A bad or blown head gasket should be repaired to stop the oil leak.

After Finding the Leak

It might seem obvious, but make sure your oil level is corrected after finding and repairing the leak. Who knows how much oil you leaked? Not enough oil in your car will lead to problems that you don’t want.

Check your oil dipstick to see. If you have to replace your oil, don’t forget to correctly seat the oil filter, oil pan, and oil cap.

Conclusion

After determining that the leak is truly oil, look in these 7 places to find the source of the leak. Don’t forget to be safe during the process so an oil leak doesn’t turn into something more serious. If you can’t find the leak, you might need to ask a mechanic for help.

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