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Common Signs and Causes of Oil Leaks in Cars | Meineke

Published Tue May 14, 2019

Car Leaking Oil When Parked


It is often said that changing the oil is the single most important thing you can do to take care of your car. Nevertheless, it is something that many automobile owners delay—and the results of procrastination can be dire.


The purpose of oil is to cut down on friction within your engine. When you have high quality, clean oil that is doing its job properly, it means the components of your engine are working well without rubbing together and causing corrosion. Over time, though, oil becomes contaminated and loses its viscosity. In a word, it gets dirty. And when that happens, it loses its ability to prevent friction—which means the components of your engine will literally be wearing each other down, causing erosion and potentially significant mechanical failings.


Common Signs of Oil Leaks


One way to know that you’ve gone far too long without an oil change is that oil is leaking from your engine. One of the most typical signs of oil leak is seeing a puddle of greasy-looking brown liquid under your car, after it has been parked for a while. (By contrast, if the liquid is pink, it’s transmission fluid; if it’s green or orange, it’s coolant.)


However, many vehicles today have shielding underneath, which will most likely catch the oil before it hits the ground. That can hide a potentially major oil leak. In this case, a low oil level indicator will be your sign of leakage.

We Can Fix Engine Oil Leak – Find a Meineke Shop Nearby

An engine covered in oil is also a pretty good sign of leakage. Open your hood every once in a while, and check your vehicle’s fluids. You will be able to notice if the oil is leaking or seeping from several places. Last, but not least, when oil is leaking, it can get in contact with hot engine surfaces, which means it will burn, and you’ll be able to smell it.


But What Causes Oil To Leak, Exactly?


car oil filter is leaking


Usually, it is due to degraded engine gaskets or oil seals. Sometimes these components will erode over time, but more likely than not, if you have this kind of leak, it’s because you have old, dirty oil—perhaps because you have not had your oil changed recently enough.


Damaged Oil Gaskets or Pans


Your vehicle’s oil pans and gaskets can easily be damaged by road debris since they are located at the bottom of the engine. Rough roads can lead to a hole which will cause an oil pan leak. The pan’s gasket usually suffers a lot of wear and tear, or it can also get damaged, which leads to an oil gasket leak.


Incorrect Installations


It may happen that one of the gaskets that keep oil inside is Improperly installed. Most commonly, this happens when the oil pan gasket or valve cover gasket are over-tightened. It can also happen when tightness is not evenly distributed. Another reason can be the improper attachment of the oil filter, as the engine oil flows continuously through it, and if it’s loose, you can experience a leak there.


Bad Rings or Valve Seals


Leaking rings or valve seals can also be contributing to your car losing oil. However, if there are no holes in your gaskets, the oil will not make it outside the engine, so you won’t notice it, as it will get burned up in the combustion process.


Regardless of the specific cause, it is urgent to stop an oil leak, so take your vehicle to the Meineke shop immediately. Following the oil leak, you may encounter the smell of burnt oil, followed by blue smoke and ultimately some major damage to your engine. Do not delay in addressing this issue.


Preventing Oil Leaks


How Often to Change Oil


preventing engine oil leaks


All of this begs the question: How frequently should you change the oil in your car? There is no way to know, through visual inspection, whether your oil needs changing, as pure black oil will take on a brown, “dirty” look almost immediately after it is put into your car.


The simple solution, then, is to change your oil as often as the manufacturer recommends, in order to prevent a major oil leak. The manufacturer’s recommendation is made to keep your car running for a long time; you can find out what this recommendation is by looking in your owner’s manual, visiting the manufacturer website, or calling the service desk at your local dealership. Thankfully, there is no harm in getting your oil changed too frequently—though this can take a toll on your wallet. There is no need to have the oil changed more regularly than what the manufacturer recommends.


Another Tip: Don’t wait until you see signs of oil leak, or the “low oil” light comes on—and if you do see that light come on, make your oil change a top priority. The light almost certainly means that whatever oil is left in your engine has lost its ability to function properly, which means your engine is undergoing a great deal of wear and tear.


How Many Miles Between Oil Changes?


Note that your manufacturer’s recommendation will involve mileage, which is a more reliable gauge than a timeframe. Some auto owners just take their cars in for oil changes every five to six months, but this does not take into account the seasons in which the vehicles are driven more or less than usual.


As for the specific mileage, all cars are different. The standard for older vehicles was often no more than 3,500 miles, but newer cars can often get 7,000 to 10,000 out of a single oil change. Again, the critical thing is to look at your manufacturer recommendation, and not to delay getting oil changed as needed, hopefully before your light comes on or you see oil leaks staining your driveway. To schedule an oil change with the Meineke team, contact our nearest local Meineke Car Care Center at your convenience.




Q: Why does my car leak oil when parked?


A: If you see a puddle of greasy-looking liquid on the ground after your vehicle has been parked for a while, then that means you have an oil pan leak, which usually indicates holes in your car’s oil pan or gaskets. Take your vehicle to a shop straight away.


Q: How much does it cost to fix an oil leak?


A: The cost will depend on whether it’s a major or minor oil leak, as different solutions are available for the fix. It also depends on the type of vehicle, the engine, and the location of the leak.


Q: Do I need an oil change if my car leaks oil?


Simply changing the oil will not fix the leak. First, you’ll have to identify the cause of the leak, conduct the necessary repairs, and then, depending on how much oil you’ve lost, either top it off or have it changed.


Q: Can I still drive with an oil leak?


A: It’s always advisable not to drive if your vehicle has an oil leak, but short distance drives, less than 10 miles, are not as risky when it comes to lowering your oil levels to a dangerous point.


Q: Is an oil leak serious?


A: The severity of a vehicle’s oil leak depends on several factors, such as the location of the leak and its size. Obviously, a major oil leak will lower your oil levels faster, and lead to other, more serious problems. For small leaks, the location matters the most, as a leak from the front crank seal or the timing cover will shorten the life of the timing belt or engine drive belts, while a valve cover gasket leak will get oil on the hot exhaust manifold, potentially causing smoke or even fire.


Q: How do I stop an oil leak?


Although there are several products on the market targeting DIY leak stops, the best course of action would be taking your car to a shop, because properly identifying the underlying cause is crucial.