If you think your car is leaking oil when parked, you need to investigate the cause. An oil leak is very serious and needs immediate attention – but if something else is dripping, you should also know what is going on.

By the end of this article, you will know:

  1. The steps to take in such a situation
  2. How to ascertain that your car is leaking oil.
  3. Ways to prevent a future oil leak.
  4. The answers to some frequently asked questions about oil leaks

 

Is Your Car Leaking Oil or Another Type of Fluid?

The fluid may look like oil when you glance at it from afar, but you may discover that it isn’t oil when you take a closer look. Your car uses many types of fluids, so examine the liquid closely instead of jumping to conclusions. It is difficult to be sure about what you are looking at from a far distance, especially when the spot is on the ground.

The easiest method you can use to check whether your car is leaking oil when parked is to inspect the colour of the fluid. See the following colour codes and their fluid types:

  • Black or Light Brown: This is usually engine oil.
  • Clear: This is most likely water draining from your vehicle’s air conditioner system.
  • Red or Brown with a Reddish Tint: It is typically transmission fluid or power steering fluid.
  • Transparent Yellow or Brown: This is most likely brake fluid.
  • Bright Green, Blue, Pink, or Orange: It is most likely coolant.

Note that coolant has a sweet smell that makes it easier to recognize.

 

Other Signs That Your Car May Be Leaking Oil

If you notice any of the following when parked or while driving along, your car may be leaking oil:

 

Blue Smoke Coming from Your Exhaust Pipe

Pull over if you notice this sign because your car may be at risk of bursting into flames. This may mean that oil is leaking into the vehicle’s exhaust manifold. The exhaust manifold performs the function of collecting and directing exhaust gases.

 

The Smell of Burning Oil

You may catch a whiff of the smell of burning oil after parking your car. This may mean that oil has leaked or is leaking onto the hot engine. You should pull over immediately and leave your car if you ever notice a burning smell while driving.

 

Overheating Engine

The vehicle’s engine can overheat as a result of an oil leak, especially if the oil is low. Engines need oil for their parts to stay lubricated while running. So the engine will start overheating when there is inadequate lubrication.

 

Car Leaking Oil When Parked after an Oil Change

A problem with a recent oil change can bring about leakage. It could be that the oil filter might not have been properly put back in place, or it may be damaged. Another possibility is a loose or broken oil filler cap. Also, the drain plugs or gaskets might have been left loose or over-tightened. These will be elaborated on in the next section.

A leak may be a sign that your car needs to undergo an oil change. The vehicle may have shielding underneath that stops the oil from dropping on the ground by containing it. You won't be able to see the oil dripping, and this can hide a major oil leak. A low oil level indicator may be a warning signal for such vehicles.

An oil-stained engine should be examined for leakages. Your car's fluids should be inspected periodically by a mechanic. Sometimes, there can be more than one source of leaking fluid.

 

BookMyGarage branded infographic about the warning signs of a car leaking oil and how to spot them

These are signs that your car may be leaking oil.

 

What Happened to My Car to Cause an Oil Leak?

Four common problems that can cause oil leaks while your car is parked are given below.

 

Degraded Engine Gaskets

Engine gasket degradation can occur because of the heat generated from driving. The temperatures of the engine block and the head rise when you stop your vehicle. This makes the metal parts stretch, resulting in increased pressure on the gaskets.

Reduction in engine temperature will make metal components contract making gaps form between them and the seals. The gaskets will suffer wear because of this. There will be an oil leak because of these reactions. Take the car to an auto repair shop to ensure that it isn't an oil gasket or defective valve seal.

The head gasket of your car may be blown if it is an old model. The rubber around the engine block may have deteriorated. These two components would have to be replaced for the problem to be fixed.

 

damaged head gasket oil seal, stylised view of damaged engine part

 

Damaged Oil Pan

Your car's oil pan, located at the bottom of the engine, can be destroyed by rough roads or debris. The pan's gasket also sustains damage or gets worn out over time. All these can lead to leakages in the oil pan or oil pan gasket.

 

stylised view of a damaged oil pan causing a leak underneath a car

 

Bad Oil Seals

Your car could be leaking oil when parked as a result of a faulty valve seal. But you won't see the oil if the gaskets have no holes. The combustion process will burn the oil up.

 

broken oil seal as a result of leaking oil, circular wheel with several layers with a tear in the outermost layer

 

Incorrect Installations

A wrong oil gasket installation can cause a leak to occur. The valve cover gasket or oil pan gasket can be over-tightened. Uneven distribution of tightness may also be a factor. Loose or incorrectly attached oil filters can cause the engine oil flowing through them to leak.

 

stylised view looking into damaged oil pan, causing a leak.

 

What Should You Do in This Situation?

The following solutions should be implemented when you notice your car leaking oil when parked:

  1. Pour a leak-stopping additive into the oil tank. This is effective against small leaks but should only be considered a short-term solution. Also, it can’t work for major leaks. The additive softens seals and proofs minor leaks.
  2. Hire a mechanic to examine the oil pan gasket and valve cover gasket to be sure that they were properly installed.
  3. Replace your valve seals or rings.
  4. Your pan gasket should also be replaced if it is old.

 

Best Tips to Prevent a Future Oil Leak

Use the tips below to avoid spending your money on avoidable oil leaks.

  1. Don’t ignore any problem your car may be having, even if it has nothing to do with oil. This is because your vehicle’s parts are interconnected. The fault of one part will affect the others, especially the nearest ones. Procrastinating will only put more strain on other parts, so they become defective as well and increase your repair bill.
  2. Get the oil replaced regularly. Periodic oil changes at an auto repair shop will give the mechanic opportunity to examine the engine and any part that utilises oil. The professional will ensure that they are working well.
  3. Schedule regular car services.
  4. Equip the vehicle with a leak-stopping additive in case a small leak starts. You can also buy motor oil that possesses leak-stopping properties.
  5. Repair or replace old parts of your car with new ones once every few years.

 

Final Thoughts

As stated earlier, you should always examine the fluid closely if your car is leaking oil when parked. This is to determine if the situation needs urgent professional attention or not. Get the best deals on your car’s repair by using our online comparison site. We help you compare the quotes of different garages in your area and compare and save on oil and filter change and repair costs.

 

 

FAQs

  1. Are Small Oil Leaks Normal?

No, it isn’t normal for newer makes and models to have small oil leaks. However, it should be unsurprising for old vehicles that have high mileage counts. When an old vehicle's engine seals and gaskets start to get old, crack, or shrink, leakages will happen.

Another factor is the possibility of the engine parts not being properly torqued. They may have also experienced enough weathering and corrosion (wearing) to cause a leak.

  1. Can You Drive a Car with an Oil Leak?

If you discover that your car has an oil leak, don’t risk postponing a visit to a garage. It isn’t worth the possible complications. You should drive the car to a garage as soon as possible, especially if it is leaking oil at a fast rate.

In general, it would only be safe to drive for a very short distance. We would highly recommend getting your car towed to a local garage for a repair.

  1. How Much Does it Cost to Fix an Oil Leak in a Car?

The oil leak repair cost will be ascertained by whether it is a minor or major leak. Both situations have various possibilities of what could be the cause of the leak. This means that the solution would determine the cost. Other factors include the engine, vehicle make, vehicle model, and affected area. You can get a quote for fixing your car through our online comparison site.

 

You can read more of Tim's articles on his website, OBD Advisor.