Why Is My Car Leaking Oil When It’s Parked?

It can be worrisome when you move your car or truck from its parking spot and notice a puddle of liquid on the ground beneath it. Any time fluid escapes from the engine is a cause for concern, whether it’s coolant, oil, or transmission fluid.

Finding a puddle of oil beneath your parked car is perhaps the most concerning. The oil keeps moving metal components in your engine lubricated while it operates, preventing catastrophic metal-on-metal friction, a death sentence for any motor.

Unless the leak is significant, do not worry, your engine is not in immediate danger. Regardless, if you notice oil on the ground where you parked your car, you need to look at it before it gets worse.  

How to identify an oil leak

Identifying an engine oil leak is not particularly difficult. If you notice a puddle of brown or black liquid under your car, you likely have one. If the pool contains pink, green, or orange fluid, the leak is likely coolant or transmission fluid.

The challenge with identifying an oil leak comes with modern vehicles. New cars have a lot of plastic shielding under the engine. The shielding will catch leaking oil before it hits the ground, meaning may not even know you have an oil leak until you bring your car to a mechanic for service. Sometimes when looking under the hood you will notice oil on the engine itself.

What causes an oil leak?

Old and worn-out gaskets

The surfaces in the engine that are sealed with gaskets are the most likely areas to leak oil. Some of the more common areas are the valve cover gasket, head gasket, and oil pan seal. If you have a leaking head gasket, you may not notice oil on the ground. Sometimes a failed head gasket will only leak internally, so you may see blue smoke coming from your tailpipe.

valve-cover-oil-leak
Gaskets like the one separating the valve cover from the cylinder head can begin to leak oil as they age.

Damage to the oil pan

The oil pan sits on the bottom of your engine. Oil settles in the pan when the engine is off. When you drive, the oil starts and finishes cycling through the engine in the oil pan. Because of the oil pan’s close proximity to the ground, debris from the road and impacts with objects can puncture it. A punctured oil pan is a serious issue and can leave your engine without any oil. The potential for engine damage under these circumstances is much higher than with a slow oil leak from a gasket.

Improperly installed or poorly tightened parts

If the studs or bolts used to hold together engine components are not tightened to the correct specifications, an oil leak is possible. It’s important to have a qualified mechanic perform a major engine like an oil pan seal or valve cover gasket replacement. An incorrectly tightened oil filter can also be to blame for an oil leak.

oil-filter-on-car
An improperly tightened oil filter can cause an oil leak.

The oil drain plug is not tight

The oil drain plug is located on the oil pan and allows for the oil to be drained from the engine. If this bolt is not tightened properly when it is replaced, an oil leak can result.

Can I drive my car with an oil leak?

It entirely depends on the severity and cause of the leak. A small oil pan gasket or valve cover leak shouldn’t prevent you from driving as long you check your oil level frequently and add more if needed. However, an oil leak caused by a punctured oil pan or other major engine damage will usually require your car to be towed.

Pay attention to the size of the oil puddle on the ground under your car. A large puddle of oil indicates a dangerously fast oil leak. If you know you have a slow leak, check the oil level in your car every time before you drive. If the oil light comes on when you are driving, pull over and turn off your car immediately to prevent catastrophic engine damage.

Preventing future oil leaks

The best way to stay ahead of an oil leak is regular maintenance and paying attention to your car. Every time you have your car serviced, ask your mechanic to do a quick look around for any leaks. If you notice a puddle of oil where you park your car, get it to a repair shop right away.

Let us fix your oil leak!

If your car is leaking oil, visit Matson Auto and Marine! Our skilled mechanics can get to the bottom of an oil leak, or any fluid leak, quickly at our Riverton based shop. Give us a call or schedule an appointment online today!

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