Why are my car and engine leaking oil? 8 causes & fixes

From the moment you get your driver’s license to the moment you stop driving, you’ll see a lot of different issues. They range from everything including dents to perhaps finding cockroaches.

However, those are not the subjects we’ll talk about today.

Table of Contents

What causes oil leaks?

oil pan

Acquainting yourself with the common causes of leaks is crucial, especially if your vehicle suffers from this problem. It may occur in various locations, and the associated repair costs differ depending on which part is the source.

Consider issues with these components:

  • Oil pan gasket
  • Valve cover gasket
  • Camshaft seals
  • Crankshaft seals
  • Faulty filter
  • Broken seals

Oil pan gasket

It’s located beneath the car engine. The oil pan gasket forms a seal between the engine and the pan. A faulty gasket provides insufficient isolation between the two and is one of the common causes your car may be dripping.

Valve cover gasket

A valve cover is designed to protect the parts found within the cylinder. The gasket acts as a seal between the two, and you may find it on top of your engine. This is also where the leak is most prevalent, in case this component is damaged.

Timing cover gasket

Most commonly found in vehicles that sport a timing chain rather than a belt, this gasket ensures the oil does not drip out from the timing cover. There, it lubricates the chain so that it moves smoothly. Leaks located anywhere from the center up to the front of the engine indicate that either the gasket or the cover is due for a replacement.

Camshaft seals

Contrary to the timing cover gasket, camshaft seals are widely used in vehicles sporting a timing belt. Camshafts are situated within the engine, and most cars have two or more. The seal covers the end of each camshaft. If damaged, you can expect to find the dripping at the back of the engine just under the valve cover. A burning smell often accompanies this particular leak.

Crankshaft seals

Like camshafts, the crankshaft can be found inside the engine, which sticks out from both ends. Seals also cover these ends to prevent the oil from spilling out. If these seals leak, you will likely see pools beneath the engine. In case of a particularly severe leak, it might drip to the front of the engine.

Dangers and threats of dripping

engine oil

While pools in your garage can at most stain your floor, it hurts the environment when it happens outside. It contains several toxic substances that harm both animal and plant life. In addition, its carbon-rich nature makes it highly flammable. Do not drive your car in this state unless it is an emergency.

Oil leaking from the front of my car

If you find pools of black sludge under the front of your car, it likely means that your oil pan or gasket is degraded and in need of replacement. Sometimes, tightening the bolts will suffice. Apart from these two components, we recommend checking the valve cover gaskets and timing cover seals located under the hoods of your car.

Car leaking oil when parked

There are numerous reasons why your car may leak when parked. Most of them have to do with loose or broken gaskets and seals throughout the engine, so it is important to check them all before you can fix them.

Damaged oil pan or pan gasket

The oil pan and gasket sit on the underside of your vehicle. Therefore, they may easily be damaged when you drive on poorly constructed roads or through areas with many potholes.

Faulty filter

Any damage to the filter will naturally result in the dripping out of the car. It is especially common, given that you must remove it every time you change the oil. Improper reinstallation is one of the most prevalent reasons your car might leak oil.

Broken seals

Various seals have been invented to minimize the possibility of oil leaks. However, the constant heating and cooling cycles mean they expand and contract over and over again. Thus, they become loose with time. They can be found at the valve cover, timing cover, crankshaft, and camshafts.

IssueRepair/replacement cost
Oil pan gasket$400-$500
Valve cover gasket$100-$350
Camshaft seals$500-700
Crankshaft seals$300-$400
Faulty filter$20-$85
Broken seals$75-$150

Oil leaking on the right side of the engine

Oil dripping from the right side of your engine is somewhat rare. If it did happen, the issue most likely lies in your head gasket. It can be found on top, between the engine block and the cylinder head. Its purpose is to keep the combustion gases within the cylinders. At the same time, it keeps the coolant and engine oil out.

The engine blew oil everywhere.

Oil eruption is a messy and unpleasant issue. Various components may be at fault:

A loose or broken valve cover gasket

Like all the gaskets found in engines, a valve cover gasket keeps the oil in the cover. If loose or broken, the oil may get out. And because it is on top of the engine, it will spill over it as it escapes the cover. Replacing this gasket should fix the issue.

A loose or broken cap

In case the cap on the oil filler tube has fallen off, torrents of oil will spill everywhere. The same fate befalls your engine if the cap is cracked, although to a lesser extent. Once again, replacement should do the trick.

Too much in the reservoir

Always refill only up to the marked line. There is only so much your car needs to function properly. If you pour in too much, it might result in an eruption.

What causes the oil pan gasket to leak?

car repair shop

Impact damage

The oil pan and its associated gasket are situated at the very bottom of the engine. Bumpy or uneven roads may scratch either one of these components, leading to a leak.

Natural wear and tear

The second reason is natural wear and tear. Located near the engine, it heats and cools a myriad of times. Metals expand and contract according to the surrounding temperature, causing the gasket to loosen over time.

In short, the more time you spend on the road, the more strain you put on it.

Component Lifespan (Approximate)
Oil pan gasket 5-10 years
Valve cover gasket 5-10 years
Camshaft seals 5-10 years
Crankshaft seals 5-10 years
Faulty filter 1-2 years
Broken seals As needed

Poor installation

The final cause of leaky oil pan gaskets can be improper installation. If even one bolt weren’t fastened properly, the seal wouldn’t hold. It results in a leak.

In addition, it is necessary that you use the proper sealant when replacing an old gasket. Failure to do so will lead to insufficient isolation.

Lastly, always ensure that the engine is perfectly clean when you perform the replacement. Otherwise, the dust and dirt may preclude you from tightening the bolts properly.

The car leaking oil at the front of the passenger side

look inside an engine

Damaged valve cover gasket

It is designed to keep the oil inside the engine. The valve cover gasket is one of the most common reasons behind leaks from the front passenger side. It is located on top of the engine, making it easy to spot. If it is covered in oil, it is the culprit behind the issue.

Broken turbocharger

The turbocharger compresses the air, which flows into the engine cylinder. It utilizes oil to reduce the heat and friction that would otherwise damage it. A faulty turbocharger is another cause behind leaks.

Faulty timing cover

The timing cover holds the oil inside the engine, which lubricates the timing chain. If worn out, the seal may be uncovered. The oil may flow out of the cover towards the front passenger side. Since it is localized so deep within the engine, we advise you to let a professional handle this problem rather than attempting to solve it on your own.

Poorly installed filter

Improperly installed oil filter is a very common reason behind leaks. It is because you tamper with it whenever you change the oil. Thus, there is a strong probability you reinstalled it incorrectly.

How to fix an oil leak in 8 simple steps:

  1. One means of bringing the dripping to a halt is by applying high-mileage oil or stop leak additive.

    High-mileage oils are designed specifically for older vehicles and are much gentler to your engine components. Stop leak additives soften the car’s rubber seals and are most effective when the leak is still small and manageable. Bear in mind that it takes some time for the dripping to cease after you use the additive.

  2. Assuming the additive has failed to work its wonders, or you merely do not wish to use it, there is a more personal way to tackle the issue.

    First, make sure you are properly equipped. What you need is: 
    – a car jack
    – four jack stands
    – basic hand tools
    – And a torque wrench.

  3. Lift your vehicle using a jack.

    Then, secure it at all four locations as depicted in your manual. Ensure the car is stable – you will have to crawl under it.

  4. First, take a closer look at the oil pan.

    If you notice any loose bolts, tighten them. Remember that how tightly you must secure the bolts and how you do so varies from model to model. Consult your car manual to find these details.

  5. For your next step, move on to the timing belt cover.

    Again, tighten the bolts if need be.

  6. Continue on to the valve covers and ensure that no bolts are loose.

  7. It is time to check if you’ve successfully fixed the leak.

    Open the hood and inspect the oil level. Replenish it in case it is below the marked line. With your hood still open, turn on the engine. Take a look at the engine. A foul burning smell and potential smoke indicate that the leak is situated either in the oil gasket or the cap. If so, turn the engine off and wait for it to cool down. Then tighten the bolts on these two components as well. Repeat this entire step to double-check.

  8. It is time for the final test if you haven’t detected anything out of the ordinary going on beneath the hood.

    Park your car at any new location. After a while, check for any dark pools under it. None to be found? Congratulations, you have successfully fixed the leak! If the issue persists, one of the parts likely must be replaced. In this case, have your car checked by a professional as repairs of this caliber lie outside of your abilities.

Have you made sure there are no issues with the:

  • Camshaft seals
  • Crankshaft seals
  • Valve cover gasket

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you drive a car with an oil leak?

Even though it is technically possible to drive a car that’s leaking, we do not advise you to do so. What began as a few seemingly harmless drops can soon become a monetary nightmare. Driving with a leak may bring your engine to a seize. Not only is this an expensive complication to repair, but it also threatens your and your passengers’ lives. The engine heat may even ignite the oil in some cases.

Do not drive your vehicle if it has this issue. You not only pollute the environment, but you also gamble with your life.

How much does it cost to fix an oil leak?

The price for having this problem fixed varies greatly. Factors such as the time you ignore the leak play a role. The longer you drive a car you know suffers from this problem, the more damage you inflict on it. Thus, it is best you nip the problem in the bud.

There are many parts that a leak may damage. Here are the most common ones which might have to be repaired along with the expected costs:
– oil drain plug gasket: $40
– new oil filter: $50
– gasket damage repair: $100- $200
– oil pan repair $100- $500

Additional fees may be required for labor costs.

All told, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $2000 to have the leak repaired.

How do you stop a car from leaking oil?

To fix the leak, you must first identify the culprit causing the trouble.

First, you will have to get under your vehicle. Once there, inspect the oil pan plug for any signs of damage. Next, inspect the seals and the timing cover seal. You will also want to inspect the valve cover gasket. If you do not find any issues in these spots, it might be prudent to check the oil filter, cap, and pressure sensor.

Once you find the dripping location, you are ready to fix it. All you need are some hand tools and a torque wrench in addition to the kit required to lift your car. Jack up your car and secure it with jack stands. Then, check if the pan bolts still hold tightly. If they do not, secure them. Once done, look at your timing belt cover and valve covers.

Finally, it is time to find out if the dripping has stopped. Replenish whatever had been lost during the leaking. Open the hood and turn your car on. The dripping is happening inside if you see smoke emanating from the engine. This indicates a damaged oil gasket or cap. Secure the bolts on these components as well. If the damage is too severe, you may need to replace them entirely.

If you don’t detect any anomalies, park your vehicle in a different spot. Check for pools under it. If there are none, you have successfully fixed the dripping.

Alternatively, products such as stop leak additives and high-mileage oils are designed to soften rubber seals and eliminate obnoxious leaks. We advise you use them shortly after you notice the leak, as they work better the earlier you apply them.

How to tell if your car is leaking oil?

There are several symptoms that portend the dreaded leak. The simplest one is to check your dashboard for oil light. It could point you to possible abnormalities in the oil level or pressure. Although this does not necessarily mean a leak, having your car checked is a good idea.

Another easy way to see if your car leaks is by checking its level using the dipstick near the engine. If it is below the marked line, drips are possible
If your car has been parked somewhere for hours, dark pools of brown or yellow liquid under it are yet another symptom of your leaks.

In some cases, the dripping may occur in the exhaust manifold area. It results in foul, pungent smoke emanating from the engine area. If ignored for too long, it will severely harm your engine.

engine oil