Found An Oil Puddle? How To Troubleshoot Engine Oil Leaks

Posted 12/25/23

The older your car is, the more likely that it will have an oil leak from somewhere. Engine oil leaks can vary in severity from a minor inconvenience to something that will destroy your engine if you don’t pull over right away. If your engine oil is far below the minimum fill line on your dipstick or your oil light comes on, stop driving immediately and turn off your vehicle. Having inadequate oil in the engine can quickly cause the engine to overheat from lack of proper lubrication. Depending on how hot it gets, a repair that might have been just a new gasket or two may end up being the cost of a whole new engine. Which any auto repair shop will tell you isn’t cheap.

Common Oil Leaks Can Be Fixed With The Right Knowledge

If you do see a puddle of oil on your garage floor, your first step in the car troubleshooting process is trying to see if you can find out exactly where the oil came from. This can be harder than you would think, because if it is dripping from higher on the engine down the side, you may think the leak is lower on the engine than it actually is if you only look underneath the car. 

Luckily for us, Family Handyman put together a helpful list of some tips for trying to identify the location of an oil leak on your car. Let’s go through some of the more common potential culprits.

Had An Oil Change Lately? A New Leak Could Be Related

For most cars an oil change requires removing two things: the oil filter and the drain plug. And if the drain plug and new oil filter aren’t installed correctly before the new oil is put in, there is definitely going to be a problem. One of the most common causes of an oil leak is from an improper seal from the gasket on the oil filter. Though every experienced car repair technician worth their salt will know to check the gasket situation before installing a new oil filter, everyone can make mistakes. Though you may think that two gaskets are better than one, if the gasket from the old oil filter doesn’t come off the engine when the filter is removed, the new gasket will not be able to make a tight seal. This “double gasket” phenomenon can cause a pretty heavy leak. 

Another common cause of an oil leak after an oil change is when the drain plug isn’t installed correctly. A drain plug that is too loose will leak, and a drain plug that is tightened too much may strip the threads in the oil pan and also leak. It is worth your money to pay someone at an auto repair shop that you can trust rather than a cheap lube shop for your oil changes. High quality oil changes are much cheaper than the cost of replacing an oil pan that no longer keeps all of the oil inside.

The Oil Is Coming From The Engine: Check Your O-Rings

If the oil leak isn’t caused by a botched oil change, then it probably means that something on the engine is wearing out. The parts that are most likely to fail over time are gaskets, o-rings, or seals from somewhere on your engine. Some repairs are cheaper than others, but these leaks aren’t going to go away on their own. It’s a good idea to take care of your car troubleshooting early on so you can get take care of the small oil leak before it becomes a catastrophe on I-75.

There are a ton of gaskets, o-rings and seals on any given internal combustion engine, so there are a quite a few potential culprits for a leak. It could be your:

  • Valve cover gasket
  • Head gasket
  • Rear main oil seal
  • Oil pan gasket
  • Timing cover gasket

Just to name a few. Keep in mind that many of these aren’t DIY fixes unless you have a ton of car repair experience under your belt. Give your favorite car repair garage a call and they will be able to help you pinpoint the location of the leak, give you a repair estimate and answer the question, “How long will it take to repair my car?”

Preventing Oil Leaks Before They Happen: Maintenance Is Key

Most of the gaskets and o-rings are going to wear out eventually from general age and decay. This deterioration is unfortunately helped along by fluctuating weather conditions. And though we can’t avoid Cincinnati winters, one simple thing you can do to prevent oil leaks for as long as possible is to have regular oil changes from your favorite car mechanic. 

According to Family Handyman, any old oil in your car will become contaminated with “condensation and combustion by-products” that will cause acids to form in your engine’s oil. These acids are terrible for all of those all-important seals, gaskets, and o-rings and will degrade them over time. So, to avoid the acidic oil eating through the gaskets, keep on top of your oil changes. If you aren’t sure how often you need an oil change, your auto repair shop can make a personalized recommendation for you that takes into account the both the age of your car and how it is driven.