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Is my car leaking oil?

It’s your engine’s lifeblood and something you simply can’t do without. How can you spot that your car is leaking oil, and what should you do?

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Just as you regularly put fuel into your car to keep it running, the engine oil is also one of those things that you should be checking on a regular basis.

When you take your car in for any service or repair work, the engine oil will be one of the first things a technician will check. It’s simply a must-have – unless you want a car that won’t start one day, or leaves you stranded at the roadside, and with a big bill to repair it. 

Oil is worth its weight in gold to your car’s engine. It lubricates all the moving parts that are working away inside its engine and stops them rubbing together and wearing unnecessarily. It courses through the engine, helping to remove old oil and sludge that can build up over time. It helps to keep all of the hot engine parts cooler, and generally assists with cleaning and maintaining those finely-tuned components. 

So if you have an oil leak, or you suspect you might have one developing, there’s no time to waste. It must be seen to as soon as possible. Ignoring the issue and putting it off for later can be a dangerous decision to make and one you could come to regret.

Tell-tale signs of an oil leak

So how can you tell that you might have an oil leak – other than a big, black puddle on your driveway? There are several simple signs that could be pointing towards the problem, and they’re worth looking and listening out for. They could save you from being stranded with a damaged car, looking down the barrel of a big garage repair bill in the future.

Oil warning light

It couldn’t be more obvious. Your car is trying to tell you something when the oil light comes on in the instrument panel. Don’t ignore it – it’s warning you that the engine oil pressure has dropped, which could (though not exclusively) be a sign that oil has been escaping. It’s time to get the car inspected, fixed and the light reset.

A smoking car

Smoke doesn’t necessarily come only from the exhaust pipe and if you notice increased haze from around your engine, you could be seeing the first signs of an oil leak. Oil dripping onto the exhaust manifold can heat up and start smoking. As well as losing oil from your engine, you are also potentially driving a fire hazard. Hot oil can burst into flames.

Smell of burning oil

Going hand in hand with the smoking issue above, oil doesn’t only smoke when it gets super-heated, it smells too. Burning oil is an unpleasant odour and one that’s difficult to miss (or ignore). Another reason to have the problem investigated.

Engine overheating

As well as the oil light on your dashboard, there’s another symbol that might become illuminated – the engine temperature warning. There are many reasons why this might light up, but low oil is among the list of culprits. Without proper lubrication, parts could rub against each other causing friction that can heat up to super levels. It can lead to important parts such as the engine’s pistons seizing up and coming to a grinding halt. Don’t ignore the temperature gauge or warning light.

Black marks on the driveway

A small rupture, crack or other damage anywhere in your engine can result in a drip-drip leak every time you stop. Leave your car overnight on your driveway and you could easily have a stain or worse still, a puddle made from oil under your car. Have a look as you drive or reverse away in the morning. If you park on the road, leave a piece of cardboard or a plastic tray under the car for checking, if you suspect something’s not right.

Pick up on any of these warning signs and you should not delay in having your car at least inspected. A small repair now could save you from a much larger bill later. And, although modern cars don’t generally leak as much as their older predecessors, it’s still worth pulling out the dipstick once in a while and visually checking that your engine has enough life-giving oil to keep it running smoothly.

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Latest car ownership features and advice

Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.