If you suspect your car has an oil leak, you may wonder how to find out for sure. An oil leak does not always affect the performance of a car, but depending on the size, location and amount driven, it can require immediate repairs. With some knowledge of how to check for a leak, it only takes minutes to find out if one is present. Unfortunately, leaks can occur anywhere in the engine and its compartments, so if one is present, finding the exact source may not be as simple.
Check the Ground Underneath
After your car sits in between drives, move it out of the parking spot just a little bit. Get back out of the car and carefully check the ground where it was parked. If you find liquid on the ground where the bonnet was sitting, stick one of your fingers into the puddle. If the liquid on your finger has an oily texture and is amber coloured or brown, it is likely motor oil. Take notice of how big the spot is and how long you have been parked there to determine how much leakage is occurring.
Watch the Oil Level
If you find yourself adding oil every other day, this signals a problem. Steadily dropping oil levels are one of the most obvious signs that a leak is present. On average, a vehicle should never have more than a quarter drop on the dipstick in more than a week's time. Check the oil every day for a week to determine if the levels are dropping significantly. Keeping a record is the easiest way to keep track.
Watch for Smoke
When you start your car on a cold morning, watch the smoke that emits from the tail. If the smoke is blue, this indicates that an engine valve seal on the engine is leaking. If the car smokes after it is warmed up and it is blue, this can point to a blown piston ring. A blown piston ring can cause oil to leak into the combustion chamber.
Look Under the Bonnet
When you suspect a leak, pop the bonnet. Take care to wait until the car cools down as hot parts can cause serious burns. After the car cools, carefully inspect the engine and parts resting near it. There should never be oil on the outer casing of the engine unless some spilled while topping it off. If there is oil present, or you can visibly see fluid dripping from the engine, an oil leak is present.
Look At the Undercarriage
If the top and sides of the engine look clean, check underneath. Place a cloth or piece of cardboard down to protect your clothing and crawl under the vehicle. Again, do this only after the car cools completely. Inspect the undercarriage around where the engine sits to look for oil leaks or oil residue.
Check to See if the Engine is Smoking
If there is smoke coming from under the bonnet, there is a chance that engine oil is leaking and burning off as the components get hot. Let the car run for some time until you are sure it is nice and hot. Open the bonnet and visually look for signs of something burning. Take care not to touch anything under the bonnet as it can cause serious burns.
Listen to the Car
When oil levels get dangerously low, the engine will become louder. The noise can also be in the form of a clicking or tapping sound. While a low oil level does not necessarily indicate a leak, you should not ignore the possibility. Regardless of the reason for the low levels, avoid driving it until you can bring the oil to the recommended level.
See if the Engine or Oil Light Comes On
In most cars, the service engine or check oil light will come on to indicate that something is amiss. While these lights do not tell you for sure that a leak is present, they can lead to you to check. Chances are, even if a leak is not present, some other issue is causing the light to stay on.
Visit a Repair Shop
When you are convinced you have an oil leak, but cannot seem to find it, visit a repair shop. A mechanic can check the car over and determine if a leak is present. This is typically inexpensive and can save you a lot of worry. If a leak is found, the mechanic can diagnose the issue causing the leak and let you know what it will entail to fix it.
An oil leak can indicate a serious issue with a vehicle and being aware of the signs of a leak is an important step in preventing catastrophic engine damage. As oil leaks out and the levels become dangerously low, the engine loses necessary lubrication, which can lead to expensive repairs. Thankfully, there are several ways to easily determine if your car has that dreaded leak without breaking the bank.