Fixing an Oil Leak In a Car Is a Beginner Job for Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need To Know To Fix an Oil Leak at Home
DIY Difficulty Level: Beginner
- Time Required: Varies, but generally 1-2 hours
- Tools & Materials:
What Causes Engine Oil Leaks?
Every part of your vehicle is subject to wear and tear, including the parts keeping your engine oil where it needs to be. As these components wear down, they allow oil to escape, which can lead to some significant vehicle issues, as well as making a mess out of your parking spot.
Oil serves several purposes inside your engine, but the primary duty of oil is to provide internal lubrication. If your car is leaking oil, it’s also leaking its ability to lubricate the engine, which will lead to severe internal engine damage. Leaks will also eat away at your wallet as you keep replacing the oil your vehicle has lost.
The first step in fixing any oil leaks is figuring out where the leak is coming from. One of the most common places for a leak to spring is through the larger engine gaskets like the oil pan or valve cover, but there are several other places where it could happen. Check out the step-by-step how-to walk-through below to start reversing your vehicle’s oil leak.
Is It Safe To Drive With an Oil Leak?
Like most other vehicle problems, you can drive with a minor oil leak, but you should keep an eye on the leak to make sure it doesn’t get worse. If left unattended, a small oil leak may grow to a point where you adding bottles of oil to replace the oil lost. If your oil leaks enough that your engine isn’t getting enough protection to perform efficiently, it could seize up from the friction of parts that were previously lubricated by the oil. This can eventually lead to engine damage that will turn this relatively inexpensive problem into something much larger.
Sometimes this is a maintenance task you can take on easily at home. Other times, it may require you to take your vehicle into the shop to have the leak addressed. It all depends on what’s causing the leak and your comfort level with working on your vehicle. It’s better to tackle the issue before it grows out of hand so you can save money in the future.
When To Fix Oil Leaks
As we mentioned, oil leaks should be fixed as soon as you realize they are there. The longer you wait to fix the problem, the more chances you’re giving it to get worse over time. Familiarize yourself with the signs of oil leaks (not just oil spots on the ground) so that you know when it’s time to get your system checked out.
What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need To Fix an Oil Leak?
The most obvious symptom that you have an oil leak is that there is oil on the ground. Though this seems obvious, many drivers have parking situations that make it more difficult to keep track of whose spots are whose. As you pull away from your latest parking spot, try to look for fresh oil on the ground.
You should also keep a lookout for these other symptoms that will tell you that you might have an oil leak:
- Check engine oil light is on.
- Smoke coming from the engine.
- Engine is overheating.
- Smell of burning oil.
Keep in Mind
You should always defer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to properly care for your vehicle. Your owner’s manual will also give you recommended maintenance intervals to help keep your vehicle healthy and prolong its lifespan. If you want to stay on top of your maintenance, you can also use the Maintenance Timeline in the free FIXD app to get reminders for your regular maintenance tasks.
Other tasks that are performed along with oil leak repairs include:
- Oil changes
- Oil filter changes
How To Fix an Oil Leak
Step 1: Locate the Leak
There are gaskets and seals all around the engine, and oil can be leaking from any of them. Unless the source of the leak is obvious, the first step in locating an oil leak should be to clean the engine off with a degreaser and top off the engine oil with leak detector additive that glows with a black light. Then drive your vehicle normally, and lift it up using a jack and jack stands to find which of these components are leaking. The leak could be as minor as an oil cap or oil filter or more serious like a rear main seal.
Step 2: Consider a Stop Leak Additive
For small leaks, you can sometimes simply add a stop leak additive to your oil to plug up the hole. This is a substance that reconditions your engine’s rubber seals to make them softer, which helps form a tighter seal over the next hundred miles or so. This is only an option if the leak is coming from a seal.
Step 3: Replace the Leaky Part
If the stop leak additive is not an option — or you just want to get the leaky part replaced — you’ll have to replace the faulty component. How you do this depends on the part that’s leaking oil. This is where your repair manual comes in handy, as it can help you identify and seek out a new version of the leaky vehicle part.
Step 4: Test It Out
Take your vehicle off of the car jacks, give your oil a good top-off, and start driving. If your oil was leaking only minimally, you might test-drive your vehicle a little longer over a few days to make sure everything is sealed up. Look for the tell-tale spots on the driveway and parking spaces. To make sure you got the job done right, get back under the vehicle to see if you can see any oil leaking from the previously leaky component.
Still Need Help?
Want an expert mechanic on speed dial who can walk you through DIY repairs and answer any questions? Join FIXD Mechanic Hotline for unlimited access to our Master Mechanics Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Disclaimer: The guidelines in this story are general and not meant to replace instructions for your specific vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual or repair guide before attempting repairs.
At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.