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Kixx Smart Tips on causes of car engine oil leaks and how to prevent them

Have you ever found yourself facing a low engine oil warning shortly after topping up? Maybe you’ve found oil leak stains spotting the ground where your car was parked. Pay close attention, because these are signs of car oil leak, and trying to drive a vehicle with a major oil leak – even a short distance – can do massive damage to your engine. Driving with low engine oil could mean depriving your vehicle of lubrication and stopping heat from circulating, leading to major drops in engine performance.  

The good news is that most car oil leaks start small. In fact, a puddle between 1 to 2 inches in diameter, or what’s referred to as “seepage,” usually don’t represent an immediate threat to your engine.

Here are a few of the reasons your engine might be leaking oil unexpectedly.

Signs of oil stains under car which can be a warning sign of oil leaks

Cracked Gasket: The Core Culprit in Most Engine Oil Leaks  

More often than not, a sudden oil leak after oil change is caused by a malformed or cracked gasket. Gaskets are usually made of urethane or rubber, and they can harden over time. This can cause them to crack when they are exposed to sudden impact or extreme temperature changes, like the transition from a harsh winter to a hot summer. Since the gasket can no longer seal in the oil properly, it drips and spills out underneath your car – depleting engine oil levels slowly over time and leaving you with those shining puddles on the asphalt.  

After examining your valves, the gasket is the first place to look for trouble when you suspect an oil leak.

An engineer holding a cracked gasket being repaired at a service center to prevent oil leaks

A Faulty Oil Filter or Oil Filter Leakage 

Another place to look when finding the source of an oil leak is the oil filter. Worn metal powders and other small particles often get mixed into the engine oil over time. It’s the oil filter’s job to parse these out and keep your engine oil supply free of contaminants. But when the oil filter is installed too loosely, it can start to cause leaks and allow oil to flow in places it’s not meant to be.

An engineer holding an oil filter to check if it had been installed too loosely

If your oil filter is leaking, try tightening it using your hands and a dry towel. If the oil filter still leaks, you may need to go deeper by removing the oil in your vehicle, replacing the oil filter, and then adding in new oil – essentially giving your vehicle an oil and a filter change all at once. Spraying lubricant around the base of the oil filter may tell you whether there any tiny leaks in the seal. If you do check the drain plug and oil filter but you don’t find any leaks, you may need to remove the oil pan and check the gasket.

An oil filter which has been installed properly to keep the vehicle free from leaks

Driving in Severe Conditions 

Driving in highly saline places like along the coast of an ocean can also lead to more oil leaks than driving further inland. The salty conditions corrode the metal parts of your engine faster than usual, which can decrease the durability of your vehicle’s parts and lead to more frequent leaks. Of course, going to the beach once or twice during summer won’t cause you any problems. But if you happen to live in a coastal area, park near the beach, or drive seaside roads frequently, it may be beneficial to pay closer attention to what’s going on under your car.

Long drives in cold areas or excessive acceleration at cold temperatures can also put additional strain on the gasket and other systems, eventually leading to reduced durability and potentially resulting in engine oil leaks.

Cars driving in cold conditions which can speed up erosion in key engine parts and potentially lead to oil leaks

What to Do if You Find an Oil Leak 

If you find signs of an oil leak, the best thing you can do is find the culprit right away. After discovering the faulty part, you should have it replaced or repaired immediately. In extreme situations you may consider using an engine oil stop, but this is only a temporary measure and won’t resolve the root cause of the problem. 

Since small leaks can be tough to find, regular engine inspection and maintenance is your best way to prevent surprises and stop minor car oil leaks from becoming major ones. Checking your engine oil levels through the engine oil gauge and inspecting the bottom of your car when changing your engine oil can also go a long way to helping you avoid leaks and keep your vehicle running safely for longer.