If you had a wound that was continually bleeding, you'd probably be fairly concerned and quick to seek medical attention. Unfortunately, most drivers don't take the same approach to vehicle fluid leaks. Motor oil is arguably the most vital fluid in any vehicle, but many people will allow oil leaks to go unaddressed for weeks, months, or even longer!
Allowing your car to lose oil slowly can have potentially serious consequences, so it's crucial to repair leaks as soon as possible. This guide will provide some basic information about oil leaks and why they can be so problematic so that you can recognize these issues and repair them before they lead to far more expensive and inconvenient repairs.
Why Do Engines Leak Oil?
Like most of the fluids in your car, your engine oil needs to circulate through several components. While the oil's most important function is lubricating your engine's internal components, it doesn't remain in one place. Instead, oil drips into the pan (or sump) before the pump pulls it back up. It'll pass through the filter, several oil lines, and other components, such as your oil cooler, along the way.
The exact path and parts of the oil system will vary from engine to engine, but the complex components involved in feeding oil to your engine mean that there are numerous potential locations for leaks. Holes hoses can wear out and break down, seals and gaskets fail, and o-rings can plasticize. Any of these locations can allow oil to escape your engine, especially as your car ages.
What Makes Oil Leaks Dangerous?
First and foremost, even small oil leaks are relatively serious environmental threats. Oil leaks can harm wildlife or contaminate waters, leading to many downstream effects. However, they're also extremely harmful to your car. While running with slightly too little oil in your engine probably won't cause much harm, leaks can often worsen suddenly and without warning, causing substantial oil loss.
A sudden drop in oil pressure can often be catastrophic, resulting in engine damage before you can even pull over and shut your car off. While you may have time to react to a sudden loss of coolant before your engine overheats, low oil levels typically cause expensive and extreme damage much more quickly. In other words, an oil leak can go from a minor nuisance to budget-busting in the blink of an eye.
What Should You Do About Oil Leaks?
Once you're aware of an oil leak, you should repair it as soon as possible. Note that some leaks may only occur while your engine is on, so you may never notice drips or puddles below your car. However, needing to top up frequently due to low oil level warnings is a good indication that there's a hidden leak somewhere in your engine bay.
If you notice any of these warning signs, don't wait to have a qualified auto service shop examine your vehicle and attempt to locate the leak. Repairing oil leaks is generally a quick and easy way to prevent drastically more expensive problems. For more information, contact an auto service shop near you.