7 Signs of Oil Leaks in Your Vehicle

Common signs of an oil leak include engine overheating, burnign oil smell, and a low oil warning light on the dashboard
7 Signs of Oil Leaks in Your Vehicle

Oil leaks can be pretty obvious to spot under the car or difficult to find hidden behind internal components. But, any type of leak shows signs. The main sign of an oil leak is the oil light warning popping up on your vehicle's dashboard.

The oil is a vital fluid for your vehicle, it keeps all systems running safely and smoothly, working as a lubricant. Since the oil works as the "blood" of a vehicle, the lack of it will stick out very noticeably.

  • Key function: Your vehicle can only work if it has proper oil. The oil lubricates the many gears, pistons, valves, etc., inside the vehicle, ensuring nothing wears out excessively due to friction. Therefore, oil is the key piece in your vehicle's longevity and workability.

The problems a vehicle can develop due to low or contaminated oil are many and can reach insane costs.

  • Safety: Your entire vehicle's reliability depends on oil. So, if your car runs out of oil, it'll shudder and collapse suddenly, risking mid-traffic accidents. Additionally, the engine combustion might fail, releasing toxic fumes. Oil leaks have the risk of a fire hazard since oil can fall over hot exhaust system and engine components and burn.

Synthetic oil can dissolve buildup sludges, causing oil to leak from leaky seals

Burning oil smell

One of the main signs that your vehicle is leaking oil is a burning oil smell. The smell is noticeable and indicates that oil is burning off somewhere in the vehicle. In this case, oil leaks through a loose valve or seal, dripping inside the vehicle and falling over a hot component, burning off as a result.

There are many locations where oil can be leaking from your vehicle and burning off in a nearby component. Typically, oil leaks around the engine, exhaust pipe, and catalytic converter result in strong burning oil smells, since these parts are high temperature.

Low oil light on the dashboard

Oil leaks cause the vehicle to lose oil and can trigger the "low oil" light on the dashboard. This is because the computer has a sensor in the oil reservoir that warns the driver if oil is running low.

An oil leak results in a waste of oil. In this case, the system is losing oil while the vehicle drives; this eventually results in the vehicle losing an amount of oil that the oil reservoir sensor picks up on, triggering the dashboard warning light.

Some modern vehicles can even trigger the light if their sensor detects an unusual loss of oil, regardless of whether the oil level becomes low. This is because they're detecting the oil pressure.

Other common signs

  • Oil Spots Under the Car
  • Engine Overheating
  • Engine Warning Light
  • Unusual Engine Noises
  • Oil Residue on Engine Parts
  • Blue/Black Smoke from the Exhaust

Possible fixes

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to drive a car with an oil leak?

Driving with an oil leak is not recommended. It can worsen the leak, leading to engine damage from running low on oil. Leaked oil creates a fire hazard on hot engine parts and slippery surfaces. If you notice signs of a leak, address it promptly for your safety and to avoid expensive repairs.

How do I know if my oil leak is serious?

While any oil leak needs attention, the severity depends on the rate of leakage and warning signs. A serious leak will leave large puddles under your car, cause a burning oil smell, trigger the oil pressure light, or lead to overheating. If you experience any of these alongside the leak, pull over safely and have your car towed to a mechanic to prevent serious engine damage.

Will an oil change fix an oil leak?

No, an oil change will not fix an oil leak. It replaces the oil and filter, but doesn't address the source of the leak, which could be a worn gasket, loose drain plug, or cracked engine component.  An oil change is still important to maintain proper oil level, but you'll need a mechanic to diagnose and repair the leak itself.