UNDERSTANDING OIL LEAKS...

                                                     ...more than just a spot on the pavement!

 

Cars are not designed the way they used to be! Those of us with more than a few miles on our personal chassis remember lifting the hood and seeing a straight mounted, V-shaped engine-typical of the rear wheel drive vehicles of the day- with lots of open space around it to access and make repairs. Today's cars are designed much differently!

 

Around 1980 car designers began making changes not only to the engine design itself, but also how the engine is mounted under the hood. Nowadays, 4 cylinder engines-with the exception of Subaru- have an "in-line" valve design as opposed to the old bi-lateral, "V" shape. V-6 and V-8 engines continue to be designed as their name implies. As for how the engine is mounted, you've probably noticed that those days of open space under the hood are a thing of the past! These are the days of transverse mounted engines meaning, the engine is not only turned 90 degrees, but is also tilted! You may make the connection that about this same time, front wheel drive vehicles became all the rage as well. With government standards and consumer demands for better fuel economy, manufacturers figured out that transverse engine mount, coupled with front wheel drive began to make a huge difference to fuel economy! Why?  In addition to material changes, transverse-tilt mount creates more effective weight distribution, and the design changes to front-wheel drive, a short and direct line from the power supply to the wheels, have made cars significantly more fuel efficient! An added bonus is that this design minimizes the "hump" down the floor of the cabin, creating more leg room, though you may not have noticed. Bench seats have been replaced by the sportier bucket type seats with center consoles for all your drinks and electronic toys!

So, what does all this have to do with finding oil leaks? As we discussed, there's no longer open space in the engine compartment to easily see the source of the leak. The next factor involves our old friend, gravity. If the leak is originating at the top of the engine... the valve cover gaskets... it runs down, contaminating other components such as the front seals, timing chain or belt gaskets, oil pan gaskets, or rear main seal. Because all these components are in nearly a vertical line from top to bottom, and gravity causes anything below the leak to be contaminated, we can quickly see that determining the source of the leak is no simple matter!

What then, is the best approach to finding the source of the leak and repairing it? First, when you bring your car to Perfect Timing Auto, you know you've trusted your vehicle to some of the best diagnostic technicians in the business! Everything possible will be done to visually inspect and pinpoint the leak, but it may not be possible with this inspection alone. If nothing definitive is found, it unfortunately becomes a matter of trial and error. At this point, the best option is to start at the top by replacing the valve cover gaskets if there's any evidence that they are wearing to the point of causing the problem. If you're lucky, this will fix the leak issue and you'll be good-to-go!  IF the problem continues, we then replace the front seals. Then the oil pan gaskets, and so on. Chasing down an oil leak can be an arduous and expensive task.

If you're a person who values research and statistics, here's a few for you to consider:

15% of the time, the leak is fixed by replacing the valve cover gaskets

50% of the time, the leak is fixed by replacing the valve cover gaskets and the front seals

25% of the time, the leak is fixed by replacing the valve cover gaskets, the front seals, and oil pan gasket

7% of the time, the leak is fixed by replacing all of the above plus the timing chain gaskets

2% of the time, the leak is fixed by replacing all of the above plus the rear main seal

1% of the time, the leak is replaced by another leak

...and the cost of chasing down the source of the mess on your garage floor?

If you're in the lucky 15%, +/- $400 - $900

If you're in the unlucky 2% +/- $2000 - $4900

By now you might be thinking... why should I spend my hard-earned cash chasing down the source of the oily mess on my driveway?  I could buy a lot of oil drip pans and kitty litter to absorb the mess for that kind of cash!?  Well, you're right about that, but you'd be wrong in assuming that oil leaks are nothing more than an annoying and expensive mess to deal with. The reality is that oil leaks are indicative of more significant problems which if left unaddressed can become greater problems and potentially even safety issues. For example, an engine coated with leaking oil attracts dust and road dirt which acts as an insulator and can cause the engine to run hotter than it should, causing excessive heat damage. Oil coating rubber hoses have the same dirt attracting effect and will cause the hose(s) to deteriorate, potentially leaving you stranded somewhere you don't want to be! If the leak hits the exhaust system, there is the potential for fire! Let's say you're a bit of a risk-taker and don't mind gambling with the reasons just mentioned, then please consider this: Leaking oil is polluting our environment. It washes off your driveway, the highway, anywhere you go- contaminating the water we drink and depend on for the survival of the earth's ecosystems. In the process, your oil leak also contaminates soils and thereby our food supply. Clearly, an oil leak is more than just an annoying mess on the pavement!

 

TIPS ON AUTO CARE AND MAINTENANCE