Why Is My Car Leaking Oil? (Causes and Solutions)

There’s nothing more frustrating than car troubles. You go outside to get into your car before work, then see it—a large spot of oil on the pavement.

But why is your car suddenly leaking oil? There are several reasons, actually.

Why Is My Car Suddenly Leaking Oil?

One of the most common causes of oil leaks is degraded oil pan gaskets. Rocks, sticks, and other road debris are constantly beating up your car’s undercarriage, so gaskets and other components can get damaged easily.

Other causes included a leaking oil pan or worn-out seals.

How to Tell if Your Car Is Leaking Oil, Gas, Gearbox Oil, or Coolant

If you’re not sure whether the spot on your pavement is engine oil, the easiest way to find out is by looking at the color.

Engine oil is a viscous fluid that runs the spectrum from brown to black. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple to tell the difference between engine oil and other fluids.

Clear fluid under your car could either be gas or water. Your nose will be your best tool here, as gasoline has a pretty distinct smell.

Coolant is a simple leak to identify. It’s usually a vibrant color, such as pink, yellow, or green. Similarly, gearbox oil is an unmistakable vivid red color.

Different Scenarios of Car Oil Leakage

Although a worn-out gasket might be the most likely culprit in an oil leak, there are several other potential scenarios, too.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil and Smoking?

When your car’s running, it gets hot. If oil drips onto a hot component, it’ll instantly start to smoke. A tell-tale sign of an oil leak is blue or white smoke and an unpleasant smell coming from under your hood.

Possible Causes 

If you’re seeing smoke from under your hood, the main concerns would be:

  • Leaking seals
  • Worn piston rings
  • Overfilled crankcase
  • Clogged PCV valve
  • Low oil
  • Wrong oil


The quickest solution to try is to get an oil change. If your oil is low, your filter is clogged, or you’re burning the wrong type of oil for your car, it could result in oil burning too slowly, which will cause that whitish smoke.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil on the Passenger Side?

Sometimes the location of the pooled oil in relation to your car can indicate where the leak is coming from.

Possible Causes

There are a handful of possible causes of an oil leak on the passenger side of your car.

  • Oil pan leak
  • Degraded engine gaskets
  • Oil seal leaks


You can add a stop-oil leak additive to your oil tank to stop the leak. This solution is best if the leak is new. However, you should still get your car checked out by a mechanic to rule out any other significant issues.

Why Is Oil Leaking From the Front of My Car When Parked?

Since all oil-consuming components are under your hood, the most common place to see oil leaking is from the front. The evidence will be a puddle on the ground or a smell when the engine components heat up.

Possible Causes

The most likely cause of a leak at the front of your car is your oil pan. You probably have a hole in the pan itself, or your gaskets have degraded to the point where they’re allowing oil to leak out.

However, other potential culprits are degraded engine gaskets or bad oil seals.


If there’s a hole in your oil pan, you’ll need to have the part replaced. Likewise, if any gaskets or seals have degraded, the only way to repair the problem is to replace the parts.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil After a Service?

If you just brought your car home from the shop and notice an oil leak on your pavement or smell the pungent scent of burning oil, you might be tempted to get it right back to the repair shop. However, this type of leak doesn’t always indicate a major problem.

Possible Causes

The most likely cause of oil leaking after service is an improper installation. Another possibility is that your engine isn’t actually leaking oil at all. Instead, there could simply be oil on components inside your car that is causing your car to smoke or drip.


An easy way to determine if your car is leaking oil is to let it sit for a day or two. If the puddle under your vehicle gets larger, you probably have a leak that needs to be repaired.

If the mechanic spilled oil during an oil change, it’s unlikely that’ll cause a puddle. If your car still smells like burning oil after you’ve let it run, then you can take it back to the repair shop so the mechanic can make sure everything was installed as it should be.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil From the Top?

Another place your car might leak oil is from the top of your engine around the valve cover.

Possible Causes

Oil leakage from the top of an engine is usually an issue with your valve cover gasket. The valve cover protects everything inside your cylinder, and the gasket provides a barrier between the cover and the cylinder head. If the gasket is damaged, engine oil could leak through the top.


The only solution to a degraded valve cover gasket is to replace it. If you’re handy with a car, you can probably manage to change it yourself. Otherwise, you can bring it to your repair shop and have a mechanic take care of it for you.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil From the Oil Filter?

There are a few different reasons you might see oil leaking from the oil filter. In most cases, the fix is pretty simple.

Possible Causes

The oil filter is a common area to experience oil leakage, so it’s one of the first places to check when you notice oil leaking. The leading causes of an oil filter leak are:

  • Seals
  • Gaskets
  • Faulty or wrong filter
  • Improperly fitted filter
  • Loose plug


Fortunately, each of the causes of filter leakage is a relatively simple fix. If you took it to a mechanic and they installed the filter incorrectly or used the wrong filter, you should be able to get it fixed with little hassle. However, if you changed the filter yourself, retrace your steps to ensure you did everything correctly.

Why Is My Car Leaking Oil From the Exhaust?

Oil leaking from your exhaust pipe almost always indicates a significant problem, so you shouldn’t ignore the signs of an oil leak if it’s coming from your exhaust.

Possible Causes

When oil leaks from your engine into your exhaust, it’s indicative of one of the following:

  • Clogged PCV valve
  • Worn valve guides
  • Blown head gasket


Unfortunately, these are repairs that are best left to professional mechanics. Contact your repair shop to make an appointment right away.

Can You Drive a Car With an Oil Leak?

Running your can with a leak could lead to consistently low oil, which can be very damaging. If you notice a leak, especially one that seems significant, you should contact a mechanic immediately.

In the meantime, monitor your oil level and top off your tank to keep levels high until you can get the repair done.

How Much Does an Oil Leak Cost to Fix?

The cost of repairing an oil leak will depend entirely on why your car is leaking oil and where it’s coming from. Here are a few approximate numbers:

  • Oil change $50-$75
  • Clogged PCV valve $75-$100
  • Worn valve guides $150+
  • Valve cover gasket $250+
  • Oil pan replacement $650+
  • Blown head gasket $1,000-$2,000

Of course, these prices will vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle, the extent of the damage, and labor costs.

What Should You Do if Your Car Is Leaking Oil Persistently?

If your car continues to leak oil even after a repair, you might have more than one leak. A trace dye will help you identify areas where oil might be leaking out. You can either run the dye yourself or ask your mechanic to do it for you.

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Author: Dave Johnston

Dave is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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