You know your car needs oil to function, but you might not know much more than that if you don't consider yourself a car person. Motor oil serves a critical lubricating function and a secondary cooling role. Insufficient oil pressure will unquestionably cause severe damage, sometimes much more quickly than you might expect.
The fact that motor oil is so crucial can make oil leaks stressful. Fortunately, not every leak means that your car is on its last legs. If you're currently losing oil, ask yourself these three questions to determine how severe the problem might be.
1. Is There Oil on the Ground?
Oil moves through your engine and other components while your car is running, but it tends to settle towards the bottom of your oil pan when you're not in motion. In other words, you can find oil in different locations depending on whether your car is on or off. As a result, it's possible to lose substantial oil even without noticing a puddle on the ground.
However, oil leaks that produce a large pool of oil are usually severe. If there's a pool of oil on your garage floor, you should avoid driving your car or adding more oil. Instead, call a tow truck to bring your car to a local mechanic. Driving your vehicle with extremely low oil pressure can ruin your engine in minutes.
2. Can You Check Your Oil Level?
You will usually have one of two options for checking the oil level on your car. Most cars still include a dipstick, which allows you to check the oil level without turning the car on. You will want to check the oil level when the vehicle has been off for a while. You can add more oil if the level is below the minimum amount, but avoid driving your car if you seem to be losing oil quickly.
Unfortunately, some modern vehicles do not have dipsticks. These cars typically require you to check the level from the infotainment system while the car is running. Since running your vehicle with low oil is dangerous, it's best to avoid checking the level on these vehicles if you suspect it's low. The safest option is to call a local mechanic and tow your vehicle to them.
3. Can You See Smoke or Smell Burning Oil?
If you can see or smell evidence of burning oil, there's a good chance you're leaking oil from a gasket onto your exhaust manifold. This situation is potentially dangerous since the oil can catch fire. Your car should still be safe to drive for short distances, but you should have a qualified mechanic attempt to locate and address the leak as soon as you can.
While oil leaks may seem like minor inconveniences, they can lead to several more severe problems. Checking your oil level and looking for evidence of oil on the ground can help you gauge the severity of the problem. However, it's still a good idea to have an experienced mechanic diagnose your leak sooner rather than later.
Reach out to an auto repair shop for more information.