What To Do About A Car Leak

What to do about an oil leak from your car


Learn everything you need to know about car leaks, from spotting them to dealing with them, so you’re always safe on the road.

Driving a car with an oil leak can be dangerous for you and other road users. Oil can become flammable when it reaches a certain temperature and parts of your vehicle’s engine can get very hot, which may result in a fire. However, oil can also cause damage to seals and rubber hoses, which could result in a breakdown.

It’s not worth risking your safety and the safety of others. So, if you suspect an oil leak, you should take your vehicle to your nearest garage for repair. This article will highlight the importance of oil in your car, and how to check if there is a leak.

What Is The Importance Of Oil In Your Car?

Oil plays an essential part in the smooth and safe running of car engines, helping to prevent friction - which can cause overheating. It does this by lubricating all of the moving parts of your engine. It also channels heat away from the combustion cycle in your engine, which is where carefully controlled explosions or combustion of the fuel-air mixture take place. Lastly, oil acts as a cleaner, picking up any dirt or dust that may have found its way into the engine.

Without engine oil and, crucially, without the right type and quality of oil, your engine won’t perform at optimum efficiency. Just as important, it may be at risk of overheating, which means that it wouldn’t be fully safe to drive. Metal parts will rub together, creating too much friction and leading to serious and irreversible damage. This means that something as simple as forgetting an oil check could turn into an expensive headache.

As a car owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure that maintenance tasks such as checking and refilling oil are carried out regularly. If you forget about it or use the wrong kind of oil, it could damage your engine and cause a breakdown.

How Do You Know If Your Car Is Leaking Oil?

Checking your vehicle’s oil regularly is important. If you have an oil leak, it’s important to find it as quickly as possible and have the issue fixed to keep you and other drivers safe on Irish roads.

So what are some of the signs you can look out for that suggest you may have an oil leak?

Check The Dipstick

You’ll be able to tell if your vehicle has an oil leak by checking the level using a dipstick. You can complete this check on consecutive days to see if the level is dropping or staying the same.

First, you should take the dipstick out of its container and wipe it down with a dry cloth. This will remove any excess oil so you can get a clear reading. Then, reinsert the dipstick into the container, listening for a click that shows it’s gone all the way in, and take it out again. Check where the oil comes up to on the stick. It can be hard to see sometimes, so ensure you have sufficient lighting.

How Much Oil Should Be On The Dipstick?

The dipstick should have two levels on it - a maximum and a minimum. The oil level of your vehicle should fall somewhere between the two. If it’s a little on the low side, top up the oil and check again the next day to see if the level has dropped significantly.

Avoid adding oil and ignoring the fact that the level keeps dropping - oil leaks can be potential fire hazards so it’s important to ensure that everything is working as it should.

Unusual Smells

A strange burning smell is another sign of an oil leak. This is because, as the oil leaks onto hot engine parts, it begins to burn and will start to smell. It’s worth noting that unusual smells aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be an oil leak, however it is a good idea to get the problem checked if you notice it.

Blue Smoke

Blue smoke coming out of your vehicle’s exhaust, whether it’s very minimal or billowing, could be a sign of an oil leak. This kind of smoke is typically produced when oil that’s leaked from its container has reached the exhaust manifold and is being burned.

The ‘Check Engine’ Light, Or Oil Level Warning, Comes On

The dashboard of your car is there to provide you with information, such as speed and engine temperature, but it is also able to warn you when there is an issue. For example, your vehicle may have sensors in its tyres so that you can be alerted when the pressure drops.

If your car has an oil leak, it may alert you by showing an oil can sign. Alternatively, the ‘Check Engine’ light might come on. If either of these things happen, you should take your car to a local garage to be checked and have the engine light turned off.

Stains On Your Driveway

You should check underneath the vehicle for puddles of oil or stains that have been left from an oil leak. It may be easier to move the car out of its regular parking spot to see more clearly. The stain will likely be black in colour. If your car isn’t parked in the same place every day, you could place a large piece of cardboard underneath the vehicle to determine whether the stain has indeed come from your vehicle or someone else’s.

How Much Oil Can My Car Take?

If you don’t know how to check oil levels, or when you should top up or change engine oil, you’re not alone. Around 8 in 10 drivers don’t know when to change their oil, which could be putting their car engines at risk.

Here are the essential facts you need to know:


  • Cars generally take around one litre of oil - remember that you don’t need to put this much in if you’re only topping up the oil.
  • It’s crucial to choose the right type and quality of oil for your car - the owner’s manual of your car should have all the details.
  • On average, oil should be changed every 5,000-7,500 miles if you have a modern car. If your car uses full-synthetic motor oil, you may not have to change it until you’ve travelled 15,000 miles or more. For older cars, the oil may need to be changed more regularly.
  • Your engine oil should be drained and replaced with new oil during its annual service - so depending on your average mileage, you may not need to do it yourself.
  • However, you should check your oil level every few weeks, and especially before long journeys, just in case it needs topping up. Some cars have electronic systems which inform you when oil levels are a little low, so a light will flash up on the dashboard - never ignore these important warning signs!

What Happens If You Overfill Your Car With Oil?

Putting too much oil in your car can cause damage to the engine. In fact, it can be just as bad as not having enough oil.

When a car is overfilled, you may notice that oil starts to leak, or you’ll see dense white smoke which indicates that excess oil is burning. Too much oil can cause pressure on the crankshaft, problems with spark plugs and poor lubrication performance. So in short, it’s not a good idea to overfill your car with engine oil.

As mentioned previously, the way to avoid this is to top up the oil very slowly, adding a little at a time. Remember that most cars take a maximum of one litre. Wait a moment or two for the oil to run down, then recheck the dipstick to see how much more you’ll need. It can take a little time, but it’s worth being cautious to avoid damaging your car.

How Much Does Fixing An Oil Leak Cost?

The cost to fix the problem may vary depending on what exactly is going on in your vehicle’s engine. If it’s a case of replacing the oil container, this should take a mechanic a couple of hours. At around €15-20 per hour, the total cost could be up to around €60. For more serious issues, the cost could be significantly more than this.


It’s very important that you get an oil leak fixed as quickly as you can, otherwise your car may fail its annual NCT. You may be worried that it will be a costly fix, however, in most cases, it’s relatively straightforward.

What To Do Next If You’ve Found An Oil Leak

Once you’ve determined that your car has an oil leak, you should avoid driving it for long distances. As your engine heats up, the temperature of the oil could heat up too. If it’s leaking onto the hot exhaust, it could potentially catch fire. Driving the vehicle to your nearest garage should be OK, particularly if it’s less than 10 miles away. This short distance will not be enough to heat the engine to a point where the oil could catch fire. As previously stated, the oil can also cause damage to seals and rubber hoses. The longer you leave the problem, the more there will be to fix and repair, so don’t delay.

Oil leaks are always best dealt with as quickly as possible. Don’t put off calling a technician, as a small leak can soon turn into a large one, and you don’t want to risk your safety and the condition of your engine or find yourself having to make a car insurance claim.