Reader Question: Quickie Lubed?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Chris asks: I took my car to XXXX (name effaced to protect the probably guilty) to get the oil changed. The next day, after I pulled the car out of the garage, I noticed a fairly large puddle of oil on the floor. What do you think caused this and should I be concerned?

My reply. One word. Yes. And two potential problems.

The first possible cause for the leak is an overtightened – or overly loose – oil filter. Either will cause leaks, but the loose filter could cause worse if it works loose enough to allow pressurized oil to blast past the sealing gasket. Your engine could run dry in minutes – or less – and you might not notice if the car is moving fast enough for the airflow to push all the smoke behind you.

The second possible cause is a too loose – or overtightened – oil pan drain bolt. If the “technician” – who is often just a kid with minimal training – crossthreaded the bolt during reinstallation or used an air gun to tighten it and overtightened it, the bolt may now just barely be hanging in place, allowing oil to seep past the damaged threads. And if the bolt works loose and falls out your crankcase will empty in about 60 seconds, after which – if you keep on driving – you can expect your engine to lock up. For good.

Your $39.99 oil change just cost you $3,900 – for a new engine.

I try not to blackball without cause, but I believe there is cause to blackball “quickie” lube places. There is just too much that can go wrong – and not infrequently, does.

These places generally employ unskilled labor – not slamming them, just pointing out they often aren’t trained mechanics – who are often pressured to be fast more so than thorough. In addition to the possibility of over (or under) tightened filters and drain bolts, there is also the potential problem of over (or under) filled crankcases.

At most quickie lube places, the oil is not refilled quart by quart – as you would do, if you did the job yourself. It is refilled using a gun that shoots the correct quantity of oil into the engine – or so you hope. The technician may assume. Which is why you should always check – and do so before you leave the quickie lube place.

Confirm via the dipstick that not too much – or too little – oil has been added to your car’s engine. Now is also a good time to confirm nothing’s leaking that wasn’t before you got the oil and filter changed. If the oil level is ok, start the engine and let it run for a few minutes – then shut it off and wait a few minutes.

Then start it up again, back up – and have a look at the concrete under where it was just parked. If there are drips – or puddles – odds are good you have a seep or a leak. And it’s time to put it back on the rack.

Sometimes, saving money costs money. Be careful about who you let under the hood of your vehicle. And keep in mind what Ronald Reagan said about the Russians: Trust . . . but verify!

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. I can’t even begin to count all the repairs I’ve had to do for customers’ cars that have damaged drainplugs and pan threads. I still even get the random double-gasketed oil filter, or more often, one so loose it is leaking and barely finger tight. I had a BMW in recently that had its oil filter center-tube (necessary for directing oil flow though the filter) removed and discarded entirely! Many car engines are returning to the cartridge and canister filter design, with the cap sealed by an O-Ring, rather than a gasket. Tightening these more than hand-stop pressure will seize the cap and risk (plastic) cap breakage during the next removal, or worse yet, no filter change at all by the “quickie-lube”. And if you think that “free oil change coupon” is a smart idea, just wait 45-90 minutes to ultimately get NO oil or filter change, and only finding out the next time you visit a genuine service provider! This has happened to many folks with newer cars that have been “promised” free service with a vehicle purchase. Remember, unless you actually pay for your service, you have no legal recourse for any recompense. I regularly change drainplug gaskets at no additional charge, because it reduces the chance of leakage, and helps prevent pan-thread strain by crushing the gasket rather than pulling out the pan threads. Little details DO matter, and a hasty oil change is the easiest way for the inexperienced amateur to inflict the the most damage in the least amount of time! My motto? Auto service IS NOT fast-food, so don’t even go that route unless you just want trouble!

  2. Family works in Demo, how many times have I seen the whole saving costs more in the end

    Hope everything works out in the end for Chris, just a damn shame this Happened

  3. Half a lifetime ago, a Sunday late afternoon oil change for my 1984 Honda V65 Sabre included a spin-on filter, the seventh since buying the bike. This was my first bike that eschewed the canister variety.

    There was no leaking seen after running idle for a several minutes, so I wrapped up the day.

    Next day, I got about a quarter mile out of the driveway on the way to work and I smelled oil when stopped for a red light and looking down, spotted a wisp of smoke. I pulled over and saw drop of oil hanging from the edge of the filter. There were a few freash streaks downwind on the otherwise fairly clean pipes. The dipstick (another first) showed full.

    I rode home, garaged the V65 and took the pickup to work.

    That evening, with a new filter picked up on my way home, I set to replacing what I thought to be the defective one.

    To my embarrassment, I found an “extra” gasket on the crankcase. I checked the old filter and, sure enough, it was sans gasket. The gasket was just thin enough to “feel” OK when the new one was hand snugged and not reveal an obvious gap when tightened up. And fortunately, without a catastrophic leak.

    After countless spin-ons on my cages over the years prior, this was the first such occurrence.

    Since then, and never happening again, I’ve not changed one without making sure the gasket comes off with the filter.

    A riding buddy once told me his rear tire was sliding around right after a canister filter change. He confessed to not having replaced the O-ring “in quite a while.”

    • I concur with the old gasket staying attached to the engine after taking off the old spin-on filter. Also, if you have a canister type filter, there is always a separate o-ring involved leading to the same thing. (bad o-ring)


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