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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