Reader Question: Splash Pan?

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

John writes: Before a recent hunting trip with a friend, I had the oil changed on my Land Rover Range Rover. About three hours from home, on a two lane road, I passed a tractor trailer going the opposite direction, and a loud horrifying noise began which wouldn’t stop.  It sounded like a huge quantity of air escaping – but from where.  I pulled over and the noise stopped.  Upon inspection, I discovered that the plastic “skid pad” or “splash pan” or whatever had come loose at the front of the vehicle, was (obviously) catching 60 mph air, and was probably being pushed down with enough force to drag on the road surface.  Fortunately I had some rope in the car, and was able to tie it up and complete the trip. Of course, I blamed the oil change guy, but he was able to calm me down, and we’ve made up.

The question (you’ve probably been wondering) is are these things worth anything? I’m old enough that I remember when you could open the hood of a vehicle and not only see an actual engine (instead of a mass of plastic housings, covers and bottles) but you could actually look past the engine and see the earth below! My suspicion is that these things are there because they help manufacturers gain one or two thousandths of an mpg for cafe standards. So, the ultimate question is:  Should I get some bolts and washers and put it back and recover my rope?  Or should I remove the few remaining bolts, and throw the plastic away?

My reply: These plastic panels are installed for three reasons, the first you’ve already correctly guessed; i.e., to achieve a slight – fractional – gain in fuel efficiency through aerodynamic efficiency. It’s nothing you’d notice by removing the thing.

The second reason relates to the first – and you might notice it. Airflow management under the car – or SUV, in your case – helps decrease wind/road noise perceptible to the vehicle’s occupants. You could remove the pan – drive your LR – and see whether it makes an appreciable difference.

The third reason is to stymie oil stains on your garage floor by letting the plastic shield catch the inevitable drips. Whether this is worth it to you is something I cannot say!

There is also a fourth reason: To make it more difficult for the average person to perform an oil change. So as to encourage dealer service. These plastic pans can be a big PITAS to get off and back on; they are awkward to manipulate – especially on your back – and the fasteners are often cheesy plastic pop-on things that aren’t cooperative.

They also have a tendency to pop off – as you discovered on your trip!

. . . .

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  1. My daughter has a ’17 Hyundai Elantra, 2.0L, 4 cyl, and the plastic thing underneath has access holes for the oil filter and drain plug! Outstanding! My other new cars don’t have this. Ugh. Also the Elantra is laid out pretty nice and cheap for servicing. Rear drum brakes, easy access to spark plugs, etc. Also rear suspension is not a MacPherson strut! easy.


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