3 Unexpected Consequences Of Ignoring An Oil Leak

Posted on: 21 November 2022

You probably know what can happen if you let your car run too low on oil. In most cases, the results aren't pretty and certainly aren't cheap. However, oil leaks can be damaging even if you check your oil religiously and top up well before reaching the danger point. Unfortunately, many ways an oil leak can damage your car may not be immediately apparent.

If you're in the habit of ignoring a little bit of oil loss between oil changes, it's time to consider having a qualified shop locate and repair any existing oil leaks before you suffer from any of these three potentially serious side effects.

1. Damaged Accessory Belts

Accessory belts transmit mechanical energy from your car's engine to accessories such as your power steering pump or air conditioning compressor. Most cars will have a single accessory belt, although some will have an entirely separate belt for the AC system. Whatever the case, these belts are typically uncovered and located near the front of the engine bay.

Because of their position, it's possible for oil from certain leaks to drip directly onto a belt. Even small amounts of oil leaking onto a belt can create a mess since the belt can fling the oil all over your engine bay. The oil will also eventually ruin the belt by causing it to slip or even allowing it to "walk" off its pulleys. Any oil leak dripping onto an accessory belt is a critical problem.

2. Fire Risks

Your engine also contains many hot surfaces. The exhaust manifolds can reach well over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit! Meanwhile, the flash point of motor oil is typically under 400 degrees. As a result, any oil dripping onto the hot exhaust manifold or other parts of the exhaust system will likely ignite immediately, creating smoke at best and starting a fire at worst.

This situation most commonly occurs with valve cover gasket leaks since these tend to run along the edges of the valve cover and drip back toward the exhaust system. Don't assume that smoke from your engine is a minor problem just because you know the source. If you believe oil is dripping onto a hot surface and igniting, the safest option is to repair the leak as soon as possible.

3. Ruined Coolant Hoses

Manufacturers carefully design the various hoses and plumbing in your car's engine bay to withstand specific conditions. Coolant hoses must withstand incredibly hot temperatures and pressures, but they're typically not designed for contact with oil. However, oil leaks can often drip onto these hoses, and certain leaks (such as in oil cooler gaskets) can even allow oil and coolant to mingle.

Contact with oil can cause coolant hoses to bloat and degrade, eventually allowing them to leak or break. Since coolant loss can cause catastrophic engine damage just as quickly as oil loss, it's essential to repair any oil leak dripping onto or near your coolant lines.

Contact a vehicle repair shop for more information.