What Does It Mean When My Car Is "Burning" Oil?

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Engine oil is supposed to be contained inside the engine. From time to time oil seals or gaskets may leak due to excessive wear and tear, or exposure to extreme heat. The oil leak will distribute oil outside of the engine and typically onto other engine components that are very hot. When this occurs, a burning oil smell will occur. However, what is not commonly known is that burning oil can also be caused by internal engine components that are damaged. If the leak is not correctly diagnosed or repaired, or the internal engine issue is not resolved, additional oil will leak or be consumed, which may create a potentially dangerous situation.

There are a few things you should be aware of that will help you recognize an oil leak, and what you should do to resolve this problem before it creates serious engine damage or a dangerous situation.

How to Tell If Your Car is Burning Oil

As noted above, burning oil is caused by either an oil leak or damage to internal engine components. You don’t want to wait for the oil level to get too low to realize you have an issue, so in order to resolve this issue, you should understand how to tell that your car is burning oil. Here are a few of the symptoms you will notice:

  • When you have an oil leak, and the leaking oil hits exhaust or other hot components, you will typically smell the oil burning before seeing smoke.

  • You may also see blueish smoke coming from the exhaust while the motor is running. If you notice this when you are accelerating, it is likely that your piston rings are damaged. If the smoke comes out while you decelerate, the problem is commonly caused by valve guides in the cylinder heads that are damaged.

What Causes Oil to Burn

The reason oil burns is that it escapes from where it is supposed to be and is located on hot components like exhaust manifolds, valve covers or other engine systems. As a car ages, different parts can become worn and not provide a tight seal around the oil. The oil leaks out and touches the hot components on the engine.

As indicated above, burning oil smell can also come out of the exhaust. If the piston rings are damaged, the burning oil is caused by a lack of compression in the combustion chamber and excessive oil entering the combustion chamber. This is also what causes burning oil when cylinder head valve guides are damaged.

When a Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) valve is worn, it also allows oil to seep into the combustion chamber. A defective or worn out PCV valve allows pressure to build up, which pushes out gaskets that are designed to seal out oil. A correctly working valve removes gases from the crankcase to prevent the pressure buildup.

Burning oil can lead to serious issues, including engine failure. If you notice a problem with your vehicle, get it checked out right away before the problem gets worse.


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YourMechanic Smell of oil in car Inspection Service

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Number of Reviews

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Victor

10 years of experience
211 reviews
Victor
10 years of experience
BMW X3 - Smell of oil in car - Virginia Beach, Virginia
Very Nice Professional Young man. Explained to me everything that he did. I am very pleased at his knowledge of My BMW X3.
Infiniti M45 - Smell of oil in car - Norfolk, Virginia
Awesome guy. Very knowledgeable.

Jeff

32 years of experience
441 reviews
Jeff
32 years of experience
Ford Taurus - Smell of oil in car - Sacramento, California
Jeff looked over my car and was able to spot the problem very quickly.
Hyundai Elantra - Oil Change - West Sacramento, California
Jeff arrived on time and was ready to get to work changing my oil. We discussed which oil would be the best to use since I don't change my oil as often as I should. He was very knowledgeable about engines and explained why the additive I was using wasn't helping my engine and was possibly causing damage. I will take the advice Jeff informed me of concerning my oil.

Milton

36 years of experience
229 reviews
Milton
36 years of experience
Dodge Dart - Smell of oil in car - Henderson, Nevada
Milton was awesome. Was prompt to the appointment, and explained everything to me in terms I could understand!! I felt comfortable with all of his recommendations, and if I ever need another service in the future, I will be sure to request Milton!

Nicholas

20 years of experience
353 reviews
Nicholas
20 years of experience
Honda Civic - Smell of oil in car Inspection - Aurora, Colorado
Nicholas was exactly what everyone should expect from a good and honest mechanic! He thoroughly inspected my car, explained the results of the diagnostic test and gave me his professional advice. He showed me how and where the oil odor originated, what he did to fix it, and even took pictures of potential problem areas under my car to monitor. Thorough! YourMechanic hasn't failed me, yet.

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