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Oil leaks: fixing them; slowing them; cleaning them up

January 2, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

All cars leak oil, some more than others, some only when running, some only when sitting, some making a mess on the driveway, some not.

I say they all leak because oil seals require a small seepage of oil in order to lubricate themselves. When it is more than a small seepage it can make a mess. Sometimes it is a simple fix, like a leaking oil filter or drain plug or oil pressure switch, and sometimes it is leaking gaskets or seals, which are usually much more difficult to repair, and those repairs have a few problems with effectiveness.

Here's the skinny. As engines wear, piston rings begin to allow compression to bypass into the crankcase, where oil is stored. These compression gases cause pressure to build in the engine, and manufacturers haven't designed the engines to hold the pressure. They like to think that their engines won't wear that much during the warranty period. After the warranty period they really don't care, they want you to buy another new one. The build-up of pressure pushes oil out past gaskets and oil seals that were not designed to hold pressure, only liquid oil. One would think that replacing leaking gaskets or seals would solve the leaking problem, but one would be mistaken. The pressure is still there, so although the new gaskets or seals may be an improvement, they will also begin to leak. This sometimes results in contentious conversations between owners and technicians if the owners expected complete success. The tech should have warned them that it might not stop all of the leaks. In fact it almost never stops all of the leaks. Making it even worse is the fact that these gasket and seal jobs are often very difficult (read: expensive) to do, taking many hours and busted knuckles to accomplish.

Why then, you might ask do we not fix the pressure problem along with the leaking gaskets and seals? You won't like that answer either. It's the piston rings doing the leaking. Replacing the rings in modern engines is so involved that it is almost never done by anyone. It involves removing the engine from the car and overhauling it, which would cost nearly as much as a new engine. Remember that we're only trying to cure an oil leak, not a major breakdown. It is simply not cost effective.

So what can you do about oil leaks? Well, I know of some old commercial boats that leak oil so badly that the crew puts a tray under the engine to catch the oil, and then pours the oil back into the engine. Okay, I know you can't do that with your car. Remember if it is one of the easy fixes, you're lucky. If it is caused by blow-by pressure, you have three options: live with it and keep cleaning up the garage floor; have the gaskets replaced and have less to clean up; or get a new engine and enjoy a clean floor for a while.

By the way, there is a simple way to clean oil puddles. We do it all day. Simply get a bag of kitty litter, the kind that is made from clay, sprinkle it over the oil and let it absorb the puddle, then sweep it up and throw it in the trash. If any remains, on a painted or coated surface, use a detergent and water to finish. On bare concrete, spread some more clay on the spot and use the sole of your shoe to rub it in. Put on some music and do a little soft shoe shuffle in the sand. Your neighbors will think you have lost your mind, but your driveway will be cleaner than theirs, so stick your tongue out at them and keep dancing. They'll probably leave you alone for a long time.

 
 

 

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