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How Do I Know If My Car Is Burning Oil? (And What to Do About It)

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

Table of Contents

The average vehicle has somewhere between 5 and 8 quarts of oil in it at all times. It uses this oil to lubricate all of the different moving parts that exist within its engine.

When a car is brand-new, you shouldn’t have to worry about any of this oil burning up on you. But as it begins to get older, you might discover that your car is burning oil and causing all kinds of complications underneath the hood for you.

You should look out for any signs that your car is burning oil. You should also learn about the different causes of oil burning so that you can work to avoid them at all costs. Additionally, you should make sure that you know what to do if oil from your car is ever burning.

We’re going to touch on all of these things today so that you know everything there is to know about identifying and fixing oil burning issues in your car. Continue reading to get the scoop.

What Does It Mean When a Car Is “Burning Oil”?

In a few moments, we’re going to talk at length about what you should do if your car is burning oil. But before we get into that, we want to make sure that you’re clear on what we mean when we say that a car is “burning oil.”

There are actually a few different ways in which a car can burn oil. You should be familiar with all three of them so that you can keep your eyes peeled for signs of burning oil.

First and foremost, there are certain cars that can burn through more oil than others simply during normal operation. The manufacturers of these cars will typically tell you that you should be prepared to add a few quarts of oil to your car every so often to avoid running out of it in between oil changes. You should make sure you heed their advice and do as they say to keep your car filled with enough oil.

This is normally not what people mean when they say that a car is burning oil, though. More often than not, they’re referring to a car burning oil either internally in an engine’s combustion chambers or externally on the hot surfaces that surround an engine. These are both going to be more serious problems for you if you ever encounter them.

What Causes Oil to Burn Internally?

As the engine in a car begins to get up there in age, it’s not uncommon at all for some of the different seals and gaskets inside of it to start to break down. When they do, they can begin to allow oil to work its way into the combustion chambers of the engine where it’ll often get burned up long before it should.

There are quite a few different things that can cause internal oil burning in a car’s engine to occur. Here are just a few of the things that might result in your car burning oil internally:

  • A malfunction in your engine’s positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system, such as a blocked PCV valve
  • Bad guide valves and seals in your engine
  • Worn-out piston rings in your engine

The tough part about dealing with a car that is burning oil inside its engine is that it can be difficult to see this particular problem. You’re not going to see or smell any oil leaks, which can make it challenging to diagnose an issue with your car. It’s much easier to uncover external oil leaks.

What Causes Oil to Burn Externally?

If your car is burning oil externally, it’s going to mean that you have oil coming out of your engine and traveling over the top of hot surfaces that sit right around it. The oil will literally burn when it touches these surfaces and leave you with a huge headache on your hands.

Just like with internal oil burning, external oil leaks can be caused by a number of different things. If you have oil burning externally, it’s a clear-cut sign that you have a component that has worn down and started to allow oil to leak out of your engine.

Here are several things that might cause external oil burning in your car:

  • An oil filter that is either very old or on the newer side but not installed properly
  • An oil drain plug that isn’t keeping oil contained to your oil pan
  • A leaky oil pan or a worn-down gasket in an oil pan
  • Bad valve cover gaskets

It’s a little easier to tell that you have external oil leaks in your car. You might see oil pooling on the ground underneath your car. You might also hear and smell it burning when it hits the hot surfaces surrounding your engine. Whatever the case, you shouldn’t ever ignore signs that a car is burning oil.

How Can You Tell If Your Car Is Burning Oil?

Now that you know about the differences between internal oil burning and external oil leaks, let’s discuss how you’re going to be able to tell that you have a car that’s burning oil. It’s not always going to be obvious that your car is going through more oil than it should.

As we just alluded to a second ago, you might find that you have a car burning oil when you can see oil leaking out of the bottom of your car. You should keep an eye on your driveway or your parking spot to see if you have oil on the ground where your car is usually parked.

You should also get into the habit of popping the hood on your car and using your dipstick to check your oil every now and then so that you can see where your oil levels stand. If they always seem to be on the lower side, that could be another sign that your car is burning oil.

And the easiest way to tell if your car is burning oil is by looking for any blue smoke that might be emerging from your car’s exhaust system. This is almost always a sign that your car is burning oil internally. You might see it shooting out of your tailpipe when you first start up your car or when you’re accelerating in it.

You don’t ever want to turn a blind eye to any of these signs that your car is burning oil. You’re going to need to address them as soon as possible to stop your car from burning through any more oil.

What Should You Do If Your Car Is Burning Oil?

If you suspect that your car is burning oil, it’s going to be very important for you to take it to an auto repair shop sooner rather than later. The longer that you wait to have your car looked at, the greater your chances of running out of oil and doing some serious damage to your engine.

It’s going to be especially important to have a mechanic take a look at a car that is burning oil when that oil is burning internally. You can do a whole lot of damage to an engine when oil is getting burned up in its combustion chambers on a regular basis.

There are almost 300,000 auto repair shops operating throughout the U.S. at this time. You should search for one in your area that you know you can trust and ask them to take a gander at your car. They should be able to uncover the source of your oil burning problem and come up with a solution to fix it.

How Can You Fix Oil Burning Inside Your Engine?

If your car is burning oil and your mechanic tells you that it’s doing it internally, you could be in for a rude awakening. There are many instances in which vehicle owners have to make expensive repairs to get their cars to stop burning oil on the inside of their engines.

Worn-out piston rings, for example, might not sound like the most serious problem in the world. But when these rings go, it’s often a sign that your entire engine has reached the end of its lifespan. You could very well be forced to do an engine rebuild to bring your car back to life. And this could cost you several thousand dollars.

But you should also know that you might not have to spend a small fortune when your car is burning oil internally. Replacing something like a hose in your PCV system is something that’s going to be pretty inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, especially when you compare the cost of it to the cost of rebuilding your engine.

How Can You Fix Oil Burning Outside Your Engine?

If your car is burning oil and your mechanic tells you that it’s doing it externally, you might not have to be too concerned with it breaking the bank. Most of the time, you can stop a car from burning oil outside of the engine by making a simple fix to it.

If you think that the oil filter in your car might be causing oil to leak and burn outside of your engine, you can have it replaced for under $50 during your next oil change. You can also replace something like the oil filler cap for next to nothing if you find that it’s causing oil to burn outside of your engine.

The only repair that might trip you up when you’re trying to get your car to stop burning oil externally is when you have to replace something like your valve cover gaskets. This can be a very messy job, so you’ll want to leave it to a mechanic to do it. But even then, it should only set you back between $200 and $250.

What Might Happen If You Don’t Stop Your Car From Burning Oil?

The good news for anyone who is currently driving a car that is burning oil is that this is a pretty common problem. Almost everyone who owns a car is going to notice it burning through more oil than it’s supposed to at some point in time.

But the bad news is that this doesn’t mean you can just ignore the fact that your car is burning oil. You’re going to be asking for trouble if you take this approach to dealing with the problem.

If you let a car continue to burn oil, it will burn through all the oil that it has, which will lead to a blown engine. It might also let oil find its way into your exhaust system over time, which can cause problems with your catalytic converter.

For these reasons and for so many others, you should make every effort to get your car down to a mechanic when your car is burning oil. The last thing that you want to do is continue to drive your car around while it’s burning oil and do damage to all the parts in and around your engine.

Is It Worth Fixing a Car When a Car Is Burning Oil?

If your car is burning oil, it might be well worth your time and money to fix it. It’s simple enough to replace a bad oil filter or even a bad PCV hose to stop your car from burning oil.

But if your car is burning oil and it’s going to cost you a lot of money to fix it, you might not want to go through the trouble. You’ll be better off saying, “I’m going to sell my car,” and then finding a company that pays cash for cars to purchase your car from you.

We specialize in paying cash for junk cars and for cars that still have some life left in them, too. We can give you the cash you want for a car that is burning oil and help take your problem off your hands.

Contact us today to find out more about selling junk cars for cash.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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