My Car Is Leaking Oil From The Front: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A cracked oil pan is the most likely cause of oil leaking from the car’s front. The chances are the oil pan is cracked if the car’s undercarriage accidentally hits the rock or road debris. The oil pan gasket can also become degraded over time that is causing oil leaks from the front. Other causes of oil leaks from the front of the car is the damaged valve cover gasket, oil cooler and oil pump seal, and rear main seal. Lastly, the chances are that it is the brake fluid leaking from the car and you confuse it with the engine oil. This is because both engine oil and brake fluid are of the same color in most cases.

As a car owner, you may sometimes come across a strange situation wherein your car is leaking oil from the front. It’s not uncommon for a car to start leaking oil from the front.

From the oil filter gasket to the oil pan, there are a number of parts that can cause your car to start leaking oil. In this article, we’ll look at the possible causes of an oil leak from the front of your car and some steps you can take to troubleshoot and repair the issue. 

Bonus Read: Car leaks oil after changing oil

Some Key Insights for You
  • Degraded oil pan gasket, cracked oil pan, or warped mating surface can cause oil to leak from the front.
  • Improperly installed or damaged oil filter/gasket allows oil to escape and leak.
  • Failed seals on oil cooler, often found on sports/heavy duty vehicles, leads to leaks.
  • Leak near transmission bell housing may signal damaged rear main engine seal.
  • Leaking brake fluid or CV joint grease can resemble an engine oil leak up front.

My Personal Experience With Oil Leaking From The Front Of The Car

Recently, my uncle called concerned about an oil leak on his 2015 Toyota Camry. When I looked under the hood, I noticed oil dripping down near the front. After cleaning the area, I found the source was a degraded oil pan gasket.

I removed the old gasket, cleaned the mating surfaces, applied a new bead of RTV sealant, and installed an OEM pan gasket. The quick fix only cost $15 in parts. My uncle was relieved I diagnosed the problem and he didn’t have to pay a mechanic.

Visual Inspection Of Oil Leak

Before diving into the reasons why oil is leaking from the front, it’s important to double-check that the fluid you see is actually engine oil. Sometimes, it can be easy to confuse engine oil with other types of fluids like transmission oil, brake oil, or coolant.

So, if the color of oil leaking from the front is:

  • Brown/golden or black: It indicates engine oil.
  • Blue, orange, or green: It indicates engine coolant.
  • Reddish or red-brown: It indicates transmission oil.
  • Brake oil: Almost the same color as engine oil i.e. beige or yellow color. It also gets dark brown/black with time.
  • Power steering fluid: In hydraulic steering, a fluid is used to transfer power from the steering wheel to the front wheels. The color of the power steering fluid is red, pink, or amber.

Moreover, if your vehicle is front-wheel drive, it has a CV axle that transfers power from the transmission to the front wheels. CV boots are filled with grease. So, if a CV boot cracks, you can see grease around the front wheel and confuse it with the oil.

Is It Safe To Drive With An Oil Leak?

While the answer is yes, it is imperative to take certain precautions in order to make driving with an oil leak safe. First, always check the oil level to make sure it is between the upper and lower marks on the oil dipstick. This can be done by removing the dipstick, wiping it off, and reinserting it.

Moreover, you should also monitor oil pressure for any changes as an oil leak can lead to a decrease in pressure, thus resulting in damage to the engine.

You should make sure the oil pressure is within the manufacturer’s specifications. If there is not enough oil pressure, it will affect the lubrication and damage the crankshaft bearings.

If the oil level is below the low mark on the dipstick or the pressure is low, then you should definitely not drive with an oil leak. The oil is necessary for keeping the engine lubricated and running smoothly. Without the proper amount of oil and pressure, the engine will overheat, seize, and can cause serious damage. 

Causes Of Car Leaking Oil From The Front

Here are the causes of a car leaking oil from the front:

1. Degraded Oil Pan Gasket

oil pan gasket is not properly seated or damaged

The degraded oil pan gasket is one of the most common causes of leaking oil from the car front.

An oil pan gasket is a component that acts as a seal between the engine block and the oil pan. The oil pan gasket is made of black composite material or rubber.

Over time, the oil pan gasket can become degraded or damaged due to heat, pressure, and exposure to oil and other fluids

When the oil pan gasket becomes degraded or damaged, it can no longer keep the oil contained in the engine, and it can start to leak out. This can lead to an oil leak from the front of the car, as the oil will run down the engine and out of the car from the bottom. 

How to fix degraded oil pan gasket?

When it comes to replacing the oil pan gasket, using an OEM-recommended model is always recommended. Cheap aftermarket alternatives should be avoided.

To properly install the new gasket, use engine degreaser to clean the mating surface of the oil pan. This will help to eliminate any foreign particles, such as RTV, dirt, and oil. Not cleaning the mating surface properly can cause the gasket to not seal correctly, so proper cleaning of the surface is an essential step.

If the oil pan is chrome-plated, an extra step is required for a leak-proof installation. Brush out the drain hole threads to remove any leftover debris. Additionally, you may need to lightly tap around the boltholes of the oil pan. 

After cleaning the oil pan mating surface, apply a thin bead of RTV silicon sealant to adhere the new oil pan gasket to the oil pan. Make sure that you don’t apply too much sealant. Mount the gasket to the oil pan. Allow some time for the adhesive to set. Test for slippage with light pressure. If the gasket moves, allow more time.

2. Oil Pan Is Cracked Or Mating Surface Is Warped

When the oil pan is cracked, the oil can escape through the crack, which then pools up on the ground under the car. This is why you may notice oil underneath the front of your car.

The most common cause of a cracked oil pan is when the undercarriage of your car hits a rock or any other object that is located on the road. When the car passes over the object, the force of impact can damage the oil pan and cause it to crack. In some cases, the force of the impact can be so great that it can crack the pan in multiple places.

Similarly, when the oil pan of your car hits an object on the road, the mating surface of the oil pan can become warped. If the mating surface (the surface on which the gasket is placed) of the oil pan is warped, the gasket will not properly seal the gap between the engine block and the mating surface. As a result, oil will leak.

How to check if oil pan is warped?

If you find that the mating surface of an oil pan is warped, you can check it with a straight edge. Start by laying the straight edge along the flange that contacts the engine block.

Then, take a feeler gauge and gently insert it into the gap between the straight edge and the oil pan. If the gap is more than 0.1mm, it is warped and needs to be corrected. To correct this, you may need to bend, pound, or hammer the oil pan until it is flush and flat. 

using straightedge to check flatness of the mating surface of the oil pan

3. Oil Filter Is Not Properly Tightened Or Oil Filter Gasket Is Damaged

configurations of oil filter

Over time, the oil filter can become clogged with dirt and debris, preventing it from doing its job. As a result, the oil can’t flow properly through the oil filter and can end up leaking from it. Due to this reason, you may see oil leaking from the front of the car.

An improperly installed filter can result in oil leaking out around the filter due to a lack of a secure seal. This occurs when the filter isn’t fitted correctly and therefore cannot create a tight seal with the gasket.

The configuration of the oil filter fitting depends on the type of engine. In some engines, an oil filter is fitted into the engine block through an adapter. In other engines, the oil filter is directly bolted into the engine block.

When it comes to replacing an oil filter, there is a crucial step that often goes overlooked: removing the old gasket from the engine block. If left in place and two gaskets are used while installing the oil filter, they could both blow out due to the pressure and cause an oil leak from the front of the car.

This is why it’s important to take the extra time to make sure you have removed the old gasket and only have one in place. 

Sometimes, the old gasket sticks into the engine block where the oil filter is mounted. So, you have to check that.

You can check out the below video from 5:00 time. That guy has explained in detail about the leakages through the oil filter.

4. Oil Cooler Seal Is Damaged

Ordinary cars do not have oil coolers. In regular vehicles, oil is naturally cooled when it flows from the engine back to the oil sump.

As the oil passes through the engine, it will cover areas that are cooler than the oil itself, and thus, heat is given up in the process. On entering the sump, the oil does not stay there for long but continues to transfer heat through the sump pan.

However, in sports vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles used for towing, an oil cooler is used to maintain the temperature of the oil. Such vehicles have very high oil pressure. So, chances are that the oil leaks through the seal of the oil pump.

Engine oil can either leak through

  • Oil cooler
  • Oil cooler seal between cooler and engine

Many people also confuse that the liquid leaking from the oil cooler is engine oil or coolant. The oil cooler is trapped in the bath of an engine coolant. So, if housing of oil cooler is damaged, the chances are that coolant is leaking.

How to spot oil leak from oil cooler?

To test oil cooler, remove it from the engine. Put it in a bowl of water, and pass air through the opening of the cooler. If air bubbles come out, it means you have to replace oil cooler.

Next, you should check two o-rings at the inlet and outlet of the oil cooler. If they are damaged, you should replace them.

5. Rear Main Seal Is Damaged

rear main seal of engine

The rear main seal is part of the engine where the transmission connects with the crankshaft of the engine. The rear main seal is located at the rear of the engine, where the crankshaft comes out of the block. 

If oil is leaking from the front of the car, and the leak is closer to the transmission bell housing area, the chances are that oil is leaking through the rear main seal.

The rear main seal is made out of rubber, which can start to wear out over time. It can also become brittle, dry, harden and crack due to extreme temperatures, or it can be damaged by debris in the oil. 

Removing the rear cover of the engine is quite a time-taking process. In some cases, requires the removal of the entire engine and transmission from the vehicle. So, you have to consult a professional mechanic for this job. Depending on the engine, it takes from 4 hours to a couple of days to replace the rear main seal.

6. Cracked CV Boot

cracked CV joint rubber boot

CV boots, also known as Constant Velocity boots, are flexible rubber boots affixed to the Constant Velocity joints at either end of the axle shafts. They prevent dirt and debris from entering the CV joint.

CV rubber boots enclose the grease to lubricate the bearings. When they become brittle and crack, the grease can escape and spatter on the ground beneath the car. This can appear to be an engine oil leak.

How to spot grease leaking from CV boots?

The most obvious sign of CV boot failure is grease leaking from the boot. You may also hear a clicking or rattling noise when turning or accelerating, as the CV joint moves within the boot. 

If you observe grease behind the front wheels of your car, the chances are that the CV boot is cracked.

Bonus Read: Can a bad CV joint damage transmission

7. Brake Oil Is Leaking

leaking brake oil

Brake oil is an essential component of your vehicle’s braking system. It helps your brakes to function properly. Brake oil is used to transfer force within the braking system.

The main purpose of brake fluid is to provide hydraulic force to the brakes.

When the driver pushes down the brake pedal, it activates a plunger in the master cylinder, which forces the brake fluid through the system. This pressure is transmitted through the brake lines to the calipers, where it is used to apply the brakes.

When brake oil is leaking, it is hard to differentiate between the color of brake oil and engine oil, especially if they are new. So, if you see oil-like fluid leaking from the front of your car, you should check if this is engine oil or brake oil.

How to spot break oil leak?

The brake fluid can leak from

  • ABS pump module
  • Bleeder valve
  • Brake piston seal
  • Brake lines
  • Master cylinder

The bleeder valve is a small, threaded valve that is used to release air and fluid from the brakes. If the bleeder valve is damaged, it can cause a brake fluid leak. You will find a bleeder valve on the top of the brake caliper. It is usually covered with a rubber cap.

bleeder valve

All of the above components are located in the front of the vehicle. So, you should examine all of them.

To spot a brake oil leak, first, clean the surrounding area from where the oil is leaking with brake cleaner and rag. Then wait and see which component is exactly leaking. You can place a piece of cardboard underneath the vehicle.

8. Valve Cover Gasket Is Damaged

understanding of valve cover

The valve cover gasket, also known as the rocker cover, is a crucial part of an automobile’s engine. It serves to seal the gap between the valve cover and the cylinder head, thereby preventing any oil from leaking out. 

In the illustration above, I have shown two pictures. One with the valve cover placed, and the other with the valve cover removed. In the picture with the valve cover, you can see camshafts that are enclosed in a cylinder head.

Oil is a necessary component for the smooth functioning of camshafts. It helps to reduce friction between the cams and the valve system that they drive.

The gasket is what keeps the valve cover secure and stops oil from leaking out. Unfortunately, the gasket can wear down or even break due to age, leading to a loss of protection.

Furthermore, excessive heat can cause the valve cover gasket to expand and contract, leading to cracks or tears.

Moreover, some engines have plastic valve covers instead of metal. The plastic valve covers develop hairline cracks over time from the heat involved in the engine.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix An Oil Leak?

Causes of Oil LeakApproximate Range of Cost
Damaged Oil Pan$150 – $900
Faulty Gasket$200 – $1,000
Cracked Engine Block$1,000 – $5,000
Worn Piston Rings$1,500 – $4,000
Faulty Rear Main Seal$600 – $1,200
Loose or Damaged Oil Filter$10 – $30
Faulty Valve Cover Gasket$200 – $1,000

Some First Hand Experiences Shared By Users In Different Communities

Our team conducted research across various online communities, forums, and subreddits to gather user comments and opinions on “car leaking oil from the front”.

User 1 says:

My Mazda MX-5 Miata had an oil leak from the front due to a failing oil pressure sensor. Realized it when the oil pressure warning light came on. Replaced the sensor and no more leaks.

User 2 says:

Experienced this with my GMC Sierra. It was a damaged front main seal. Found out when my oil levels dropped quicker than usual. Had to get the seal replaced to stop the leak.

User 3 says:

My Volvo XC60 started leaking oil from the front. The problem was with the timing cover gasket. I noticed oil accumulation near the engine front. Had to replace the gasket to resolve the issue.

User 4 says:

In my Hyundai Tucson, I noticed oil leakage at the front. It was due to a worn-out valve cover gasket. The engine bay had oil residue, and there was a faint burning smell. Changing the gasket solved the problem.

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