Proper maintenance is essential in prolonging the longevity of your beloved automobile. Simple things like checking water and fluids can go a long way in saving you money down the road. However, if you have to top up oil more often than usual, your car may be burning engine lubricant.
Your car might be burning oil so fast because there’s a leak that spills oil outside the engine or into the combustion chamber, causing it to burn. Worn gaskets and seals are the most common culprits for oil leaks, but there could also be a more serious issue.
If you see a significant drop each time you check the dipstick, read on to learn why your car burns oil faster than usual. This article will tackle how to tell if your car is burning oil, what you should do, and discuss the reasons behind it.
Motor oil keeps your engine running smoothly by ensuring it is well lubricated to reduce friction between moving parts. It also cleanses the engine from dirt and contaminants. Therefore, aside from keeping oil at adequate levels, you also need to change the oil periodically.
By design, the oil should remain contained within the engine, and a regular oil change should suffice in keeping the oil level sufficient. Refilling about a quart of oil every 2,000 miles is not unusual. However, if you have to top up more often, you must investigate why your car is losing oil.
Unaddressed, oil leaks can lead to more costly repairs. So, it’s critical to isolate and fix the issue as soon as possible. Below are possible reasons why your car is consuming extra amounts of oil.
1. Dirty or Worn-Out PCV Valve
The PCV (Positive Crankcase Ventilation) valve is an emission control device. It’s a small plastic hose with a spring inside that sucks excess combustion gasses. These gasses then pass through the intake manifold before being burned in the combustion chamber a second time. This process lowers harmful gas emissions from the vehicle’s exhaust system.
If the PCV valve gets clogged or damaged, excessive pressure can build up in the crankcase, causing oil to seep through the seals and out the engine. Oil can also get sucked into the intake manifold instead of the combustion gasses, leading to your car burning more oil.
Aside from oil leaks, you can tell your car’s PCV valve is faulty if it exhibits the following symptoms:
- The engine fails to idle smoothly.
- Misfiring occurs.
- Acceleration becomes rough.
- Check engine light turns on.
- Excessive smoke from the exhaust pipe.
2. Worn Out Piston Rings
A more severe issue that can cause the oil in your car to burn faster is worn-out piston rings. The piston rings in an engine form a seal between the piston and cylinder walls to regulate the oil that lubricates the cylinder. They also keep the oil sump free from combustion gasses.
When piston rings become worn out, a gap forms between the ring face and cylinder wall, allowing oil to enter the combustion chamber. The worn piston rings will cause an increase in oil consumption and, in some cases, serious engine damage due to a blow-by.
Symptoms of worn-out piston rings include:
- Excessive consumption of oil.
- Engine overheating.
- Poor acceleration and lack of engine power.
- Blue or white smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe.
3. Cylinder Wall Damage
Damaged cylinder walls can also cause excessive oil consumption. Even if your piston rings are not worn out, a gap may still form between the piston and cylinder, allowing oil to enter the combustion chamber. This happens if the cylinder walls are coarse or deformed.
Cylinder wall damage can occur when the engine is not sufficiently lubricated. The oil acts as a protective layer on the cylinder walls each time the pistons move up and down. If there isn’t enough oil, the pistons or the rings can scrape and damage the cylinder walls.
Engine overheating can also damage the cylinder walls due to thermal expansion. Further damage can occur when the cylinder walls become deformed due to metal-to-metal contact between the cylinder wall and pistons.
Yet another cause of damaged cylinder walls is dirty engine oil. It causes damage by leaving carbon deposits on the walls. This is why it is crucial to change your oil regularly and keep it at acceptable levels.
4. Damaged Valve Seals
Damaged valve seals can also cause low oil levels. Despite being made of heavy-duty rubber, valve seals can degrade over time or if you put a lot of miles on your vehicle.
Valve seals control the amount of oil that goes into the valve stem system. They also keep oil from entering the combustion chamber, thus your engine can end up burning oil if the valve seals fail.
One way to check if your valve seals are worn out is by performing a cold engine test. The test is done by starting the engine after leaving it sitting overnight and checking for bluish smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. Bluish smoke indicates that the oil left on the top of the valve cover head has entered the combustion chamber and that your valve seals need replacement.
Other symptoms of broken valve seals are similar to those displayed by worn-out piston rings. However, always have your valve seals checked before moving on to other parts that may require a more extensive overhaul.
Valve seals are relatively inexpensive, but the cost of labor needed to replace them might not be.
5. Damaged Valve Cover Gasket
A damaged valve cover gasket will also cause oil to leak. The oil will not enter the combustion chamber, but low oil levels can damage piston rings and cylinder walls.
The valve cover is a metal or plastic cover bolted on top of the engine’s cylinder head. It is essentially the skull of the engine that protects internal components while keeping oil contained and dirt out. All valve covers have a gasket that forms a seal between the cylinder head and valve cover.
If the gasket becomes worn out, it will cause oil to seep out of the engine. This will lead to visible sludge around the valve cover and a burning smell or smoke if the oil reaches the exhaust manifold while it is hot.
You may also like: Symptoms That Show You Have Oil on Your Spark Plugs.
Since most of the parts that keep oil from reaching the combustion chamber are internal engine components, there won’t always be visible oil leaks under the hood. Hence, the best way to tell whether your car is burning oil is by regularly checking your oil levels.
Checking your vehicle’s oil level only takes a few minutes and should be done once every two to three weeks. Of course, there’s no harm in doing it more often since a little effort can prevent massive headaches and expenses in the long run. Here’s how to go about it:
- Before checking your oil level, make sure the car is parked (with the parking brake engaged) on an even spot.
- Locate the dipstick, pull it out, and wipe the oil off with a rag.
- After wiping the oil off, you should see an oil level indicator in the form of lines. Other vehicles will have “full” or “add” on the dipstick. In any case, you should fill the oil level to the bar on top.
To confirm your car is burning oil, monitor the oil levels every week for a month. If you have to add more than a quart of oil within 2000 miles, there may be an oil leak.
Again, not all oil leaks are visible, so you may have to look out for other symptoms such as excessive smoke coming from the exhaust, rough idling, and poor acceleration.
If your car is burning oil excessively, have the car diagnosed and repaired immediately. Prolonging the fix will just cause more severe problems.
Some people use oil additives to address the issue, but this is a band-aid solution and does not solve the root of the problem.
A car that’s burning oil may require a significant amount of money to fix. However, you can try to isolate the minor potential causes like a damaged PCV valve or valve cover gasket prior to having any major repairs done.
Ironically, most of the costly issues, such as damaged piston rings and cylinder walls, are usually caused by lack of lubrication. So, the best way to save money is by constantly checking your car’s oil level and making sure there’s enough of it.
It’s pretty typical for automobiles with internal combustion engines to burn oil. Nonetheless, refilling your vehicle’s engine oil each month is excessive.
Finding out why your car is burning oil so fast can be tricky since numerous components can trigger the problem. What’s worse, the symptoms are almost the same, and the repairs can cost a pretty penny.
Still, despite how much it costs to seek professional help to pinpoint the issue, fixing the problem immediately will cost less than dealing with more serious issues down the road.
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