Why Is My Car Burning Oil? Symptoms, Causes and Fixes

Oil serves as a lubricant to engine parts to keep them working correctly. It also aids in purifying the engine by filtering out dust and other debris that can damage the engine. If, however, there are clear indications that the oil no longer performs these jobs, your car might be burning oil. 

Burning oil describes a situation where oil slips into the engine combustion chamber and burns together with a lean or rich fuel-air mixture. This is common among cars with high mileage, old cars, and cars that lack proper maintenance. Motor oil-burning needs immediate attention. If not, it will lead to catastrophic engine damage.

How Do I Know My Car Is Burning Oil?

car burning oil fix

For newer cars, it might not be easy to figure that your vehicle is burning oil. This is because newer cars are built such that the catalytic converter covers up burning oil symptoms. So your vehicle might be burning oil, yet you don’t know.

However, in older cars, burning oil symptoms are very noticeable and easy to know. They include;

Engine oil light on: One of the most common telltale signs of oil burning in cars is the illumination of the oil check light. Please don’t ignore it when you see this. 

Low coolant level: Leaks are noticed with oil on the ground. But if you notice a steady decline in oil level without any trace of physical leakage, it’s a clear indication that the oil is burning internally. At this stage, oil consumption becomes significantly high because your engine uses more coolant than it should.

Engine misfiring: Engine misfire is another noticeable symptom of a car that is burning oil. It often stems from a low coolant. When the coolant is low and can’t keep the engine cool, it causes engine overheating causing the engine to misfire.

Oil in spark plug: When oil burns in the engine, it damages the spark plugs. Oil in spark plugs is a sign that you have bad spark plugs. 

Smoke color: Blue smoke emitting from your exhaust pipe is a telltale sign that your car is burning oil. You would usually see this smoke when you start the vehicle. 

The smell of burning oil: This is often perceived when oil leaks from the engine and drops on its surrounding components. These components, most time, are hot. So when these leaks touch a hot surface, you perceive an oil-burning smell.

Why Is My Car Burning Oil?

Probably you have noticed some of the symptoms listed above. The next thing would be to find out why this is happening. There are two ways your car burns oil.

how to stop engine from burning oil

Internal oil burning: If your oil is burning, it could be that the parts working together to keep the oil away from the combustion chamber are worn. For example, faulty valves, seals, rings, gaskets, etc.

The combustion chamber is the place that combines air and fuel, which, when ignited by the spark plugs, provides power to start your car. When these components are faulty, the oil seeps into this fuel-air mixture and causes the oil to burn. 

External Oil burning: External oil-burning occurs when oil escapes from the engine and lands on a hot surface outside the engine. A sign that the oil is burning outside is a burning oil smell.

If your car is burning oil, whether internally or externally, it could be due to some of the following reasons;

Blown head gasket: The head gasket helps trap cylinders’ firing pressure and restricts engine oil or coolant from entering inside or outside the cylinders. A blown head gasket stems from engine overheating. Engine overheating is often caused by a shortage of coolant, non-functioning water pumps, and radiators. 

When this gasket is blown or out of place, engine oil finds its way into the cylinders. Coolants in the cylinder cause the emission of white smoke from the tailpipe and coolant loss with no sign of leaks. Other symptoms of a blown head gasket are white residues in oil, coolant throwing up in coolant reservoir and radiator, and engine overheating.

Damaged oil pan: The oil pan is a component of the engine’s lubrication system. It is attached to the engine’s bottom and helps hold the oil needed to lubricate all engine parts. Vehicles hitting uneven or rough surfaces can cause oil pan leakage leading to the oil shortage. This will also not allow proper lubrication of engine parts. A telltale sign of a leaking pan is visible oil on the ground. 

Worn piston ring: The piston ring is also known as the oil control ring. It works to keep the cylinder walls and moving engine parts lubricated without letting oil slip into the combustion chamber. A stuck, broken, or worn piston ring will not properly allow oil to lubricate engine parts. And as such, oil finds its way into the combustion chamber. 

If the rings are failing, you sometimes experience engine misfire and emission of bluish smoke on acceleration. Another sign of a failing piston ring is higher oil consumption even when there are no external leaks. Worn piston ring also result in oil in air filter 

Bad PCV valve: The PCV valves known as positive crankcase ventilation valves are channeling through which the engine pressure leaves the engine. When the engine releases pressure, it goes through the PCV and enters into the intake manifold. 

A clogged, stuck, or bad PCV valve will not allow engine pressure to leave the engine. Instead, it builds up engine pressure in the PCV valve and returns it to the engine, blowing up seals and pushing oil into the cylinders. PCV valve burning oil indicates that the PCV valve is faulty and not able to transport engine pressure.

Valve guide and seal leaks: The intake and exhaust valves work to ensure your car runs smoothly. While the fuel-air mixture enters the cylinders through the intake valves, the burned mixture leaves the cylinder through the exhaust valves. These valves are constantly lubricated to function smoothly without allowing oil into the fuel-air mixture. 

When valve seals/guides are damaged, they allow oil into the combustion chamber as the valves work. A bluish smoke that emits from the exhaust during startup is an indication that these seals are worn.

Using the wrong oil: Some engines produce a very high amount of heat as they work. Using oil that cannot withstand the engine’s heat will likely cause your oil to burn out quickly. 

What To Do If Your Car Is Burning Oil

Whenever you notice your car is burning oil, you may try doing these;

Stop the car and check: If you notice the illumination of the oil check light, stop, and check what’s going on. You may check the oil level. To check the oil level, let the oil cool down. Bring out the dipstick from the coolant, wipe off the oil then put it back. Remove it again to see the oil level. If it’s low, you can top it.

If, however, you keep having reoccurring low oil levels without traces of leak, you may need to take the car for proper examination.

Often check your oil level: Some high-performing vehicles most times use more than the required oil. This is not due to any faulty engine component; it’s just how the car was manufactured. Checking often will keep you informed when the oil needs refilling.

A vehicle that uses more than the manufacturer’s recommended oil will need to be filled before the recommended time.

Check the exhaust: Check the smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. A bluish smoke coming from your tailpipe indicates that your oil is burning. After confirming, take the car to a mechanic for a proper diagnosis to know the cause.

Check how the engine is doing: To confirm your suspicions, check to see how the engine is doing. Engine misfire or rough running engine is a sign of motor oil burning. When oil-burning takes place, it can also damage the spark plugs.

Check to see how the plugs are doing. Bad spark plugs will look wet, oily, or sooty. 

Replacing the spark plugs will be an excellent step to take. But that will be after knowing what is causing the oil to burn.

Determine whether to fix the car or not: After confirming your suspicions, the best cause of action will be to take the car to an expert mechanic for proper diagnosis. Then fix the problem early enough. If you do nothing on time, your vehicle may run rough, and in worse and rear case scenarios, it may cause fire hazards. 

And in other cases, it may damage other components like the catalytic converter, spark plugs and even knock engine due to low engine oil. But if after diagnosis you confirm that so many parts are already ruptured, you may need to sell your car.

Most parts associated with oil-burning issues are expensive. And sometimes can make you spend more than your car’s worth on only a few repairs. So if you do not want to get to this stage, fix the problem on time.

How Do You Fix A Car That Burns Oil?

The most straightforward way to fix a car that burns oil is to tackle everything causing it to burn oil. This should be done after carrying out a proper diagnosis. Whether the leak is internal or external, the important thing is, you are losing oil which isn’t good for your engine or pocket. To fix a burning oil car;

  • Replace blown head gaskets
  • Ensure you fix anything causing engine overheating. 
  • If your car consumes oil due to high performance, always check and top it
  • Replace bad spark plugs
  • Fix the worn ring pistons
  • Use the right types of oil
  • Fix a damaged oil pan

FAQS

Q: What Happens When You Burn Oil?

When you burn oil, there will be a coolant shortage. And thus, your engine will not get enough oil to function correctly, which consequently leads to vehicle malfunctioning. Coolant shortage and malfunctioning vehicles will mean spending more cash.

Q: What Oil Is Best For A Car That Burns Oil?

If you’re using a high mileage vehicle and diagnosis has shown your oil type is the issue, then use synthetic oil. Synthetic oil contains a high amount of additives and conditioners to withstand engine heat and combat sludge. It also helps prevent engine wear and tear and can soften hardened seals causing leaks.

Q: Why Is My Car Burning Oil After Oil Change?

Your car is still burning oil after an oil change because the major culprits have not been tackled. When a car burns oil, get the root cause of the problem, then fix it. If the oil is not the only culprit, changing oil won’t do anything.

Q: What Does Burning Oil Smell Like?

Burning oil smells like cooking oil. But unlike the pleasant smell of cooking oil, this one is strong and harsh. And can cause stomach upset. This upset can cause someone to throw up.

Q: How Much Does It Cost To Fix A Burning Oil?

You can fix a burning oil for as low as $100 and fix it for as high as $5000 or more. It just depends on what is causing the oil to burn. A blown head gadget can replacement cost over $500.

If the damage has affected several internal engine components, you may be looking at $2000 – $4000. If the issue is oil type, you can change your oil for as low as $100. In summary, the higher the faulty components, the higher the cost.

Final Thoughts

Burning oil mainly stems from faulty engine components like seals, valves, gaskets, etc. Not using the correct type of oil can also cause motor oil burning. Yes, these components can get worn out and cause oil to burn. But leaving them unattended will cause more damage and possibly shut down your engine.

Oil on the air filter, white or bluish smoke from the tailpipe, and excessive oil consumption are some burning oil symptoms. It is advisable to quickly take your car to a professional mechanic to check and fix it on time. You can be saving your life and a lot of money addressing the issue on time.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a seasoned automotive technician for the past 9 years, and a technical writer. He loves writing about auto professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, and buyer’s guide. After spending six years in the automotive workshop, he decided to impact his knowledge to people aside his domain, and he has achieved this by centering his Automotive writing skills on REPAIRS.

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