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Why Is My Car Burning Oil?

A car's oil dipstick inserted into the engine.

Oil plays a key role in the health of your car’s engine. It helps keep the engine lubricated and prevents all the moving components from building up too much heat. Over time, you may observe signs of your car burning oil. It’s important to identify and remedy this problem, as it can diminish your car’s oil levels, wear your engine prematurely and eventually cause serious damage if it isn’t addressed.

Here we’ll explain what factors can cause a car to burn oil and help you determine whether this is happening to your vehicle. We’ll also offer advice on how to address the issue.

What Causes a Car to Burn Oil?

Engine oil is meant to be held within a car’s engine, but the engine’s gaskets and oil seals can develop leaks. This can be caused by age, excessive wear or extreme heat.

These leaks will cause your car’s oil to travel outside the engine where it is no longer useful for lubricating. That oil is lost and will need to be replaced.

Gradual consumption of oil isn’t always caused by an external leak. Sometimes there are internal leaks that can allow oil into parts of the engine that aren’t designed to accommodate oil. For example, if a car’s piston rings or valve seals are worn, oil could reach the engine’s combustion chamber, causing the car to burn oil during the combustion process.

How to Tell If Your Car Is Burning Oil

Here are three ways to tell if your car is burning oil:

  1. Monitor the Car’s Oil Level — One way to tell if your car is burning oil is to observe the vehicle’s oil level. If it seems to be declining at a faster-than-normal rate, you may have a problem.
  2. Note if There Is a Burning Smell — Another telltale sign is the smell that burning oil emits. When the oil heats up after coming in contact with hot components, it gives off a distinct burning odor.
  3. Look for Bluish Smoke Coming From the Tailpipe — Yet another symptom of a car burning oil is bluish smoke drifting from the exhaust while the engine is running. This can become especially apparent when you accelerate or decelerate.

What to Do

The first step to fixing this problem is to identify what’s causing the oil leak. External oil leaks can be caused by wear and tear in any of these components:

  • Oil filter
  • Oil pan
  • Cooler line
  • Filler cap
  • Drain plug

With an internal oil leak, the problem could be triggered by worn piston rings, valve stem oil seals, a malfunctioning PCV system, or even a blown head gasket. In any case, a service technician will be able to tell you what’s causing the leak and provide the necessary repairs.

If your car is burning oil, it’s essential to deal with the issue promptly. In the meantime be sure to check your oil frequently and keep it topped off to the manufacturer’s suggested level. The longer you wait to address an issue, the more likely it becomes that you’ll be left with engine damage that lands you with a hefty repair bill.

Check out all the oils, chemicals and fluids available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on a car burning oil, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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