Oil leaks are frustrating, but they’re also a pretty common part of owning a vehicle. Sometimes, the leak is easy to spot, but sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint where it is. Start by cleaning the engine so you’re better able to see the leak. If you can’t find it, use a tracer dye or baby powder to help you spot it. Finding the exact location of the leak will help you determine the severity of it and give you an idea of what repairs are needed to fix it.

Method 1 of 3:
Cleaning Your Engine and Looking for a Leak

  1. 1
    Park your vehicle and allow it to cool down if you were just driving it. Make sure your vehicle is parked on flat and level ground and turn off the engine. If you were recently driving your vehicle, wait at least 15 minutes for the engine to cool down before you clean it.[1]
    • Park your vehicle in a garage or a shady spot so it cools down more quickly.
    • Take your keys out of the ignition so there isn’t any power being drawn from the battery.

    Warning: Spraying water on a hot engine could potentially damage it or burn you. Hold your hand just above the engine to feel if it’s cool before you start to clean it.

  2. 2
    Pop the hood and disconnect the negative battery terminal. Open up your hood to access your engine and locate the battery. Find the negative terminal, which will have a minus (-) sign next to it. Use a wrench to loosen the nut connecting the negative terminal and lift the cable off of the post so the battery is disconnected from your engine.[2]
    • Always disconnect the negative terminal to avoid creating sparks or shorting out your battery.
    • The negative terminal is usually protected by a black covering. The positive terminal will have a plus (+) sign next to it and is generally protected by a red covering.
  3. 3
    Blow out loose dirt with an air compressor. An air compressor is a machine that blows jets of concentrated air and is used to clean surfaces. Put on a pair of safety glasses, plug in your air compressor, and use the hose to blast dirt and debris out of your engine. Be sure to hit all of the nooks and crannies, as well as the undercarriage beneath your engine with the compressed air to clear out any buildup.[3]
    • You can purchase air compressors at home improvement stores or by ordering them online. You can also rent one for the day from your local hardware or home improvement store.
    • Always wear safety glasses so you don’t blast dirt and debris into your eyes.
  4. 4
    Spray engine cleaner all over the engine and let it soak for 30 minutes. Engine cleaner is a degreasing agent that is specially designed to clean off grease, grime, and oil that builds up on engines. Spray the cleaner all over your engine block according to the directions on the packaging and then get underneath your vehicle to spray the cleaner onto the engine and undercarriage from below. Let the cleaner sit so it can work to dissolve and loosen oily residue.[4]
    • Check the packaging to see how long you need to let the cleaner sit. Most engine cleaners need to soak on your engine for at least 30 minutes.
    • You can find engine cleaner at your local auto supply store and by ordering it online.
  5. 5
    Rinse off the engine with a hose to clean off oil and grime. Take a garden hose or a pressure washer set to the lowest setting and wash away the engine cleaner and oily residue. Continue rinsing the engine from top and bottom until all of the cleaner and grime is gone so you’ll be better able to see any leaking oil.[5]
    • Even thought he fuse box is sealed shut, avoid spraying the fuse box directly so there’s no chance the water can affect it.
    • Focus the stream of water on any stubborn spots of grime to rinse it away.
  6. 6
    Wait 30 minutes then look above and below your engine for leaking oil. After about half an hour, any leaks in your squeaky clean engine or oil lines will be much more visible. Look all around the top of your engine, especially along the ribs on the sides and the gaskets on top. Get underneath your vehicle and check your engine from below. Check for black streams of oil or black residue on your engine.[6]
    • Half an hour is plenty of time to allow oil to seep through any leaks after you clean your engine.
    • Use a flashlight if you’re having trouble seeing parts of your engine.
    • Since you just cleaned your engine, any oil that you see will have come from a leak.
  7. 7
    Follow the trail of oil to find the the leak. Once you find a stream or trail of black oil, check to see where it’s coming from. Follow the trail of oil to its source to find your leak. You may have to follow a winding trail deep into your engine to locate the source of your leak.[7]
    • Look in areas where oil leaks commonly occur such as around the enginge gaskets, the oil pan, as well as cracks along the side of the engine block.
    • It’s definitely possible to have more than 1 leak, so keep an eye out for any additional trails or sources of leaks.
  8. 8
    Reconnect your vehicle’s battery. Slide the negative terminal cable over the post and use a wrench to tighten the nut to hold it in place securely. Close your hood and start your car to make sure the battery is functioning properly.[8]

Method 2 of 3:
Finding the Leak with UV Light

  1. 1
    Use an oil-leak trace dye, yellow glasses, and UV light to find a leak. Oil-leak trace dye is a chemical dye that glows brightly under ultra-violet (UV) light, and is the most accurate way to pinpoint an oil leak in your engine. Use a handheld UV light and wear a pair of glasses with yellow frames so you’re able to see the trace dye under the UV light even better.[9]
    • Many oil-leak trace dye kits will come with the dye, a light, and yellow glasses.
    • Look for oil-leak trace dye, UV lights, and yellow glasses at your local auto supply shop or by ordering them online.
  2. 2
    Mix 12 fluid ounce (15 mL) of trace dye with 14 US quart (240 mL) of oil. The trace dye needs to run through your entire oil system. Add the dye to a small amount of your recommended engine oil so it’s diluted enough to quickly run through your oil lines.[10]
    • Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual or search online to find the specific oil your engine uses.
  3. 3
    Pour the oil and dye mixture into your engine. Pop the hood of your vehicle to access the engine compartment. Locate your engine’s oil cap, which will have the symbol of an oil can on it, and remove it. Carefully add the oil and trace dye mixture into your engine and then close the cap tightly.[11]
    • Be careful not to spill any of the mixture onto your engine!
    • Use a funnel to pour the mixture into your engine.
  4. 4
    Start the engine and drive your vehicle around for 10 minutes. The oil-leak trace dye needs to run through your entire system in order to identify any leaks, so start up your engine after you add it and go for a short drive. After about 10 minutes or so, park your vehicle on flat and level ground, turn off your engine, and pop the hood so you can check for leaks.[12]
    • Driving your vehicle around will make sure the dye gets worked into your entire system.

    Note: Try to avoid muddy or dirty roads so you don’t splash any muddy water into your undercarriage.

  5. 5
    Look for the trace dye with your UV light to identify find the leak. Put on your yellow glasses and shine your UV light all over your engine. Look for the glowing trace dye and follow it to find out where it’s leaking from. Get underneath your vehicle to look up into the engine for any of the trace dye leaking down that you can follow to the source of the leak. Knowing exactly where the oil is leaking from will make it easier for mechanics to repair it.[13]
    • Be sure to check around the gaskets on top of your engine and the oil pan on your undercarriage, which are where leaks commonly occur.
    • It’s possible that there are multiple leaks, so be sure to look all around your engine as well as beneath your vehicle to check for leaks in the undercarriage.

Method 3 of 3:
Using Baby Powder to Find a Leak

  1. 1
    Use baby powder as a simple and cheap way to find a leak. Though it may not be as exact or precise as using an oil-leak trace dye, baby powder is an effective way to find an oil leak in your vehicle’s engine. Find a bottle of white talcum powder, commonly used as baby powder for a safe and simple way to look for oil leaks.[14]
    • Check your medicine cabinet or pick up a bottle of baby powder from your local pharmacy or department store. You could also order some online as well.

    Tip: If you don’t have baby powder, you can use regular talcum powder, or even foot powder to check for leaks.

  2. 2
    Sprinkle baby powder all over the area of a suspected leak. Pop your vehicle’s hood, take your baby powder, and sprinkle it liberally all over your vehicle’s engine. Be sure to add some to the undercarriage of your vehicle in case the oil is leaking from there as well.[15]
    • The baby powder won’t harm your engine, so feel free to sprinkle it everywhere on your engine!
    • Talcum powder is carcinogenic, so be careful not to inhale any of the powder while you’re sprinkling it.
  3. 3
    Drive the vehicle around for about 5 minutes. Start up your engine and take your vehicle for a short drive. After about 5 minutes or so, the oil moving through the lines will start to exit through the leaks if there are any so you’ll be able to find them.[16]
    • 5 minutes is enough time to allow the oil to leak out without heating up your engine so much that it’s too hot to inspect.
    • Don’t drive around if it’s raining and avoid roads with lots of puddles so the water doesn’t wash away the powder.
  4. 4
    Check the engine for a stream of oil and follow it to find your leak. Park your vehicle and turn off the engine. Pop the hood and look around for any dark liquid on the white baby powder. Get underneath your vehicle as well to check the undercarriage for leaks. If you find streaks of oil, follow the streaks to where they originate to find the location of your leak.[17]
    • Knowing the location of your leaks will help mechanics repair it.
    • Check all around your engine to make sure there aren’t multiple leaks.

Community Q&A

Add New Question
  • Question
    How much does it typically cost to fix a oil leak? I think it's from a seal..It is dripping in the front under the engine when the car is parked.
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    It really depends on the severity and location of the leak. If it's from a loose or damaged gasket, it could cost up to $2,000 USD to replace the head gasket. If there's a crack in the engine block, it could be a simple patch, or you may need a serious welding repair job. Sometimes, replacing the oil pan can solve the problem for about $150-$300 USD.
  • Question
    What do I do if I changed the oil on my car and my car is buzzing and the oil light keeps going on?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    If you replaced your oil, but the oil light is still on, you can turn it off by resetting it on the instrument panel of your dashboard. The sequence you need to use will vary based on the make and model of your vehicle. For instance, some vehicles require you to set the odometer to "Trip A" and you can hold down the Set/Reset knob to reset your oil light. However, if your check engine light is on, which looks like an explanation point inside of a triangle, you'll need to have a mechanic inspect your car to make sure there's not a more serious problem.
  • Question
    The change oil light keeps coming on, how to I turn it off?
    wikiHow Staff Editor
    Staff Answer
    If you changed your oil, but the light is still on, you'll need to reset it. Look up your make and model online or check your vehicle's owner's manual for directions about how to reset your oil light.
  • Question
    My 2002 Hyundai Electra has an oil leak in the center driver's side. There are large puddles of oil. What can I do?
    Community Answer
    First check to make sure the oil filter is tight: loose filters account for 20% of leaks.
  • Question
    There is a little drip of oil on the garage floor after the car was run. How can I determine where it leaked from?
    Community Answer
    Check all the car's oil hoses for cracks. Typically there are four hoses to look for. Then check your oil cooler stud to see if it has loosened up through wear. Replace the oil pan seal, oil pan stud, and finally replace the oil cooler seal. If it continues to leak, check the valve cover gasket.
  • Question
    I just had an oil change and now it's smoking and seems to be leaking. What should I do?
    Community Answer
    Chances are it's leftover oil that is on the engine or exhaust from a sloppy oil change. It should burn off while driving the car for an hour or so. If it continues, see a mechanic.
  • Question
    My mechanic says I have a leak, but the oil and drive levels aren't down. How do I tell if I really have a leak?
    Community Answer
    Compare and find the correct parts that cause leakage, between the engine, power steering, master brake, etc. You can always get a second opinion.
  • Question
    Will it damage the car engine if I drive with an oil leak?
    Logic Johnson Lafontaine
    Top Answerer
    As long as your oil level is okay, then no, driving it wont damage the engine, but only A) if the leak is small enough that you can manage your oil level and avoid running low. (If you lose a quart of oil every 5 miles, you're either popping the hood every couple of minutes or you're murdering your engine forever.) B) if the oil is not leaking/spraying into your engine compartment, which will seriously shorten the life of any hoses, gaskets, seals, etc. it gets on, and might cause whole new problems. Only drive with a leak if you have to, but book a service call now.
  • Question
    I checked the oil level in my car and it is very low, but there is no oil on the ground. Where could my oil be going?
    Community Answer
    The engine is probably burning oil due to high mileage or lack of servicing in the past.
  • Question
    If I have an oil leak after replacing a timing chain, could it have something to do with the replacement work?
    Community Answer
    It is possible but the first thing that needs to be done is to determine where the oil is leaking from. If it is leaking from the timing belt area, then it depends on whether any oil seals were replaced along with the timing chain and if the work was done correctly. If no oil seals were replaced, they may have been damaged during the timing seal replacement. There is really no good reason for that to happen but it may have happened anyway.
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      • Always wipe your dipstick with a clean cloth, then use it to check the oil level so you have an accurate measurement.




      Things You’ll Need

      Cleaning Your Engine and Looking for a Leak

      • Air compressor
      • Engine cleaner
      • Hose or pressure washer

      Finding the Leak with UV Light

      • Oil-leak trace dye
      • Yellow glasses
      • UV light
      • Your engine’s recommended oil

      Using Baby Powder to Find a Leak

      • Baby powder

      About This Article

      Rocco Lovetere
      Co-authored by
      Master Mechanic
      This article was co-authored by Rocco Lovetere. Rocco Lovetere is a Master Mechanic at Rocco's Mobile Auto Repair in California, which he owns with his family. He is an ASE Certified Automotive technician and has worked in automotive repair since 1999. This article has been viewed 596,230 times.
      2 votes - 100%
      Co-authors: 11
      Updated: May 28, 2020
      Views: 596,230
      Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 596,230 times.

      Reader Success Stories

      • A


        Mar 21, 2016

        "This is great info. We own and run a small used car dealership. Some times if we are able to find and fix a problem ourselves it can save us money. This can be the difference between making a profit or not. It's important for us to save anywhere we can."..." more
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        Sep 8, 2016

        "Liked the constant tips to reflect information a common consumer may want/need their mechanic to share."
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        "I have an oil leak now. I haven't done anything yet to test what kind of leak I have, but I will now."
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        "Great information. Very helpful."
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