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Finding Pesky Oil Leaks

You're sitting in your comfy recliner watching the game on TV when your cute little kitty cat jumps up onto your lap and starts to nuzzle you the way cats do.
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There are a couple of other ways of locating an oil leak. The method of choice among professionals is a florescent dye and an ultraviolet (UV) light. This dye will work with all types of fluids, oil, transmission fluid, fuel, coolant, and A/C refrigerant, and makes spotting a leak pretty easy. When seen under the UV light, the dye glows a bright greenish/yellow that can't be mistaken for anything else.

By aiming the light a small dye mark will show you the location of the oil leak. I have dye kits in my shop that have special yellow glasses that make the dye stand out even more.

Dye kits usually come with two bottles of dye, one for anti-freeze and one for oil. Dyes for A/C refrigerants are very specific for the type of A/C refrigerant and require the proper equipment to add to the system. They are not included with a general-purpose kit and should be done by a professional.

When you use the dye, follow the directions that come with your particular kit. In general you mix a ½ ounce of the dye and mix it with about a ½ quart of oil and pour it into the engine. Don't put the dye directly into the engine. It will get caught up in the oil filler area and take much longer to mix with the oil.

Put some newspapers under the engine and let it run. When you see some drips on the paper, look at them with the UV light. If they glow, you can start searching for the leak. Shut off the engine and starting from the bottom of the engine. Turn on your UV light and follow the trail of dye. The oil may go round and about but follow it up to the highest point and you will spot the source of the leak.

Most times it will be a valve cover gasket and tightening the bolts will end the leak. Or it may be a distributor "O" ring or leaking Oil Pressure Sending Unit. But sometimes it will be from a gasket that is totally gone and will need to be replaced.

Oil also may be seeping past a worn crankshaft or camshaft seal. The rubber lip that seals to the rotating shaft will eventually wear to the point at which the tension in the garter spring won't keep oil from leaking. This type of seal will only leak when the engine is running--and when it does oil will spray everywhere from the spinning shaft.

There is another way to locate an engine leak that is almost as effective as using a trace dye. And you probably already have it in your medicine cabinet. It's foot powder. What you do is get the engine as clean as you possibly can and let it completely dry.

Now spray the general area of the leak with the foot powder and work your way up as far as possible. The powder will stick to the engine and cover the metal in a white film. Don't be stingy with the stuff either.

Now drive the car fairly slow on clean, dry roads so you don't mess up the powder. Hopefully the oil will take a fairly direct route down. If it does, you will see a single black path down the side of the engine. You may need to do this higher up on the engine to locate leaks from the intake manifold or head gaskets. If the oil leak is too bad you will have to go with the trace dye to determine where the oil leak is.

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Additional Information provided courtesy of
ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
© 2000-2007 Vincent T. Ciulla

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