To say that a vehicle’s engine is complicated would be an understatement. There are tons of components in an engine that makes sure that it runs smoothly for hundreds of thousands of miles. Even smaller components play a big role in the engine’s operation. One such component is the oil pan and oil pan gasket. Like most other components, this will wear out and you will need to replace them eventually. We’ll take a look at what this component does, and how much you will need to pay to replace it.
What is an Oil Pan?
Before we talk about the oil pan gasket, we will need to talk about the oil pan itself first. The oil pan acts as a reservoir for your vehicle’s oil. There is usually two oil pan in a vehicle: one for the engine oil and one for the transmission fluid. As we know, engine oil is essential as it lubricates the engine and helps to cool it down. While the transmission fluid lubricates the gears inside your transmission. It’s necessary since there are a lot of moving parts and friction and that creates heat.
When the engine isn’t running, your oil and transmission fluid will collect in their respective pans. Additionally, the oil pan helps to cool the oil down as air passes over the surface of the pan. The pan is also a place for impurities in the oil to settle, where dirt and residue will collect. That’s why oil pans have a drain to remove this dirt and old oil.
Now you know what an oil pan is for, but what is a gasket?
What’s an Oil Pan Gasket?
A gasket acts as a seal and a cushioning material and is placed between two surfaces joined by bolts. The engine oil pan gasket seals the area between the oil pan and the engine block to prevent oil from leaking. There are many gaskets in a car, such as the head gasket which connects the engine block to the cylinder head. And then there’s also the exhaust gasket which sits between the engine block and tailpipe. And there’s also the intake manifold gasket which acts as a seal for the engine coolant, preventing air from escaping during the combustion process.
A gasket can be made out of different materials, depending on the needs. A head gasket for example is made out of either steel or copper as it needs to be strong to withstand pressure and high temperatures. Meanwhile, an oil pan gasket is made out of either rubber or cork rubber. This is because rubber can maintain its shape and flexibility while remaining highly compressible. Most cars will use rubber for their oil pan gasket since cork rubber tends to be more rigid.
How Long Does an Oil Pan Gasket Last?
There’s really no estimate for how long an oil pas gasket will last. It can last anywhere between 5 to 20 years depending on the quality of the gasket and how much you’ve driven your car. Meanwhile, the oil pan itself will usually last for around 8 to 10 years. However, the oil pan typically sits underneath the engine and transmission and is vulnerable to scraping and impact on bumpy roads. A hard impact could damage the oil pan, in which case it will need a replacement job.
Since there’s no telling how long an oil pan gasket will last, it’s a good idea to look out for the signs that you need a replacement. This segues us nicely to our next section…
Signs You Need a New Oil Pan Gasket
Like other components in a vehicle, once the oil pan gasket is worn out you will see some symptoms. Left untreated, these symptoms will eventually cause more damage to your vehicle. Here are the signs you need to look out for:
1. Visible Oil Leak
The most common sign is usually an oil leak. If you see a puddle of fluid underneath your car, it’s a good idea to take a look and inspect what type of fluid that is. Here are the types of fluids you might see and what it means:
- Water usually comes from your air-conditioning’s condensation. If the vehicle has been parked for a while with the air-conditioning on, it’s perfectly normal to see a puddle of water underneath your car.
- Green fluid is the color of your engine’s coolant. If you see green fluid underneath your car, you may have a coolant leak and you will need to address the issue. If your engine doesn’t get enough coolant, it will lead to overheating problems which can damage your engine in the long run. We wrote a great article about coolant leaks and you can learn more about it here.
- Red fluid can either be transmission fluid or coolant fluid, as some cars will use red coolant for better antifreeze properties. If the red fluid is thick in viscosity, you likely have a transmission leak. You can learn more about transmission leaks here.
- Finally, if the fluid is thick and dark or light brown, this means you have an engine oil leak. Common causes of oil leak include cracks in the oil pan, worn-out seals, and yes, worn-out oil pan gaskets.
2. Low Oil Level and Overheating Engine
Since a worn-out gasket will cause your engine oil to leak, this will lead to the loss of oil for the engine. Since the oil plays a role in cooling down the engine, insufficient oil could lead to the engine overheating. To be clear, the engine’s coolant plays a bigger role in cooling your engine. So if your engine is overheating, the first thing you should do is check the coolant level. If it’s at the appropriate level, then you should check for oil leaks and your engine’s oil level.
To do this, simply pull out your engine’s oil dipstick. Then, wipe it down with a rag to clean it. Afterward, reinsert the dipstick and pull it out again to see at which level the oil is. If it’s below the minimum level, then you will need to top it up with around 3 – 5 quartz of oil, and then check for leaks.
Here’s a guide showing you how to check the oil level in your car:
3. Blue Smoke from Exhaust
When there’s an oil pan gasket leak, your engine’s oil may drip directly into the exhaust manifold. This will result in blue-ish smoke coming out of your exhaust pipe. It’s important to note that a gasoline engine should not make any colored smoke, so if you see this, you will need to inspect your engine.
Blue smoke may also come from oil that’s being burned along with fuel and air inside the engine. This is the result of a blown head gasket, causing oil to leak into the engine’s cylinder. Meanwhile, thick white smoke means there’s moisture inside the engine. This is normal when you turn on your car on a cold morning and will go away once the engine warms up. But if this persists, you probably have a coolant leak caused by a blown head gasket.
And finally, black smoke is the result of too much fuel being injected into the engine. When the engine receives too much fuel, some of them will not combust in the cylinder, resulting in black smoke. This is of course quite normal if you have a diesel engine. In any case, if your car is producing colored smoke, you need to have it checked.
4. Check Engine Light
The check engine light turns on when the vehicle’s computer detects an anomaly from one of its sensors. If the computer can’t make adjustments to fix the issue, it will register an error code that triggers the check engine light. However, an oil leak is unlikely to trigger a check engine light. This is because, as far as we’re aware at least, there are no sensors or error codes for an oil leak. However, once the oil leak has become serious enough to affect other components, your vehicle’s computer will register the error code and signal it with the check engine light.
Regardless, a check engine light shouldn’t be ignored – especially if it’s flashing. If you have a check engine light, it’s best to immediately fix the issue that’s causing it. If it’s flashing, you should stop driving altogether and tow your car to the nearest repair shop to prevent further damage. Learn more about check engine lights and what you should do when you see them.
Once the oil pan gasket goes, you will need to replace it since there’s no way to service or repair it. Thankfully, you won’t need to replace the oil pan, just the gasket which keeps the cost at a minimum. However, if the gasket was damaged by road debris, there’s a chance your oil pan is damaged as well. If it is damaged and leaking, then you will need to change the oil pan as well. We’ll discuss the replacement cost for both:
Replacement Cost for Oil Pan Gasket
An oil pan gasket replacement will cost you anywhere between $200 to $500. The gasket itself is usually quite cheap, they’re around $80 – $200 to purchase. However, the process of replacing your oil pan gasket is quite labor-intensive, so the labor cost is quite high. The labor cost will run you anywhere from $200 to $300, which is why the cost can be as high as $500 for some vehicles.
As for luxury vehicles, the cost should be about the same. The oil pan gasket isn’t a big component so they cost about the same for most luxury vehicles.
Replacement Cost for Oil Pan
If you have damage to your oil pan, then you will need to replace it entirely to prevent further leaks. Since the oil pan is a bigger component, it’s obviously going to be more expensive. The cost will run anywhere between $300 – $800 for most cars including labor. The part itself will cost around $150 to $500, and labor will cost around another $150 to $400.
The labor cost varies because each car has different oil pan designs, and some are more complex than others. Some cars will require your mechanic to remove the suspension sub-frame just to gain access to the oil pan. This process can take several hours to do, so the labor cost for some cars is higher. Needless to say, luxury and performance cars are likely to cost you more. For example, the 2014 Porsche Panamera will cost you nearly $2,000 just to replace the oil pan. Yikes.
When you buy a new oil pan, it should already include the cost of the gasket as well. Check before you make your purchase whether or not it already includes the gasket. If it doesn’t, then you will need to buy the gasket separately. It’s a good idea to replace the gasket while you’re replacing the oil pan itself.
Oil Pan Gasket Replacement: Doing It Yourself
With most of the cost coming from labor when it comes to replacing the oil pan gasket, you’re probably thinking of doing it yourself to save some money. The thing is, replacing an oil pan gasket is a moderate to difficult job to do. So if you’re mechanically inept, then we don’t recommend doing this on your own. However, if you’re confident in your mechanical skills, here’s what you will need to do:
Listed below are the things you will need for this replacement job. Best have it all ready before you begin working on the car:
- Drain pan
- Floor jack
- Jack stands
- Oil filter wrench
- RTV sealant
- Ratchet/socket set
- Torque wrench
- New engine oil and filter
Also, if you’ve been driving, let the engine cool down first. This will let the engine oil settle in the pan and cool down. Removing the engine oil while it’s hot is obviously very dangerous. Give your car about 45 minutes to cool down first. After that, you can begin working on your car.
Once you have the necessary tools and equipment you can begin the process. Keep in mind that the steps may differ depending on your vehicle’s oil pan design. But here are the general steps to give you an idea of how to replace an oil pan gasket:
- Raise your vehicle with a floor jack and put it on jack stands. Make sure you’re working on a level surface.
- Put your drain pan in place to catch the oil, then remove the oil filter.
- Afterward, remove the oil pan drain plug and allow the remaining oil to drain into the drain pan.
- Use the appropriate socket and ratchet to remove the oil pan bolts. Some oil pans will fall loose immediately, but others may require you gently tap or pry the pan away from the engine block. Remove carefully so you won’t damage it.
- Clean the area of the lower engine block by using a cleaner or degreaser.
- Remove the old gasket material from the oil pan and engine mounting surface by using a scraper. Gently scrape it and then wipe both the pan and engine mounting surface.
- Install the pan gasket. First, apply a thin film of RTV sealant to the oil pan mounting surface and allow it to set. Afterward, apply the pan gasket to the surface.
- Once the gasket is in place, you can reinstall the pan. Insert the oil pan bolts and hand tighten. Afterward, torque the bolts to the manufacturer’s specification to avoid future leaks. You should be able to find this in your owner’s manual.
- Reinstall a new oil filter.
- Finally, refill your engine with the recommended oil and to the appropriate level. Once done, lower the vehicle and run the engine for a few minutes. Afterward, turn off the engine and check for leaks.
Final Note on DIY Oil Pan Gasket Replacement
As mentioned earlier, some cars are more complex and will require some disassembly of other components before you can gain access to the oil pan. In this case, we recommend that you let a professional mechanic do the job for you. It may be expensive, but they will do the job right and you won’t have to deal with it. But if you like working on cars, or you’re certain you can do it, then go right ahead.
Check your owner’s manual to see if there any special requirements when changing the oil pan gasket in your car. Below is a video from 1A Auto on how to replace the oil pan and gasket. It’s a bit lengthy, but it gives you a good idea of the replacement process:
How to Extend Oil Pan Gasket Life
As mentioned earlier, the oil pan gasket lifespan is quite random. It can last anywhere between 5 to 20 years, depending on the design and the manufacturer’s gasket quality. There are really only two ways to make sure your oil pan gasket last for a long time:
Buy High-Quality Parts
This one goes without saying but you really should buy high-quality parts – including oil pan gaskets – for your car, especially if you’re planning to keep your car for a long period of time. But it’s not rare to find consumers buying lower quality parts to save a few bucks. We understand, sometimes money is tight, but if you want to keep your car running well for a long time, then high-quality parts are a must.
Buying OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is probably your best bet. Your vehicle’s manufacturer has designed parts specifically for your vehicle, and they should last for a long time. However, if your previous part was OEM and it didn’t last very long, then you should consider buying aftermarket. You can also research on owner forums to see if there are any design flaws with certain parts in your vehicle. This way, you’ll know which OEM parts to avoid.
If you’re buying aftermarket, be sure to read the reviews. Make sure it fits perfectly into your vehicle and see if previous customers had any reliability issues. Finally, buy aftermarket parts that come with a warranty whenever possible. This way, you won’t have to spend too much money if the part fails within a few months.
Driving carefully will help to extend the life of your vehicle as a whole. But it really does help to extend the life of your oil pan and the oil pan gasket, especially if you drive on lots of bumpy roads. As mentioned, the oil pan is often located underneath the engine block or transmission. This means it sits quite close to the road. While a lot of new cars now have a protective panel underneath the car to protect the oil pan and many other components, a lot of cars still don’t have this. This means when you scrape the underside of your car, it’s like the oil pan is scraping, which can damage it.
Pay attention if your vehicle’s oil pan sits lower than the bodywork, in this case, you really want to drive carefully over speed bumps. Additionally, watch out for road debris that may damage the underside of your car. This will help avoid damage to the oil pan and gasket and will help to ensure that you get the most out of it before needing a replacement.
The oil pan is a reservoir for your engine’s oil. When your vehicle is off, the engine oil will settle in the oil pan along with dirt and debris that may have built up in the engine’s oil. The oil pan gasket acts as a seal and cushioning that sits between the bottom of your engine block and the oil pan itself. It’s usually made out of rubber.
Over time, the oil pan gasket will wear down and won’t seal the oil properly anymore. When this happens, you will start to see oil leaking out of your oil pan. This will lead to overheating problems since your engine is losing oil and eventually won’t have enough to lubricate and cool the engine properly.
If you see any of the signs, best troubleshoot it and see what’s causing it. If you need an oil pan gasket replacement, it will run you anywhere between $200 – $500 depending on your vehicle’s make and model. It’s a bit pricey, but we recommend doing the repairs as soon as possible to avoid further damage to your car. Hopefully, this post has helped you in understanding what the oil pan gasket is for.
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