Oil pan replacement is a maintenance procedure that most people overlook. Yet, it remains one of the most important parts replacement processes a vehicle demands. Have you seen a vehicle that drips oil everywhere it goes? It may look like it is marking its territory but in fact, that can be a leak from the oil pan.
But how is this significant? What does an oil pan do? What happens if it leaks? And most importantly, how much will an oil pan replacement cost? Well, if you have these questions looming into your mind, stick around, we are diving deep into the oil pan territory.
- What is an oil pan?
- Parts of an oil pan
- Replacement Procedure
- Causes of an oil leak
To understand what an oil pan is, it is necessary to know what motor oil does in a vehicle. Most of us may know that oil cools as well as lubricates the engine components. It is very critical, so critical that, if you have no motor oil in your engine, your wheels are not rolling farther than a few meters before the engine blows up.
Motor oil is the only thing that keeps metal parts inside the engine from brushing against each other, countering frictional heat. This prevents the mill from overheating, as well as a catastrophic breakdown.
Have a look at this video from Castrol to learn more about the functioning of motor oil
The oil pan is the home for the motor oil. It is where the oil starts its journey, and it is where the journey ends. The oil pan, also called the oil sump, is placed at the bottom of an engine. It is where the oil accumulates when the engine is turned off.
When the vehicle is started, an oil pump picks up oil from the oil pan using an oil pickup inlet positioned inside it. Then the oil pump pumps the oil through the dedicated channels.
This fresh, cool oil will aid in taking the heat off the metal parts in an engine. The oil rushes through the channels to reach different areas of the engine. It forms a protective film around the pistons as they move up and down the cylinder cavity.
The crankshaft is bathed in oil to keep it from overheating. The fast-moving valve assembly also gets a share of the protection.
What Is An Oil Pan
After all this, the oil comes back into the oil pan or sump after getting filtered through an oil filter. There it waits for its next cycle. The whole cycle will take less than 5 seconds.
Unlike most other components of the engine, an oil pan is no rocket science. It is a simple pan that collects oil. So, the construction of an oil pan is very simple. It mainly has 5 parts…
Let us start with something we all are familiar with. Though technically not a part of the oil pan, the dipstick forms an integral element in its operation. The dipstick extends into the oil pan, giving the vehicle user an idea about the level of the oil inside it. It is a very simple, yet effective mechanism.
2. Drain Plug
Moving on to a part that some of us may have interacted with. The drain plug is built into the oil pan, allowing us to drain old oil completely.
As the oil pan is a part that contains a fluid, leakage is a real issue. A gasket line the connection between the oil pan and the crankcase, creating a seal. This seal is fluid-tight and does not allow oil to leak out.
It also keeps water on the road from getting into the oil pan. This is the part that will most likely need replacement in an oil pan. Some vehicles may not have a dedicated gasket.
For example, in some Nissan vehicles, a fluid-tight sealant is sprayed onto the top of the oil pan when it is getting fitted. This performs the same function as a gasket.
This is not a part that you can find in all oil pans. This is not technically a part at all. Instead, it is baked into the design of some performance oil pans. In an oil pan, there is an oil pickup through which the oil pump sucks motor oil.
In a regular vehicle, this should work perfectly fine. But in sports cars or racing vehicles, this can pose an issue.
During high-speed cornering, the oil can get slushed into the side of the oil pan. This may not be where the oil pickup is located, hence drying it up. At least for a few seconds, the engine will not be supplied with oil, and this can pose a critical issue.
Baffled sumps have different designs but all of them do the same purpose. They stop the oil from splashing around, even under high-speed cornering. This ensures an uninterrupted supply of motor oil as the oil is always concentrated near the pickup.
5. Windage Tray
Here is another performance part. In a regular oil pan, as there is no obstruction between the crankcase and the oil pan, the oil can splash onto the crankshaft. Even though the crankshaft needs oil lubrication, an additional spattering of oil can bring its efficiency down.
Hence, some performance vehicles come with a metal plate that forms a barrier between the oil and crankcase. It prevents oil from splashing onto the crankshaft. This metal plate has louvers that allow the oil dripping off the crankshaft to go back into the oil pan. With a windage tray, the engine can become more efficient by a tiny bit.
Oil Pan Replacement Cost
It must be clear to you, that you know where the oil sump sits and what function it performs. As the main reservoir of motor oil, the oil pan is a key element in the engine. A small leak in the pan can lead to a slash in the oil level, increasing the chances of damage to the engine.
Oil pan replacement is very important to maintain the optimum health of the engine. The oil must be pumped into the engine in the right amounts, and a healthy oil pan ensures that.
Oil pan leaks are caused mostly by a worn-out gasket. In almost all cases, replacing the gasket will solve the leakage. The oil pan itself suffers less damage. If the vehicle suffers from some underbody damage, complete oil pan replacement must be performed.
Just like all maintenance procedures, the oil pan replacement costs will fluctuate from location to location and vehicle to vehicle. As per most service shops, the gasket itself costs from $40 to $150 which may not sound much. But the labor can be quite intensive.
To make matters worse, some vehicles come with oil pans stashed in inaccessible locations, making them hard to replace. With the labor costs, the final amount can get hiked up to $100-$350, based on the vehicle and your location.
Considering a popular vehicle like the Honda Accord, some people report that the gasket can cost up to $250.
But staying on top of its maintenance and replacing the gasket at the first sign of a leak can reduce the chances of engine damage. If you are looking for a good financial workaround, there isn’t one. The only option is to pay the hundreds to replace the oil pan professionally to avoid paying the thousands to rebuild your engine.
How Long Does Oil Pan Last
Oil pan replacement is not a procedure you will need to carry out every year. Oil pan gaskets last for many years and will not give up in a jiffy. Make sure that your mechanic checks for leaks during regular service of your vehicle. This can help you determine whether an oil pan replacement is necessary.
Oil Pan Gasket Leak Symptoms
Just like every other malfunction, your vehicle will shoot some signals your way if it needs an oil pan replacement. This can range from warning lights to a smoking engine. But it is a good practice that the vehicle is not pushed beyond the warning light or leakage stage.
Oil Pan Replacement Symptoms #1: Warning Lights
Modern vehicles carry around all sorts of sensors. And they throw warnings at us for a reason. If you spot a temperature warning or low oil warning, do not let it sit there for long. Get an expert and let him/her do their thing.
Oil Pan Replacement Symptoms #2: Leaks
This is how most of you will know it. It may not be big enough to drip oil onto the floor, but a leak can be detrimental to the engine. Whenever you get your vehicle lifted on a jack, check for any oil leaks. If there is a leak near the drain plug, it can be due to a loose drain plug.
Oil Pan Replacement Symptoms #3: Drop In Oil Levels
If you have a habit of regularly checking your oil levels, it can help in spotting any leakage. An abnormal change in the oil levels can point to damage to the oil pan gasket. If you spot an unusual drop, an oil pan replacement might be in order.
Oil Pan Replacement Symptoms #4: Engine Overheating
Thanks to the temperature gauge, any abnormal rise in the engine temperature can be easily detected. If there has been a leak in the oil pan, the engine can overheat due to the lower amount of oil being pumped into it. This can cause an undesirable escalation of the engine temperature.
Oil Pan Replacement Symptoms #5: Smoke From The Engine
This is more serious. If the oil leak did not catch your eye, the leaked oil can get out onto your exhaust manifold, burning itself and emitting smoke. Even worse, the leak can lead to a substantial amount of oil leaking out, leaving not much left for the engine.
This can overheat the components and create smoke. If you spot smoke, stop wherever you are, switch off your engine, and call for roadside assistance. You do not want to drive the vehicle while the engine is smoking itself out.
If you see heavy oil presence near the gasket, it is an indication that the gasket is tattered but that may not be the only case. Oil can leak from anywhere else, causing a build-up near the oil pan, gathering dirt.
Thus, before you rip the oil pan off the vehicle, thoroughly clean all that grime using a degreaser or engine cleaner. After cleaning, drive the vehicle for 10-15 mins. Recheck for leaks to confirm if the oil is oozing out of the oil pan gasket. If yes, proceed with an oil pan replacement.
Oil Pan Gasket Leak
I believe this needs not a lot of explanation. If an oil pan replacement is left out despite a leakage, the oil levels can drop beyond control. If the engine is not fed enough oil, the fast-moving metal parts inside the engine will scrub against each other.
Thousands of RPMs, metal brushing against metal, you do the math. The excessive heat from the friction inside the engine will cause many parts of the engine to fail. Summing it all up, the engine will die a painful death.
With the nightmare out of the way, let us focus on the subject at hand. Do not ignore leakage of oil, from the oil pan or anywhere else. Glossing over that can lead to catastrophic results and will burn an Alaska-sized hole in your wallet.
Rebuilding your engine is no fun. So, if an oil pan replacement is in order, get your vehicle checked as soon as possible. In other words, it’s a bad idea to dismiss, delay, or ignore an oil pan replacement, if it’s needed.
How To Replace An Oil Pan
Oil pan replacement is a process that does not require a lot of tools. But it certainly needs some experience. The process for replacing an oil pan is as listed below.
Oil Pan Replacement Step 1: Drain The Motor Oil
Oil Pan Replacement Step 2: Unbolt The Oil Pan
Loosen the bolts mounting the oil pan to the crankcase. This may not be as easy as it sounds. Other engine parts may hide some bolts. In some vehicles, the oil pan may also be connected to the transaxle, or it may be placed behind the exhaust manifold or any other component. In these cases, these are to be removed first to attain easy access to the oil pan
Oil Pan Replacement Step 3: Gently Remove The Oil Pan
You may need the help of a tool to gently wedge out the oil pan here. The gasket seal can be tight and hard to pry open.
Oil Pan Replacement Step 4: Clean The Contact Surfaces
Both the bottom of the crankcase and the top of the oil pan need to be cleaned thoroughly. The remains of the old gasket must be removed before the new gasket goes on. This can be a time-consuming process but using a chisel can make your life easier.
Make sure that the oil pan surface or the crankcase surface is not damaged in the process. Use a cleaning solvent to wipe the surfaces. If you are planning for a complete oil pan replacement, with a new oil pan and gasket, this will not be required. Just ensure that the crankcase surface is clean, and you are good to go.
Oil Pan Replacement Step 5: Add The Gasket
Once the residual matter from the old gasket is scraped off, the new gasket can go on the oil pan. Using a small amount of grease to secure it in place can help in ensuring that the gasket does not move while fixing.
If your vehicle does not have a gasket, use a manufacturer-recommended gasket maker or sealant to do the same job. Apply it across the length of the oil pan to ensure a tight seal.
Oil Pan Replacement Step 6: Refit The Oil Pan
Once the new gasket or gasket seal is on, the oil pan is good to go back to the engine. Ensure correct alignment and add bolts in diagonally opposite holes and slightly tighten them.
Oil Pan Replacement Step 7: Bolting Everything In Place
Once all bolts are in, torque each of them to the torque specified by the manufacturer. Make sure that you tighten opposite bolts to ensure a proper seal all around. If recommended, use a thread sealer
Oil Pan Replacement Step 8: Refilling The Oil
With a lot of intricate steps, oil pan replacement is not an easy process. The following video from CarsNToys is a neat tutorial on how to carry out an oil pan replacement:
Can You Do It Yourself
Just like our take on DIY lower control arm replacement, we do not recommend inexperienced users to initiate their motor vehicle repair learning with an oil pan replacement.
Though it does not require a lot of tools and equipment, oil pan replacement requires a lot of skill and clinical precision. If you know your way around the oily bits of your engine, why not, go break a leg. But if you are new to all this, oil pan replacement may not be the right thing to start with.
Getting an experienced mechanic on board is extremely important to ensure a proper seal when the new gasket goes on. So, if you are in a bid to save some bucks by taking matters into your own hands, think about this.
It is cheaper to get a mechanic and sort it out the professional way than to rebuild an entire engine that went kaboom, thanks to a leaking new gasket that was not fitted properly.
If you do fancy a DIY oil pan replacement and possess the knowledge to perform it, you will need the following tools
- New oil pan/gasket
- Socket wrench
- Cleaning solvent
- New motor oil
- Oil pan
- Oil filter
- Some sealant
- Some rags
How To Fix Oil Pan Leak
As we have already seen an oil leak is the primary indication of a faulty oil pan. But that is not the only way motor oil leaks from an engine. As oil is transported to different parts of an engine, it can leak out of many points in that path.
Thus, not all leaks in the oil system should trigger an oil pan replacement. Let us have a look at several causes of engine oil leaks other than a leaking oil pan.
- Degraded engine gasket: The largest gasket in an engine is the head gasket that forms a tight seal between the engine block and cylinder head. A leak in this gasket can cause oil to ooze out of the cylinder. This can accumulate sludge around the engine over time and this can be detrimental to the engine.
- Leakage from the oil drain plug: Arguably the simplest of reasons for oil to leak out. The drain plug is what we use to drain out the motor oil and if this is not sealed properly, the oil can leak out. Over time, the drain plug can deteriorate. Replacing the drain plug gasket or the drain plug itself will solve the issue.
- Broken or loose oil filler cap: If the oil filler cap on the engine is loose or broken, the engine can spit the oil out through it while it is running. This can cause oil leakage that reveals itself when you open the hood.
- Loosely fitted oil filter: If the oil filter is not tightened properly, it can trigger an oil leakage. When the oil filter is replaced, ensure that it is tightened and aligned properly.
Facts about Oil Pans: What they are, their components, and their importance in the engine system
- Oil pan is a tray-like reservoir that holds oil before it gets pumped through the engine, and is usually made of steel or aluminum.
- The oil pan is not immune to wear and tear, and may require replacement when damaged.
- Oil pan gasket is a sealant between the pan and engine block that prevents oil from leaking from the two parts, usually made of rubber, fiber, or cork ring.
- The drain plug, a threaded bolt at the bottom of the oil pan, is removed to drain oil from the engine during an oil change.
- The baffle tray prevents oil from sloshing around inside the pan, and the windage tray prevents oil from contaminating the crankshaft, and some come with a crankshaft scraper to remove any oil that may infiltrate the shaft.
- Symptoms of a damaged oil pan include illuminated warning lights, low oil levels, and oil puddles underneath the vehicle.
- Oil pan leaks may be caused by impact damage or worn or damaged gaskets.
- Replacing a damaged oil pan as soon as possible can save you thousands of dollars down the road, as a leaking oil pan can lead to internal engine damage.
- Aftermarket oil pans offer several advantages over original equipment manufacturer (OEM) pans, following OE specifications and made from high-quality materials at a more affordable price.
- Installing a new oil pan is usually DIY-friendly, but it is best to leave the task to the pros for proper installation, especially for those not confident in their automotive knowledge.
Oil pan replacement is an important process that needs an expert’s eye and hands. Though a simple component, neglecting the oil pan’s maintenance can break your vehicle’s engine. So, add checking for a leakage into your regular maintenance schedule. Stay safe. Happy motoring.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re still curious to learn more about an oil pan replacement, our FAQs here might help…
How Much Does It Cost To Fix An Oil Leak
Although they’re rather common, fixing an oil leak isn’t that simple. For starters, you’ll have to determine the actual cause of the oil leak. Only then would you be able to figure out how much it’ll cost to fix it. In general, fixing oil leaks can cost you as little as just $100 in some cases. On the other end of the spectrum, it might even cost you $1,000 or more, varying wildly depending on the underlying cause. For example, swapping out a leaky oil drain plug may cost you as little as just $35. Meanwhile, a new oil filter will cost you between $30 to $70. Gaskets are costlier, setting you back between $40 to $150. Meanwhile, replacing the entire oil pan could cost you as much as $1,000. Once again, the price could ramp up depending on what needs to be done.
How Much Is An Oil Pan Replacement
An oil pan replacement cost isn’t cheap. Usually, it’ll cost you anywhere from $100 to over $1,000, differing hugely depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Still, the average oil pan replacement cost will land somewhere closer to $400 to $750. The total cost is usually split quite evenly between the price of the parts and the labor rates. The latter is crucial, as the oil pans in some cars are harder to get to and aren’t as accessible as others. Therefore, the more time and effort required on the part of your local mechanics to remove and replace the oil pan, the higher the cost would be. If you’d like to save some money, you could even consider getting used oil pans from a junkyard too, assuming that it’s in good condition.
Where Is The Oil Pan Located
Oil pans are located on the bottom of the engine. This is the ideal location for the oil pan, as it acts as a reservoir for your motor oil. Plus, having it be left exposed at the bottom of your car also allows the oil pan to function as one giant heat sink. As cool outside air passes underneath your vehicle, it would help with cooling down the hot oil left inside the oil pan. When you need to do an oil change, the oil drain plug is also easily accessible, usually closer to the front of the car. When it’s being run, the oil pan holds all the motor oil within it. Then, the oil pump forces oil from the pan and through the oil filter to keep any impurities out. It’ll then circulate motor oil throughout the engine to provide lubrication and cooling.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Oil Pump
Replacing an oil pump can be rather expensive. On average, you could be spending between $300 to as high as $2,500. This would vary a lot depending on the make and model of your car. Technically, the pump itself isn’t costly, as you can find oil pumps for as little as $100 to no more than $500 in most cases. However, the cost begins to ramp up once you take into account the labor required. The oil pumps on some cars can be tough to access, hence needing more time and effort from the mechanics to access them. Plus, there are other parts that you might need to replace alongside the oil pump. This includes the need to replace the oil pan gaskets, and oil filter, as well as changing the oil. Combined with hours of labor, and oil pump replacement will end up costing you quite a bit.
How To Change A Oil Pan Gasket
If you need to change an oil pan gasket, you’ll first have to start by jacking up your car and supporting it with some axle stands. Then, proceed by removing the oil drain plug, removing the oil filter, and letting the motor oil drain out. The next step is more complicated, as it requires you to remove the entire oil pan so that you’re able to access the gaskets. On some cars, the oil pan can be rather tough to get to. Once you’ve removed the oil pan, you can now begin swapping out the old gaskets with the new ones. Next, carefully re-mount the oil pan alongside the new gasket. Last but not least, re-fill with a fresh bottle of oil. Just to make sure, it’s a good idea to start your car up and let it warm up while idling to ensure that there aren’t any further oil leaks.