Oil pan replacement is a maintenance procedure that most people overlook. Yet, it remains one of the most important parts replacement process 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?
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
What does an oil pan do with motor oil?
The oil pan is the home for the motor oil. It is where the oil starts its journey from, 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.
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.
Parts of an oil pan
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 to 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.
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 vehicles or dedicated 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 does 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.
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.
How important is oil pan replacement?
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.
What is the cost of oil pan replacement?
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 into 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 often will you need to carry out oil pan replacement?
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.
How can you know if your vehicle needs oil pan replacement?
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.
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.
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 oil leaks. If there is a leak near the drain plug, it can be due to a loose drain plug.
A 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 in the oil pan gasket. If you spot an unusual drop, an oil pan replacement might be in order.
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.
Smoke coming from your 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 for an oil pan replacement.
What happens if you do not conduct oil pan replacement?
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.
Oil pan replacement procedure
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.
Drain the motor oil
Unless you wish to have a motor oil-smeared garage floor, this should be your first step. Remove the drain plug on the oil pan to drain out all the motor oil into a drain pan.
Unbolt the oil pan
Loosen the bolts mounting the oil pan to the crankcase. This may not be as easy 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Refilling the oil
Once the oil pan replacement is complete, pour new motor oil into the engine before you start the vehicle. You can change the oil filter if you wish to.
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
DIY oil pan replacement
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
Other causes of an oil 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.
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.