YACT: Need help with a leak

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Let me start off by saying I know nothing about cars. I can change the oil, sparkplugs, and a few other things but my knowledge stops there.

Just this morning I noticed that leading back from the parking spot where I park my '97 Mazda 626 there was a trail of dark drops. I had to leave quickly and so promply forgot about it. This evening I noticed it again but saw that there were two trails. I tried to find a wet spot and looked at the fluid, it looks dark and oily. I then checked my oil several times and found it full which would not make sense as there was alot of drops on the ground, looked like a large amount of fluid.

My biggest question is this: if it is a oil or some other leak, why does it only show up when the car is cold? ie, there are only trails of fluid that follow my backing up in the mornings, not my pulling in which would be when the car is at it's warmest (35min commute after leaving the car in the 70-80 degree sun all day).

Another question is this, the air temp just started to get warm so I have been using my AC again now, could that be leaking something?

I plan to call the dealer in the morning to see when I can take it in and get a rental but wanted to see your opinions before I did that. This is my wife and my only car so it's kinda important at the moment. Thanks for any help!

-spike

P.S. If I did not explain the probelm enough ask and I can try and elaborate.
 

dug777

Lifer
Oct 13, 2004
24,778
4
0
i have a huge puddle of dark/oily crap under my car, but all the oil levels seem fine too :p

Mine leaks when i park up AFAIK...
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: FrustratedUser
Power steering fluid.
It looks like alot of fluid has leaked, if it is steering fluid, wouldn't I be feeling it by now when driving? Also, why would steering fluid leak while the car is cold?

-spike
 
Aug 16, 2001
22,529
4
81
Originally posted by: Spike
Originally posted by: FrustratedUser
Power steering fluid.
It looks like alot of fluid has leaked, if it is steering fluid, wouldn't I be feeling it by now when driving? Also, why would steering fluid leak while the car is cold?

-spike
Mine leaks some. You won't feel anything until the level is so low the pump sucks air and make a strange noise.
 

Subbaculcha

Member
Aug 23, 2004
130
0
71
Your ac unit will pull humidity out of the air, and you'll notice a puddle when you park. Could just be dirty water.
Try not running the ac and see if you still get the puddle.

If that's the case, it's normal.
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: Subbaculcha
Your ac unit will pull humidity out of the air, and you'll notice a puddle when you park. Could just be dirty water.
Try not running the ac and see if you still get the puddle.

If that's the case, it's normal.
Would the puddle still be there after a full day with pretty warm temps? If thats the case then this could be AC but if it is just water then that should have evaporated.

Unfortunatly that does not help much... ;)
 

Evadman

Administrator Emeritus<br>Elite Member
Feb 18, 2001
30,990
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If it is dark, it is either engine oil, power steering fluid, or less likely trans fluid. Trans fluid is red, but if it is burnt badly or with quite a bit of clutch material in it it can turn reddish brown.

It takes quite a bit on the ground to show up on a dip stick. If you are only noticing a few spots overnight, then it is likely it will not be noticibly low for quite a while and may easily last the 3 months between oil changes. you could easily cover your car from top to bottom with a quart of engine oil, and still have some left over.

generally, engine oil only leaks when the engine is running. There is only 1 gasket that is bathed in oil on cars without the engine running, and it is the oil filter gasket. In fact, on quite a few cars, even that drains of oil because it is on the side of the engine, not the bottom like a Chevy 350.

That means that it is very likely that youa re leaking fluid when you pull into your driveway after work, it just takes a while for the fluid to pool up enough to drip after coming down the side of the pan or block if from the head. Remember, wind will rop off fluid before it can drip, and transfer it to other places.

I bet if you started your car and ran it in the driveway for 30 minutes you would see drips.

Anyway, it is leaking because of a gasket or fitting Gaskets and fittings are cheap, generally less than $30. However, installing them can run from $50 to $1500 depending on where they are.

It could be as simple as a loose oil filter, or as bad as a head gasket; although this would have other symptons.

there is no way for anyone to guess at what it is coming from or how much it will cost to fix without pics of your engine from up to and below from all angles, and maybe not even then as it is difficult to see a leak on a dirty engine unless it is cleaned throughly.
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: Evadman
If it is dark, it is either engine oil, power steering fluid, or less likely trans fluid. Trans fluid is red, but if it is burnt badly or with quite a bit of clutch material in it it can turn reddish brown.

It takes quite a bit on the ground to show up on a dip stick. If you are only noticing a few spots overnight, then it is likely it will not be noticibly low for quite a while and may easily last the 3 months between oil changes. you could easily cover your car from top to bottom with a quart of engine oil, and still have some left over.

generally, engine oil only leaks when the engine is running. There is only 1 gasket that is bathed in oil on cars without the engine running, and it is the oil filter gasket. In fact, on quite a few cars, even that drains of oil because it is on the side of the engine, not the bottom like a Chevy 350.

That means that it is very likely that youa re leaking fluid when you pull into your driveway after work, it just takes a while for the fluid to pool up enough to drip after coming down the side of the pan or block if from the head. Remember, wind will rop off fluid before it can drip, and transfer it to other places.

I bet if you started your car and ran it in the driveway for 30 minutes you would see drips.

Anyway, it is leaking because of a gasket or fitting Gaskets and fittings are cheap, generally less than $30. However, installing them can run from $50 to $1500 depending on where they are.

It could be as simple as a loose oil filter, or as bad as a head gasket; although this would have other symptons.

there is no way for anyone to guess at what it is coming from or how much it will cost to fix without pics of your engine from up to and below from all angles, and maybe not even then as it is difficult to see a leak on a dirty engine unless it is cleaned throughly.
First off thanks for taking the time to post, I am definitly at a loss here so any help is appreciated.

As for the fluid not appearing to leak when running would make sense except for the issue I am seeing the the parking spot. I see a continous line of dense drops (one every inch or so) showing the way I pull out, but nothing showing when I pull in, not even when I back-up and pull forward slowly to straighten up in the spot. Wouldn't the oil be leaking at this time as well? Or does it leak less when the car is warm?

If it is really taking so long to pool up and drip, why are the drips so close together for my pulling out?

I don't expect and real diagnosis over an internet forum, just some ideas that I may not have thought of. I wanted to go into the shop with a little knowledge on my side and not completly at a loss.

Thanks again!
 

KokomoGSTmp

Senior member
Aug 29, 2004
412
0
0
To further Evadman's suggestions, you want to clean off any current mess you have around and under your engine area and it's associated lines. This way when it does leak again, you can accurately see where it is coming from... starting from the lowest point (where it drips from) and following it to the highest point (the origin).

I would pick up some of the fluid between your fingers and see how it feels. If it does feel oily, it isn't coolant nor just water condensing from the AC system. Smelling it helps as well, trans fluid, gear oil, motor oil, etc all have their distinct smells. If it feels a bit slimy and slippery, it might be coolant. This often happens when your coolant boils over from a bad radiator pressure cap. If you have a car with a "small" cap (slightly larger than the size of a soda bottle cap) then you should replace this $5 part about every 2 years.

EDIT: oh, and it goes without saying that you need to wash your hands thoroughly after you touch that stuff. none of the fluids in your car are really that good to your skin (despite what some folks tell me about the wonders of trans fluid)

Also, another alternative for the geek-minded is to use a UV activated dye. Its usually present in a lot of AC refrigerant but you can add it to oil, coolant, steering fluid, trans fluid, etc. After cleaning everything, you need a UV light(blacklight) and some cheap glasses and you can trace it all the way to the source. It does make the job somewhat easier if it is a really small leak. But I kinda doubt it's a small leak from what you're describing. Any good auto parts store will carry it, and you only need one TINY bottle.
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: KokomoGSTmp
To further Evadman's suggestions, you want to clean off any current mess you have around and under your engine area and it's associated lines. This way when it does leak again, you can accurately see where it is coming from... starting from the lowest point (where it drips from) and following it to the highest point (the origin).

I would pick up some of the fluid between your fingers and see how it feels. If it does feel oily, it isn't coolant nor just water condensing from the AC system. Smelling it helps as well, trans fluid, gear oil, motor oil, etc all have their distinct smells. If it feels a bit slimy and slippery, it might be coolant. This often happens when your coolant boils over from a bad radiator pressure cap. If you have a car with a "small" cap (slightly larger than the size of a soda bottle cap) then you should replace this $5 part about every 2 years.

EDIT: oh, and it goes without saying that you need to wash your hands thoroughly after you touch that stuff. none of the fluids in your car are really that good to your skin (despite what some folks tell me about the wonders of trans fluid)

Also, another alternative for the geek-minded is to use a UV activated dye. Its usually present in a lot of AC refrigerant but you can add it to oil, coolant, steering fluid, trans fluid, etc. After cleaning everything, you need a UV light(blacklight) and some cheap glasses and you can trace it all the way to the source. It does make the job somewhat easier if it is a really small leak. But I kinda doubt it's a small leak from what you're describing. Any good auto parts store will carry it, and you only need one TINY bottle.
I don't really have a place or the time to do that. I live in an apartment with a large parking lot out front and no space or tools to get under the car and take a look. I am going to place some cardboard under the front of the car tonight to see how much if any leaks overnight and see if I can determine what kind of fluid it is.

I tried to figure it out earlier and it looked dark, sorta slippery, and smelled like dirt oil. This makes me think it is in fact the oil but still confuses me as to why it only leaks in the morning.

The cap for the radiator is pretty small but it was replace about a year ago. Also I do know for a fact that I have a slight leak in the radiator but this fluid does not look like antifreeze (or smell like it) and I have never seen a trace from the leak. I just know what the dealer told me and that I have to top it off every few monthes.

Thanks again for the advice!
 

Evadman

Administrator Emeritus<br>Elite Member
Feb 18, 2001
30,990
5
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Originally posted by: Spike

As for the fluid not appearing to leak when running would make sense except for the issue I am seeing the the parking spot. I see a continous line of dense drops (one every inch or so) showing the way I pull out, but nothing showing when I pull in, not even when I back-up and pull forward slowly to straighten up in the spot. Wouldn't the oil be leaking at this time as well? Or does it leak less when the car is warm?

If it is really taking so long to pool up and drip, why are the drips so close together for my pulling out?
Fluids pool. For example, lets say this is coming from a leaky valve cover gasket, so it is coming from the top of your engine. on the way down the engine, there is an engine mount in the way. Some mounts are boxed or partialy boxed, which means there is a cavity on the top or bottom. If it is on the top, it can fill with oil from the leak.

In the morning, this cavity is full or nealy full from leaking overnight (valve cover's dont generally leak at night, but say they do for arguments sake) when you back up, the oil sloshes over the side of the mount. Slosh may be a bad term as the amount is very likely less than a thimble full, but it still sloshes. As it sloshes over the side, you notice the drips all at once.

Now, while driving, the leak doesn't go into this cavity because the moving air is busihing the drip back 1/8" from the cavity. It is now leaking directly onto the ground. When you park at work, it is now going back into the cavity, but the cavity is nearly empty as the wind ripped the fluid out of it while driving. This means it can fill while your car is sitting at work. Perhaps it does not fill enough in those 8 hours to slosh when you back out of your parking spot, and only comes out at road speed.

It could also be a hardening or worn seal. This means that when hot, metal expands and seals the leak. At night, when the engine cools and the metal shrinks, the seal can no longer seal the gap, so fluid leaks by until warm in the morning.

Again, it is nearly impossible to diagnose without looking at the motor and car.

Again, there is no way to tell WTF is going on without looking at it.
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: icejunkie
WHERE IS THE PARODY FOR THIS?!?!? LETS GO PEOPLE! :p
no parodies, please. Not with newbie trashing the ATOT area as it is...
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Originally posted by: Evadman
Originally posted by: Spike

As for the fluid not appearing to leak when running would make sense except for the issue I am seeing the the parking spot. I see a continous line of dense drops (one every inch or so) showing the way I pull out, but nothing showing when I pull in, not even when I back-up and pull forward slowly to straighten up in the spot. Wouldn't the oil be leaking at this time as well? Or does it leak less when the car is warm?

If it is really taking so long to pool up and drip, why are the drips so close together for my pulling out?
Fluids pool. For example, lets say this is coming from a leaky valve cover gasket, so it is coming from the top of your engine. on the way down the engine, there is an engine mount in the way. Some mounts are boxed or partialy boxed, which means there is a cavity on the top or bottom. If it is on the top, it can fill with oil from the leak.

In the morning, this cavity is full or nealy full from leaking overnight (valve cover's dont generally leak at night, but say they do for arguments sake) when you back up, the oil sloshes over the side of the mount. Slosh may be a bad term as the amount is very likely less than a thimble full, but it still sloshes. As it sloshes over the side, you notice the drips all at once.

Now, while driving, the leak doesn't go into this cavity because the moving air is busihing the drip back 1/8" from the cavity. It is now leaking directly onto the ground. When you park at work, it is now going back into the cavity, but the cavity is nearly empty as the wind ripped the fluid out of it while driving. This means it can fill while your car is sitting at work. Perhaps it does not fill enough in those 8 hours to slosh when you back out of your parking spot, and only comes out at road speed.

It could also be a hardening or worn seal. This means that when hot, metal expands and seals the leak. At night, when the engine cools and the metal shrinks, the seal can no longer seal the gap, so fluid leaks by until warm in the morning.

Again, it is nearly impossible to diagnose without looking at the motor and car.

Again, there is no way to tell WTF is going on without looking at it.
That last part is kinda what I was thinking, about the thermally sealed leak that is. Kinda like the SR-71, leaks fuel while sitting there but when flying expands to plug leaks.

I am going to be giving the dealer a call in the morning to see about getting it in to be looked at. If this was a gradual leak I would not be so worried but for something like this to spring up all of a sudden with such volume has me worried.

-spike
 

Spike

Diamond Member
Aug 27, 2001
6,770
1
81
Well, here is an update. There was nothing on the cardboard after being there all night. I turned on the car and looked under it and there was the issue. Oil was literally pouring out of the engine onto the cardboard. This only seems to occur when the engine is first started. The oil was changed about three weeks ago so that can't be it as it looks like this has been happening in the last few days. I am going to see about getting that fixed now.

-spike
 

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