Leaking oil can trap dirt and debris, covering your engine with a black muck. This muck can mask other possible leaks along the way. This is the real challenge when it comes to dealing with leaks: finding the source. In many cases, it can be multiple sources. For that reason, it’s a good idea to clean as much of the engine as possible when looking for leaks. This way, you’ll expose any potential leak sources and make them easier to spot.
There are a few ways to do this, none of which are particularly environmentally friendly. The first is by using a pressure washer at a local car wash. This can cause other issues, so I suggest you proceed with caution if you decide to go this route. One of the main concerns is that you might force high-pressure water into some of the electrical components on the engine. Do what you can to stay away from the ignition system and any other sensitive electronics if you decide to clean your engine this way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me after washing their engine only to find it wouldn’t start when they were finished. So be warned and stay away from as many electrical components as you can to avoid this issue. I’ve heard of people putting plastic bags on their distributors and other sensitive electronics when washing an engine this way. It’s a step in the right direction.
In addition to pressure washing, there are also degreasers available. You spray these products on the dirty engine and then rinse them off with a garden hose. The same cautions apply here. Also, be sure to read the instructions of the product you’re using to make sure you use it properly.
Once the engine is clean, you’ll have a much easier time finding the source of the leak. You might try running the engine for a while after your cleaning. If the leak is big enough, just running the engine for a short time might reveal the source of the leak.
If that doesn’t work, you might consider one of two options. The first is installing dye into the oil. There are fluorescent dyes available that you can put into your engine. As the oil leaks out, it will also carry the dye. You then take an ultraviolet light and shine it on the engine. The ultraviolet light highlights the oil leaks, making them easier to find. This is a very effective method.
Another method is to spray leak detection powder on the suspected area of the leak. You clean the area first, dry it off, and then spray this leak detection powder over the suspected area. Once the spray dries, it turns a very pure white. When the oil leaks, it becomes very visible against the white background. This is a good method if you don’t have one of those special ultraviolet lights to use with the dye. It’s also less expensive as a result.
Either method will work to help you locate the source of the leak. FYI, leak detection spray is often just repackaged athlete’s foot spray. Yeah, no foolin’. So if you can’t find the spray at your local auto parts store, you might consider hitting up the drug store for a can of athlete’s foot spray.
Once you find the leak, you’re faced with the task of fixing it. This can be an easy O-ring replacement or it can involve removing the transmission to get to a leaking oil galley plug. That would be a worst case scenario, but it does happen. For now, we’ll just focus on finding the origins of that puddle on the ground. I’ll leave the repairs up to you.