Engine oil is vital to your car's health, so it's concerning when the dipstick shows an lower-than-expected level. Like your car's cooling system, oil circulates in a closed system, meaning it should never escape under normal circumstances. But problems may arise when your car loses or "burns" oil. So, what causes a car to burn oil, and how do you stop it?
#1) Oil Pan Gasket
One of the most common causes of burning oil is a leaky oil pan gasket. The oil pan is a large metal container that's located at the bottom of a car's undercarriage. It stores oil when the car isn't running. And once cranked, the engine pulls oil from the pan. There's a gasket, however, that's designed to keep the oil in the pan. If this gasket breaks or otherwise doesn't create an airtight seal, oil will leak.
#2) Blown Head Gasket
Another possible cause of burning oil is a blown head gasket. This gasket is designed to keep fluids and combustion gases from mixing together. When a head gasket blows, engine oil may leak into the cooling system or exhaust system. Unfortunately, fixing a blown head gasket is often a laborious and time-consuming process. The gasket itself is relatively cheap, but replacing it requires disassembly of the engine.
#3) Worn Valve Seals
Perhaps your car is burning oil because of worn valve seals. These seals are designed to prevent the flow of oil into the engine. When they break or leak, oil will get sucked into the engine's cylinders, where it's burned and released through the exhaust system.
#4) Worn Piston Rings
Of course, worn piston rings often cause of contribute to burning oil. The piston rings are designed to seal the combustion chamber of the engine, preventing combustion gases from escaping. Over time, however, they can wear down, resulting in combustion gases escaping and/or engine oil entering the combustion chamber. When this occurs, it may cause the car to burn engine oil.
You might be surprised to learn that burning oil is, for some cars, normal. BMW and Honda cars, for example, have been known to burn 1 quart of oil every 3,000 miles -- and that's within the automaker's specs. Therefore, it's recommended that you check your make and model car to see whether it's burning a normal amount of oil.
Don't ignore low engine oil levels. Oil plays an essential role in the health of your car's engine. It reduced friction and heat while capturing dirt and sediment in the process. Without it, your car won't stay on the road very long.