Oil Smells Like Gas – Is It Something To Worry About?

by Conner Mckay

If your oil smells like gas, there’s probably a pretty severe problem. It’s likely to be something to do with an overly rich fuel mixture, broken piston ring(s), or a problem with the PCV valve.

Oil and gasoline shouldn’t mix. It’s the oil’s job to lubricate the engine and, to some degree, keep it cool and clean it. Gas is quite simply there to explode and thus drive the motor.

The oil comes from the sump, driven by the pump, through various pipes and channels until it ends up back where it started.

In contrast, the gas is pumped by the fuel pump from the tank, down the lines, and into the combustion chambers through either the carburetor or fuel injectors.

The two should never mix beyond a small amount. Oil should never smell like gas. It should smell like oil.

In this article, I’ll explain what might cause this issue. And, most importantly, what you should do next.

Oil Smells Like Gas

It’s most likely that you’ll notice this problem either when the engine is off (and, thus, there’s no fuel lingering in the air) when you use the dipstick or during an oil change.

When checking the motor oil level using the dipstick, smell it. If the smell of gas is noticeable, it’s best to pay attention. Another good thing to watch out for is how fast the liquids move down the dipstick. Gas is less viscous than oil, so it’ll run slightly quicker.

When you’re performing an oil change, it’s always worth giving the oil a quick whiff, among other checks—nothing too heavy, mind. If there’s a definite, pungent smell of gas, this article will be particularly relevant to you.

If your motor oil smells of gas, then it’s highly likely that gas has somehow got into the oil system, ending up in the sump. In technical terms, this isn’t good. The oil and the gas should never mix in a properly working engine.

There are a few different places where oil and gas can jump ships, as it were.

Piston Ring

Here are the basics of how an engine works.

Piston rings sit, you’ll be surprised to hear, on the pistons. Their main job is to seal the piston against the cylinder wall. This causes a pressurized area above the piston, leading to optimal combustion.

Although they’re seldom talked about in day-to-day scenarios, the piston rings play a crucial role. Indeed, when they stop working, it leads to significant issues because the cylinder can’t hold pressure. You’ll get a misfire as a result.

Here’s Engineering Explained to take you through piston rings in more detail. I highly recommend a watch.

For the purposes of this article today, the piston rings keep the oil and gas separate. The oil in the crankcase is below it. The gas should be in the combustion chamber above it.

When gas or oil gets past the piston rings, this is known as blow-by.

A small amount of gas ends up in the oil in most engines, but we’re talking negligible amounts. Vapors rather than liquids. The temperature of the oil should be high enough to vaporize the fuel instantly. It then should get pulled back into the intake through the PCV system.

When more significant amounts of gas start getting through, there’s a more serious problem.

Mixing Oil And Gas

When you’re driving, gas and oil are usually mixed in virtually microscopic quantities. The PCV system (to be explained in more detail shortly) is in place to deal with this kind of thing.

When it’s in small quantities, gas getting into the oil is nothing to worry about. It’s expected, actually.

The opposite is also true. Most engines are expected to burn oil as you drive, as it’s virtually impossible to seal all tiny leaks within an engine. For example, in the owner’s manual of my 2005 Vauxhall Corsa C, I’m told that the car is likely to burn 0.6 liters of oil per 1,000 miles. Since it only holds 3.5 liters when full, you can see the importance of keeping your oil topped up.

(In reality, I suspect it’s not quite that high, but it’s still good to know.)

Going back to gas mixing with oil – it’s particularly bad because the gasoline turns the oil into sludge. The sludge then clogs up passageways in precisely the same way as plaque in arteries, causing rust and generally shutting the engine down.

You can get motor oils that are more resistant to sludge, but none are entirely so. If too much gas gets into the oil, it could still turn into sludge. Thus, you should take as many steps as possible to prevent it.

Oil Smells Like Gas

PCV Valve

As mentioned before, in this section, we’ll discuss the PCV valve.

The Positive Crankcase Ventilation valve controls the blow-by gases that make their way into the crankcase. It functions to remove the gases and send them back into the engine through the intake.

If these gases – made up of approximately 70% hydrocarbons (unburnt gasoline) – don’t get removed from the crankcase, they’ll lead to sludge. If the engine runs at high speeds, it can also cause increased pressure buildup within the crankcase, leading to blown gaskets.

In the past, the engine simply ventilated off the blow-by gases into the atmosphere. However, in the US, laws started coming in about 1964, meaning that you now had to recapture these gases, improving fuel economy and decreasing environmental pollutants.

The result was the PCV valve.

It’s a one-way valve. The blow-by gases can leave through it, but they can’t return the same way. From here, the gases are sent back through the combustion chamber again to be burnt. This process is continual.

For efficiency, the PCV valve also has a breather tube, sending filtered air into the crankcase, and encouraging circulation. The air is either filtered by the engine’s air filter or the breather element, specifically for the PCV valve.

When you perform regular maintenance, the PCV valve is often overlooked. But it’s a vital part of your car and needs to be kept clean and replaced regularly. Looking after this may save you more expensive problems in the future.

Gas In Oil

Now that we’ve seen why the oil smells like gas let’s look at what might be causing it.

In reality, the problem might be more than one of the below reasons. Usually, there’s a root cause.

It might be a good idea to use an OBD II code reader. These can read the fault codes as designed by the manufacturer. Depending on the car, it may even highlight the exact point the issue is coming from.

In this section, I’ll split it into subcategories, each addressing a different reason as to why there may be too much fuel going into the combustion chamber. If this were to happen, it’s more likely that more significant amounts of gas could get into the crankcase.

In technical terms, this is known as a rich fuel mixture: the ratio of air to fuel is too low. You could also think of it the other way – there’s more fuel, compared to air, than there should be.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #1: ECU Causing Rich Fuel Mixture

When you’re driving, your car’s ECU is constantly varying the air-to-fuel ratio of what’s going into your engine. At times, it’s more relevant to have lean fuel – at times, rich.

For example, when you start the engine on a cold morning, you’ll smell gas. That’s because the fuel mixture is richer, allowing for an easier start.

In a standard gasoline engine, the air-to-fuel ratio should be approximately 14.7:1 (in terms of weight). That is, to burn 1kg of gasoline as efficiently as possible, you’ll need 14.7kg of air.

The ECU uses data from many different sensors to determine how rich the mixture should be. The issues could lie with any of the following:

Oil Smells Like Gas

This list isn’t exhaustive, too.

An OBD II code reader should give you the answers you need. Otherwise, you may have to do some good, old-fashioned, manual diagnosis.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #2: Misfire

Okay, an engine “misfire” is a fairly generic term. It refers to an incomplete power stroke within the cylinder, for whatever reason. Therefore, the engine has less power output.

When a cylinder goes through a misfire, the fuel within it doesn’t get burnt. At least, not fully. Because of this, it has the potential to slip past the piston rings and end up in the oil.

As a result of this, you might notice the smell of gas within the oil.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #3: Fuel Injectors

In this case, the fuel injectors would be sending too much gas into the combustion chamber. This would, like the previously discussed section, lead to a rich fuel mixture. However, the fault would lie with the injectors rather than the engine sensors and, consequently, the ECU’s expectations.

Fuel injectors use solenoids to time when to release the spray of fuel, controlled by the ECU.

Here’s another enthusiastic video from Donut Media to explain how fuel injectors work in more detail.

If there’s a problem with the fuel injector, it may be sending too much fuel into the cylinder. If there’s too much fuel, it won’t all be burnt when the spark plug fires. This increases the likelihood of some gas getting past the piston rings.

From there, it ends up in the oil.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #4: Compromised Piston Rings

Piston rings have the essential job of sealing the combustion chamber from the crankcase. Over time, due to wear and tear, these rings can deteriorate. A compromised ring will fail to create an adequate seal.

When there’s a weak seal, fuel, especially during a rich fuel mixture, can easily seep through the gaps and find its way into the oil pan. As the oil gets contaminated with gasoline, you’ll start to notice the smell of gas when checking the oil.

Regularly servicing your vehicle and replacing worn-out parts can help prevent this problem. It’s a good idea to check for any visible signs of wear on piston rings, especially if your car has logged a lot of miles.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #5: Faulty Fuel Pressure Regulator

The fuel pressure regulator controls the amount of fuel pressure in the fuel rail, ensuring that the injectors receive the correct amount of fuel. A malfunctioning fuel pressure regulator can either starve the engine of fuel or flood it.

In the latter case, excess fuel can enter the combustion chamber and, like the previously mentioned causes, some of this unburnt fuel can slip past the piston rings and contaminate the engine oil.

Drivers can sometimes identify a faulty fuel pressure regulator through poor engine performance, decreased fuel efficiency, or even black smoke from the exhaust. These symptoms, combined with the smell of gas in your oil, might point towards this regulator being the culprit.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #6: Prolonged Short Drives

Cars are designed for various uses, but if you’re consistently taking short drives without allowing the engine to reach its optimal operating temperature, it can lead to issues. When the engine doesn’t get hot enough, the fuel won’t evaporate as effectively from parts where it shouldn’t be, like the engine oil.

This behavior increases the likelihood of gasoline mixing with the oil. To avoid this, occasionally take your car on longer drives or allow it to idle until it reaches the standard operating temperature.

Oil Smells Like Gas, Causes #7: Damaged or Worn Out Oil Cap

The oil cap on the top of the engine is a small part that can have a big impact. If it’s damaged, worn out, or improperly sealed, it can allow fuel vapors to escape, leading to the smell of gasoline when you check the engine oil. It might seem like a minor thing, but ensuring a snug and secure oil cap can help prevent gas odors.

In conclusion, while smelling gas in your engine oil can be alarming, understanding the potential causes can help you address the problem effectively. Regular maintenance checks, understanding how your car operates, and addressing any irregularities quickly can prevent more severe issues down the road. Remember, when in doubt, consult a professional to ensure your vehicle is operating safely and efficiently.

How Do Piston Rings Work

A few sections ago, I explained what piston rings are and how they function. Scroll back up the page again if you’d like to, and be sure to check out the video from Engineering Explained if you missed it.

Piston rings can become faulty. They can wear down, fray, and even completely snap.

The result? It isn’t good. The area above the piston now can’t hold pressure as effectively, meaning the engine is less efficient. There’s also space down the sides of the piston for gasoline vapors to escape into the crankcase. The reverse is also true – oil can splash up into the cylinder.

The excess fuel in the crankcase could lead to the smell of gas in your oil.

Here are a few tell-tale signs of blown piston rings.

  1. Smoky exhaust gases – either gray or blue. These colors of exhaust smoke indicate that you’re burning oil. The oil splashes up past where the piston ring should be sealing the chamber. It then gets burnt along with the fuel.
  2. More oil consumption than you’d expect – as I mentioned earlier, all cars burn oil to some degree. However, if you have broken piston rings, the car will burn oil excessively. See point 1.
  3. General poor performance, especially under acceleration – since the cylinder with the faulty piston ring isn’t sealing the pressure properly, the engine won’t work as well. You’ll feel a noticeable drop in performance. When you put your foot down, the car might feel sluggish and heavy. It certainly won’t have the capability of accelerating quickly. Note: if you experience this symptom but not the others, you’re probably experiencing a misfire.

How Does A PCV Valve Work

Over time, PCV valves become clogged up. After all, they spend all their time pulling fuel vapors back to the combustion chamber.

You should change them every once in a while and keep them clean.

If the valve stops working, the gas vapors won’t be removed from the engine. This could lead to a buildup within the oil, and, eventually, you’ll be able to smell it.

Here are a few maintenance tips.

A few symptoms of a faulty PCV valve depend on whether the valve is stuck open or closed.

If the valve is stuck open, you might see…

When the valve gets stuck closed, that’s more relevant to the theme of this article – why the oil smells of gas. If the PCV valve gets stuck closed, expect symptoms that represent more pressure than there should be within the crankcase. These might include…

  • A buildup of pressure and temperature within the engine (above the norm).
  • Seals and gaskets failing.
  • Oil leaks.
  • Sounds such as whistling or moaning.
  • The motor might surge unexpectedly.
  • Problems with sensors such as the oxygen/lambda or MAF sensors.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should check your PCV valve and perform an OBD II check. Shake your PCV valve. If you can’t hear it rattling (opening and closing), it means it’s broken and will need replacing. The part alone is likely only to cost about $10 to $15. Factoring in labor costs, you’d probably cough out about $50 in total if you took the car to a shop.

Can Gas In Oil Damage Engine

If your oil smells of gas, it’s probably got gas in it. Although the lists we’ve just been through don’t go through every single possible cause, it’s good to be getting started with.

If you have gas in your oil, it’s probably not going to be an immediate problem. All engines are expected to have a small amount of gas in the oil, as we’ve seen.

As the ratio of gas-to-oil builds up, though, you might start noticing problems. These are all related to the pressure within the engine and the state of the oil.

Sludge will begin to develop. It doesn’t look nice, but there’s much more to it than that. The sludge won’t lubricate your engine properly. It’ll also get in the way of all the good oil and make it harder for it to get around the engine. Things will begin to rust internally. It’s really not good. Over time, it can cause severe damage.

You can also end up with pressure buildup, causing internal damage. The sludge could cause this pressure, or if you have a PCV valve that’s stuck closed, that could. More pressure equals higher stresses on the engine components, leading to further, more expensive problems.

Engine Oil Smells Like Gas Fix

Looking after your car properly will, except in unfortunate cases, generally mean it performs better. It’s also key to realize that your car will develop problems at some point. It’s just inevitable. The most important thing to do here is simply to recognize it quickly and act on it as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the bigger the problem is likely to become.

When it comes to gas getting into your oil, it could be a quick fix, such as replacing a PCV valve or spark plug. However, it could also be more complex – something like piston ring failure or a problem with your ECU.

There’s often more than one issue at play, as I said at the beginning. For example, yes, there’s a misfire, but why is there a misfire? Is it the spark plug or the fuel injector or the ECU, or a sensor? Has that misfire caused another problem somewhere else? Or was that misfire caused by something else, like oil getting into the intake and caking the spark plug?

With cars, you often have to dig deeper to find the true cause of the issue. Otherwise, you’re treating the symptoms rather than the actual problem.

The best place to start, in my opinion, is with an OBD II check. Take your car into your local shop and ask for a diagnosis. Doing this might throw the answer straight back at you. If not, you could consider trying to work out the problem yourself or paying a professional to do it for you.

How To Check If There’s Gas In Oil

Suppose you decide to leave your car with a trusted mechanic. In that case, I’d recommend agreeing to a reasonable price before doing so. With a diagnosis, it’s complicated. It can take a very long time to find out what’s wrong and, whatever you go for, you’ll have to pay the labor rate for as long as it takes.

You might decide on a flat rate and ask the mechanic to carry out a series of set tests. If those tests don’t yield the answer, you could choose to drop it at that point or pay for more extensive testing.

If you decide to work on the car by yourself, fair play to you, but it’s going to take a while. Probably. The reason for this is that you might not know if you’ve fixed the problem until you’ve driven the car for a while, with the smell of gas coming back into the oil over time.

I’d recommend getting familiar with a multimeter. When it comes to modern cars, this is an invaluable piece of kit and could save you a lot of money.

One by one, test the components: all the sensors, the fuel injectors, the spark plugs, and so on.

If they all seem fine, move onto the PCV valve, checking all the parts of that.

Once you’ve checked the PCV system – and if everything seems fine with it – only then should you move onto the piston rings. Checking these will require dismantling the engine, and so you should only attempt this if you’re familiar with them. Unfortunately, it’s reasonably likely that the piston rings could be the root cause.

Whatever the problem ends up being, make sure you do a complete oil and filter change before driving the car again.

Oil Smells Like Gas

Facts: What to Know if Your Engine Oil Smells Like Gas

  1. A strong smell of gas (which you can try to remedy by learning how to get cigarette smell out of car) in the engine oil requires prompt attention to investigate the cause and find a solution.
  2. Gas may land in the oil pan due to worn piston rings or a damaged or worn fuel injector.
  3. Gasoline can drip down into the oil pan if you frequently drive short distances, and the oil pan does not reach a high enough temperature to vaporize the gasoline.
  4. Faulty fuel injectors and bad piston rings can also cause gas to mix with the engine oil.
  5. Engine misfires cause the gasoline to wash the cylinder walls, lowering the compression, and resulting in more blow-by through the piston rings.
  6. Infrequent oil changes can lead to gas mixing with the oil in the engine.
  7. Symptoms of oil and gas mixing include a strong fuel smell, white exhaust smoke, dipstick smelling like gas, and high oil levels.
  8. It is not safe to drive a vehicle with a distinct gasoline odor in the engine oil.
  9. Fixing the issue requires diagnosing every part of the vehicle that may be the cause, replacing the oil filter and pan, and seeking the help of an expert in car maintenance.
  10. Gasoline in the engine oil, if untreated, can cause serious harm to the vehicle and its owner.

In Conclusion…

This article has been an introduction to why your car’s motor oil might smell of gas.

As you might have seen, a few different things might be leading to this, and it might need work from a professional mechanic to be diagnosed. There’s no real way to put a cost to this until you know what the problem is.

I hope this article has been helpful – let me know how you get on in the comments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still curious to learn more about how oil smells like gas in your car, our FAQs might help…

Why Do I Smell Gas In My Car

There are several reasons why you might be smelling gas from inside your car. The worst possible scenario is a potential fuel leakage, which usually comes from either the fuel tank or one of the fuel lines. It’s a good idea to step out of your car and look underneath it to find any rainbow-colored and shiny fluids leaking. However, fuel leaks aren’t the only reason why you’re smelling gas from inside your car. It’s possible that you have a loose spark plug, which is causing fuel vapors to leak out of the combustion chamber. Similarly, a faulty EVAP system or worn-out gas cap may also cause fuel vapors to slowly leak out, hence why you’re able to smell gasoline.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Gas

Should you be able to smell gasoline in general, inside or outside of your vehicle, there could be several reasons why this is the case. The most obvious happens right after you’ve just refueled, why is likely due to you having accidentally spilled even a tiny bit of gasoline. Otherwise, that gas smell might be caused by a fuel leak. This might sometimes be rather serious, such as a leaking fuel tank or ruptured fuel line. Besides that, it might be that your car’s gas cap has worn out, the fuel injectors are faulty, or the spark plugs might be loose. In either of these scenarios, there’s enough clearance for gas vapors to leak out, which is why you’re able to smell gasoline.

What Does Burning Oil Smell Like

If your car is burning oil, or if the engine is running with a low oil level, the overheated oil would emit a similar scent. The smell is akin to acrid smoke, like a dense, sharp, and stinging smog. It’s as if you’ve just driven past a building that’s on fire. If you’re sensing this particular scent, it’s a good idea to check the oil dipstick and see if you still have a sufficient amount of oil. Otherwise, a quick top-up is advised if you’re running low on oil. An engine needs to have adequate oil for both cooling and lubrication. Without it, it could cause overheating or worse, completely destroy the engine or at the very least, cause significant internal damage.

Why Does My Oil Turn Black So Fast

If your motor oil turns black – otherwise, it’s golden-amber when brand new – there’s usually no reason to panic, as it’s normal for it to do so. As your engine oil starts to circulate around the engine, the heat and friction within your car’s engine naturally wear down the oil. This is especially so with continuous and repeated heat cycles, like driving and warming up your car, letting it cool, and driving it back, and so on. However, this is a process that takes time. If your motor oil turns black so quickly after an oil change, it’s likely that dirt, impurities, and other contaminants from the previous batch of oil have mixed in with the new oil.

Why Does My Car Run Out Of Oil So Fast

Motor oil shouldn’t simply run out that quickly. If so, there are several reasons behind this. The most obvious answer is an oil leak. This might be due to worn-out seals and gaskets around the engine, which are gradually letting oil seep out. Bad piston rings are also another reason why your oil is running out so quickly, as the oil is steadily leaking its way into the combustion chamber. Thus, burning along with the fuel. In short, oil leaks and burning oil are the most obvious reasons why your motor oil is running out this rapidly. However, there could be other causes, such as using poor quality oil, or if your car’s engine is badly designed to a point where it would use an excessive amount of oil just to operate.

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