Can this smell be the result of a bad oil change?
August 30, 2006 12:16 PM   Subscribe

CarExhaustFilter: (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I recently had my oil changed at the dealership. (I have a 1998 Honda R-V.) Since then, there has been an overwhelming smell of car exhaust in my car, even when I roll the windows down. I want to be able to go into the dealer and tell them what's wrong, and that, more than likely, some thing was done incorrectly or not replaced correctly when they changed my oil.

If that is/could be the case, I want to go in there knowing the possibilities from their end, rather than have them decide to just charge me for something they might claim not to be their fault, or caused by their mistake.

Can this have been causd by something they didn't do right/something they did wring? I know very little about cars.
posted by schoenbc to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
spilled oil on the manifold or exhaust. Drive it for a few days and see what happens. If it is that it should burn off.
posted by Gungho at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2006

Are you sure it is the smell of car exhaust or could it be oil burning? If they spilled a little oil while filling it up, as is prone to happen, you will get that smell until it has all burned off.

Some Nissans actually have the catalytic converter (a burning hot device) right below the oil filter, so when they remove the filter oil drips on the converter and the driver is virtually guaranteed the burnt oil smell for a few days. Better oil changing places will place something over the converter to deflect the dripping oil to avoid this problem. If someone new or just feeling lazy worked on the car you could get this. I don't know if you car has this problem though.
posted by jwells at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2006

Unless they replaced something in your exhaust system, such as a sensor, it's unlikely they did anything to it. The exhaust is pretty much a closed tube that runs from the engine to the rear of your CRV. It can leak, and in some cases, leak into the cabin. For instance, a bad exhaust manifold gasket will allow this to happen in some vehicles, and a hole in the system somewhere could let exhaust fumes rise up into the cabin I suppose.

But my guess is you're not smelling exhaust. You're smelling burning oil, dripped onto an exhaust component, which can get very hot when your engine is running. Some newer CRVs have had problems with leaking oil hitting the exhaust manifold - but in you're case, I suspect a sloppy oil change that got oil everywhere. Or worse, a drain plug not screwed in tight enough!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2006

gungho and jwells are faster draws than me.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2006

It is not uncommon for mechanics to spill oil on the engine when doing an oil change. This oil then burns when the engine is hot, and you get the lovely burning oil smell inside the car.

Open the hood. Look at the engine. Oily? If so there are various ways to clean the engine, starting with the simple: spray cleaner and paper towels to get the worst of it off.
posted by jellicle at 12:26 PM on August 30, 2006

I would look at the drain plug. I had a similar situation with a 1996 Odsyssy. The drain plug was left too loose and it eventually came out. I smelled burining oil for a few days and heard a slight rattle, but could not pinpoint it. Eventually when the oil light came on and the back window was an oily mess, I pulled into the gas station to look and get oil. I dumoed the first quart in and it went straight out the bottom. I quickly understood the drain plug issue, but having the family in the van on a Sunday afternoon 300 miles from home in 90 degree weather sucked. Luckily, a mechanic from a mitsubishi dealer down the street happened to stop to get cigs on the way home and he had a plug in the trunk of his car.

Anyway, check the drain plug!!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:30 PM on August 30, 2006

spray cleaner and paper towels to get the worst of it off.

Don't know how much you know about cars but be careful under the hood: let the engine cool for a couple hours before touching anything, stay away from the battery, watch out for sharp objects.
posted by scheptech at 12:38 PM on August 30, 2006

when you open the hood, also check to see that the oil fill cap has been replaced correctly. this has happened to me in the past, and that's what it was. i'd also check the drain plug, too, just to be sure.

home mechanics spill oil. pros generally don't. and if, by chance, they did, they should have told you.
posted by lester at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2006

If there is oil on the engine, the easiest way to get it off is to go to a self-spray car wash. Open the hood, feed the minimum number of quarters into the coin box, set it to 'wash' or 'soap' and spray the oil off the engine. Try not to spray directly onto electronic parts or air intakes. When the oil is blasted off, switch to 'rinse' and wash the soap off.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:04 PM on August 30, 2006

home mechanics spill oil. pros generally don't. and if, by chance, they did, they should have told you.

You are kidding right? The primary reason I started doing my own oil changes was I was sick of the burnt oil smell for a week after every oil change. Also there was that issue of an improperly tightened oil filter that dumped several quarts on my driveway the day after a "professional" oil change.

Sure I spill oil, but I take the 30 seconds to clean it up. The "pros" never bothered.
posted by COD at 1:37 PM on August 30, 2006

Please don't wash your engine. It's almost completely pointless and has a notable chance of causing short-term hassles and long-term damage.
posted by phearlez at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2006

One thing to check is your oil filter. When you remove the oil filter and put on the new one, sometimes the gasket from the old one will stick, and the new one gets screwed on over the old gasket. It's pretty easy to check as you can see oil dripping from the filter while the car is running. Depending on how well the gaskets are sealed together, there may not be much oil dripping out. If this has been going on for a few days and has not been going away, this might be something to check.
posted by chrisroberts at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2006

This is all good advice and all but really, just take it back and tell them you smell smoke/burning while driving. Don't try to figure it out yourself or tell them what you think it is (they hate that). If they are at all reputable they should be happy to take a look. If they want to charge you for anything, take it somewhere else and don't come back.

PS: If it is in fact exhaust in the driver's compartment that can be very dangerous for the occupants especially with the windows rolled up or on a long trip.
posted by banshee at 2:49 PM on August 30, 2006

Please don't wash your engine. It's almost completely pointless and has a notable chance of causing short-term hassles and long-term damage.

Like many blanket statements, this is an oversimplification. My wife's car had a coolant leak. The dealer wanted a ton of money to replace the water pump. An independent garage did it for a half-ton of money. For over a year after that, whenever she'd take it to the dealer for service, they'd insist it needed a water pump. It didn't. After I washed the baked-on coolant off the engine, as described above, the dealer stopped saying we needed a water pump. Not breathing burned-oil fumes is also a good reason to wash off the engine. The 'notable chance' of damage is minimal, if reasonable care is exercised when washing. I have done it many times, on several different cars, with no ill effects.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2006

I stand by my statement, particularly as advice to a person who is not accustomed to working on cars and less able to identify the most risky bits.

99.9% of engine washes that are done are done for reasons that are purely cosmetic (not diagnostic as in your personal example), an aesthetic 'improvement' on a part of the car that is almost never seen. In addition to that bit of lipstick you might get a relief from some engine fumes which will burn off on their own, or you might just prolong the stink by providing another vaporizing agent to prolong the burn-off.

For that payoff you risk short-term hassles with shorted electronics which may prevent the car from starting or cause it to run poorly. In the worst case you get water into the combustion areas or oil which can cause long-term degradation or even damage the pistons (since water doesn't compress nicely the way air does). Although unlikely in a healthy newish car, the CR-V is an inline-4 and the plugs are vertical, providing a nice little receptacle to hold water for a good long time.
posted by phearlez at 10:01 AM on August 31, 2006

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