Tips/Advice for locating/troubleshooting oil leak?

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Hi all, first post here, so by all means point me to any relevant FAQs, stickied threads, etc. Car is an 03 Civic LX, been in my possession for a bit over a year, coming up on 190k. I've done a couple oil changes using Valvoline NextGen (due to sales/rebates), but it's started using oil. It's a low-usage, small-town errand car, round trips of less than 30 mi, with the occasional longer, c. 300-400 mi trip every few months. It seems if I keep an eye on it, it never drops, but forget it for more than 4 weeks, and it'll be down a quart. (Bottom indicator hole on the stick.) It was perfect a week ago, just got back from one of the long trips (mountain freeway driving) and it was down about half-way. 1 - As I'm pretty new to more than the basics of car operation, what are the main points I should be checking, symptoms that are cause for concern vs. probably not a big deal? (I assume I should look at degreasing the engine...) 2 - Should I try switching to something like the maxlife and see if it helps before spending much time on #1? Using Valvoline's adviser, they suggest the full synth, as it's a high-temp area. However, car spec is for 5W-20, but full synth is only available in -30 variants. Is that difference worth considering or should I go for the regular maxlife? I'm in N. CA, 100 degree+ days are not uncommon... Thanks all for any help.
 
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welcome to BITOG. Couple things that have been noted in other threads is that often, highway driving will burn a little more oil than around town in some vehicles. From your description this may be your situation. If there IS a leak, yes by all means at least wipe down the engine compartment so that you'll be able to spot fresh oil to see where any leaks might be. If there are no leaks, IMO no need for Maxlife; but you'll probably get numerous recommendations for it since there's more than 75k on the engine. As far as which weight to use, manufacturer's recommended is what I would go with; but if your owner's manual says that xW30 is ok for higher temps, (or even if it doesn't) you could certainly try that to see if it would reduce the oil usage.
 
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I've found that liqui-moly motor oil saver will cure any leak that isn't a gasket that's damaged or missing. Find it at napa. Use it with your favourite oil. It will help valve stem seal leaks too,if that's where the consumption is coming from. Now if the consumption is due to your rings being coked then the only way I know how to help that is a piston soak. They guys here who's advice I find is 100% every time suggest using kreen however its a mail order product and may be difficult to acquire. I've used seafoam through a vacuum line,then mmo through the same vacuum line with some soak time can help however it may require repeated attempts. At least the entire top end will get cleaned up in the process. Or you can pour a few ounces directly into the combustion chamber through the plug hole and leave sit overnight or longer. Neither seafoam nor mmo are very strong chemicals so you may have to do it more than once. Their may be other methods however these have worked for me in the past. I like the mmo because its also got a large percentage of oil in its formula so if added direct through the plug hole it will oil the pistons travel in the cylinder as it moves up and down. Increased Upper cylinder lubrication while trying to soften up the hardened coke deposits. And there really isn't any fear of doing any harm with these methods. I'm sure with as often as I mmo a vacuum line and now that I've been using an inverse oiler on my vehicles(installing one on the charger as soon as I figure out where to mount the container)for many thousands of miles if a problem was going to present itself it would have by now.
 

FZ1

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Try Mobil super high mileage oil. It's a blend. Check the oil 1x a week and top up as necessary. Change the oil when it's black.
 
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Are there any puddles/drips on your driveway or where you park at work? Do you smell burning oil when you drive, (oil burning on exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe)? When you drive highway speeds, are you "working" the car, (like on a steep grade or hill climb)? It has been my experience as well that a car will burn/use more oil on a highway trip than simply driving it around town. If it were me and I was sure nothing was leaking, I would graduate to a 10W30 and see if that slowed it down or stopped it all together.
 
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Degrease the bay/underside of the engine. Add oil leak dye (available at most local parts stores), find leak, proceed with repair. Also, If oil is being consumed in the combustion process, finding out how/why is important too. A compression and leakdown test could help point you in the right direction. Also, replacing the PCV valve is a good idea too.
 
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Personally I would try and find out whats happening with the oil before making any changes. If its leaking or being burnt by the engine. If its not leaking but being burnt, than you can try to fix it by using a high mileage oil to see if it lessens the burning of the oil.
 

ByNecessity

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Oh, thanks all! I didn't get email notification on reply, so I thought this question was neglected... I forgot to mention that there are dark "damp" looking areas visible from the bottom of the car (that I assume to be oil), but too spread out to easily point to an area. (And I'm still learning what components are what. ) So I'm inclined to go with the cleanup and try and locate idea first - diagnosing rather than the shotgun approach. I was wishing for oil leak dye, did not know it existed, thanks. Replacing PCV is easy (well, was in my previous vehicles), and seafoaming through the intake is a relatively cheap and easy procedure that needs to be done on this thing anyway (and probably replace sparkplugs afterward), though I don't quite understand what that has to do with oil usage?
 
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