Oil Pan Buyer's Guide
- An oil pan is a tray-like steel or aluminum container attached to the engine block.
- It is the oil’s resting place before being pumped to the oil filter, cooler, and engine.
- Oil pans can get dented due to suspension problems or running over road debris.
- Oil pan components include oil pan gaskets, drain plugs, baffle tray and windage tray.
- Oil pans can be sold individually, in sets of 2 or a kit and cost around $30 to $1,945.
- It is important to keep your engine healthy and to prolong the life of your engine oil.
All internal combustion engines require lubrication to preserve its static and moving parts. This issue gave rise to the invention of the engine oil in the mid-1800s. A good motor oil multitasks from cleaning the internal surfaces of the engine to cooling down its moving components. And, in able for the oil to circulate the system, it is sucked out from a reservoir and pumped into the oil filter before being distributed to the engine. The reservoir where the oil sits is called the oil pan.
What is an oil pan and what is it for?
An oil pan is a tray-like steel or aluminum container that is attached to the bottom of your car’s engine. It serves as the oil’s resting place before it gets pumped to the oil filter, cooler, then to the engine. Oil pan varies in size, and most can hold up to six quarts of oil depending on the engine type. An oil pan gasket seals it to prevent oil from sipping out the gap. However, due to wearing, oil pan gaskets tend to fail and let your oil leak out of the pan. A leak could result to low oil level, which is why regularly checking your oil is very important.
To measure the oil level in your pan, you’ll need a dipstick. Dipsticks are slim rulers with “full” and “add” markings. They go deep down into the oil pan and can easily be spotted in the engine compartment due to its yellow trim handle. The first thing you need to do is to pull the dipstick out and wipe it with a rag before putting it back in for the actual measuring. This way, you can clearly tell the oil level without all the unwanted residue. You may also pinpoint oil pan problems by examining the floor on where your car is parked on. Droplets or a puddle of dark brown or black fluid right underneath your engine block are obvious indicators of a leak.
What are the common causes of oil pan damage?
Oil pans are located underneath your car, which makes it one of the first casualties of running over road debris like branches and rocks. Even though made of steel, oil pans can be dented by any road objects at high speeds. Negligence is one of the causes of damaging any parts of your car and a dented oil pan is no exception. A dent could be worrisome in the long run so pay attention to the road and drive with care. In these cases, installing a splash guard or skid plate is the best precaution.
Oil pan components you need to know
1. Oil Pan Gasket
Oil pan gaskets refer to the rubber, fiber, or cork ring that tightens the gap between the engine block and the oil pan. Another gasket material comes in a form of tubed silicone gel called gasket maker, which is spread along the rim of the oil pan before bolting it to the engine block. Upper pans use upper gaskets, while lower pan uses lower gasket.
2. Drain Plug
Located at the very bottom of the oil pan, the drain plug is a threaded bolt that comes with a washer. It is where you flush the old oil out before you replace it with a fresh bottle. Keep in mind that the oil is easier to drain when its viscosity is low. Low viscosity is achieved in warmer temperature because heat makes oil thinner. So make sure you drain during the day—preferably afternoon—instead of doing it at night. Other cars feature two-piece oil pans known as the upper and lower. If your car has this, you’re most likely to find the drain plug on the lower pan.
3. Baffle Tray
Baffle trays are unperforated trays that prevent oil from moving around inside the oil pan. Baffle trays’ main purpose is to restrict large volume flow of liquid and allow small amounts to flow freely.
4. Windage Tray
Windage tray, on the other hand, is a sheet of metal that prevents the oil from splashing onto the crankshaft. If the crankshaft gets infiltrated by the oil, it could have the tendency to spin slower, eventually affecting the engine’s performance. Some windage trays come with crankshaft scraper to rid any oil that may cloud the crankshaft.
Choosing the Right Oil Pan for Your Vehicle
An oil pan plays an important part in keeping your engine cool and well-lubricated. Here’s what you need to consider before purchasing a replacing oil pan for your vehicle.
Stock vs. aftermarket
If your oil pan has leaks or has developed damage or corrosion over time, a replacement pan with the same qualities and specifications as your stock pan will do the job. However, if you are planning to upgrade your car's performance, upgrading to an aftermarket oil pan may be a better choice.
Aftermarket oil pans in specialized designs can provide better oil control and greater durability for your engine. Deciding between getting a replacement factory oil pan and an aftermarket product will depend on what you are planning to use your car for.
Street vs. racing
If you're planning to build a dependent street car, look for an oil pan with a windage tray or crank scraper. The frequent turning, acceleration, and braking can cause the oil to flood to the sides of the oil pan. The windage tray and crank scraper can make your oil pan keep up with the repeated movement of oil inside the pan. They can also help prevent the buildup of excess oil on the crankshaft, which adds rotating weight and consequently reduces horsepower.
On the other hand, if you're going to use your car in drag racing, buy a specific one for the job. In drag racing, there won't be much oil movement while your car is traveling on a straight line. When you hit the brakes, however, oil splashes inside the pan. Because of this, a trap door is a standard feature of a drag pan. Look for aftermarket oil pans that have an oil recovery pouch to control the oil movement and route the oil back to the sump.
Always make sure that when buying a larger aftermarket oil pan, you consider its size and ensure that it will fit in your car. Some items like headers, cross members, and sway bars may interfere with larger pans. Otherwise, if you're just looking for a replacement for your worn-down oil pan, your best bet is a replacement factory product.
How much is an OE replacement oil pan?
Knowing the type of sump system your car utilizes can make your purchase easy. Since some cars have two separate oil pans which are the upper and lower, you might find yourself needing more parts than one. A set of two, which includes the lower and upper oil pans, costs $138. OE replacement kits are also available and they include gaskets, windage trays, and oil filters. Oil pan kits are priced around $65 to $470. Meanwhile, lower and upper oil pans that are sold individually are tagged around $30 to $1,900.
Why is it important to replace your damaged oil pan?
Failing oil pans is a primary cause of engine overheating. Motor oil cools the engine by absorbing the heat caused by the friction of its moving parts. It also lubricates these parts as they rub from surface to surface. With low oil level, the pistons would develop thermal energy from rubbing against the cylinder wall unlubricated. Continuous engine overheating may result to frying the engine dead. You can also prolong your oil’s life cycle by preventing oil leaks caused by a failing oil pan.
Maintenance tips: servicing and mounting an oil pan
The oil pan stores the lubricant used to keep the engine running smoothly. Once it breaks, oil will leak and engine parts may be damaged by excessive heat. The engine will eventually break down. Good thing is, your oil pan is located at the lowest section of your crankcase, which makes it quite easy to access. As such, you can check and install the new pan by yourself. Here's how:
Tools you'll need:
- Thin, flat driver
- 3mm Allen wrench
- IMPORTANT: OEM gaskets typically hold onto the surface 5x longer, so they are best used as replacements.
Removing the old pan
Step 1: Remove your exhaust down pipe, transfer case, and axle bearing carrier.
Step 2: Loosen the oil pan bolts.
Step 3: Remove your old oil pan by sticking a thin driver between it and the block, but be careful enough not to chew up the block side.
Step 4: Once the pan is taken out, scrape the surface where an old gasket is attached.
Step 5: After cleaning the surface where your old pan had been, use the 3mm Allen wrench to install the studs that come with the pack of the new pan. NOTE: Do not run the bolt past the other end of the block. It might rub with the timing belt and cause wear.
Installing a new pan
Step 1: Clean your new pan's surface.
Step 2: Apply adhesive and place the gasket on the pan's surface.
Step 3: Position the new pan over the studs and lock it with the included nuts in the pack.