I am wondering what types of issues I am most likely looking at with this; My 2003 Ford Escape (V6) has an increasingly pronounced burnt oil smell that has developed slowly over a year or so, coupled with a slow leak of oil. Lately, we can notice a small amount of white smoke from the vehicle after stopping, as well.

I have never noticed any evidence of coolant and oil mixing, nor is the vehicle losing any coolant. I have also not noticed any particular odd smoke coming from the tailpipe.

We have a very small oil puddle in the garage that stays roughly the same size; it seems as much is burnt as is leaked otherwise, and it doesn't seem to leak much when parked (though obviously, some!)

My thinking, up until recently with the smell/smoke, was that it was a minor thing and checking oil levels would be OK until I could get it repaired - especially since there is no mixing of oil/coolant. Is that likely to be correct?

I have looked a bit from underneath while changing the oil, and from above, but I really don't see any obvious signs of where the oil could be leaking from. I suppose I could expend some more effort looking... but where are some likely places I should look?

I don't think I'll be fixing it myself, unless I could find it to be something very minor, but I'd like to have an idea before I go to the shop with it.

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    When is the last time the oil was changed? Is the coolant level OK?
    – jp2code
    Jul 12, 2013 at 17:44
  • @jp2code It's actually slightly worse immediately after I change the oil. I've changed it numerous times since this. Coolant is fine, too. (and nothing odd in it, either) Jul 12, 2013 at 18:02
  • Could be because some of the old oil is out in the open or smeared over the engine when it was drained. On the coolant, be sure to keep an eye on the overflow reservoir. It is designed to slowly go down while keeping your radiator full.
    – jp2code
    Jul 12, 2013 at 18:05
  • Is the smell just when you start? I.e. it goes away? Anyway there's a lucas oil stop leak product for what that's worth...
    – rogerdpack
    Jan 8, 2019 at 16:02

5 Answers 5


What you have is the very same issue many Ford Escape owner's have: A leaking timing chain cover. My 2003 V6 is in the same boat. This is a small and somewhat annoying leak due to the fact it drips onto the exhaust and causes that oil burning smell and sometimes visible smoke coming from the right front side of the car. What I hate the most is shutting of the air (heat or AC) when I come to a stop, just so I do not have to smell it!

I get my Escape serviced every 5,000 miles (oil changed) at the local Ford Express Quick Lane at my local dealer. The guys there said it would be more cost effective to just let it remain. (They see a lot of these!) There is a lot of hours of work to replace the cover's gasket. With nearly 170K on my 2003 and recently having the transmission replaced (not happpy and big $), I will let this leak continue. It will not hurt to do so. Every time they change my oil, they will just shoot some engine degreaser on that area and clean it for me at every service, so that holds off the smell for most of the time.

I also have a drip pan in my garage, even though the leak is small. You can purchase from you local parts store. Actually, I just purchased a can of engine degreaser and will clean it when required. I would still check your oil levels from time to time, depending on how often you have your oil changed. My leak is small enough that my levels never get too low between services.


Somewhere there will be a Ford spec for how much oil the engine is allowed to consume between oil changes. I wouldn't be surprised if it's shockingly high. Check your owner's manual for starters.

If the oil level as measured by the dipstick never gets lower than the low end of the 'acceptable' range between oil changes, it's probably OK to leave it alone. Otherwise, you should be adding oil to keep it between the marks.

Check the oil pan. Any sign of oil soaking through the seal? Drain plug? Oil cooler adapter (what the filter screws into)? Timing chain cover? Valve covers? PCV valve / Oil Separator? Even if it's only leaking while operating at higher RPMs, you should be able to find a trail. You can apply some powder to help spot it, though don't use much and don't use anything easily combustible (and try and keep it off the exhaust components). Dye added to the oil and a UV light is probably a better way to go.

  • Some good things to check, sounds like! Thanks for the retag on the Q, too! (more active on Stack Overflow than here, so I wasn't sure about all the possible tags to use!) Sep 12, 2012 at 15:12

This oil leak is common to the Taurus/Sable, Fusion/Milan, Jaguar S, Lincoln LS, and Mazda 6 models with the 3.0 Duratec V6 along with the Escape/MPV. As a mechanic I can't see doing what is involved to remove the timing chain cover on these vehicles as it would cost a good portion of what many of these now older cars that have the leak are worth. They sealed small areas of the timing cover where castings mate called "T" joints with RTV sealant when the engines were made, and used a multi-piece gasket. The gaskets tend to shrink and the RTV deteriorates with heat/cooling cycles over the years and small oil leaks develop. They run down the engine on to the bottom front of the oil pan and drip on to the hot exhaust pipes below it. Leaks can also develop between the upper section of the block and the lower bearing section, which was sealed with a film of RTV only at manufacture. I have found that changing the oil with 5 quarts of high mileage oil and adding 1 quart of Lucas Engine Oil Stop Leak dramatically reduces the amount of oil leakage on these engines. The caveat is you have to do this for every oil change, but it's still no comparison in cost to having the gaskets replaced, which can cost anywhere from $1500-2000 today.


I had the same oil smell problem on a 2004 Merc Sable with the DOHC Duratec engine with 166000 miles. It seemed to develop about 2000 miles after I changed from conventional oil to full synthetic but that may be a coincidence.

I was originally told that it was caused by the front engine cover seals / gaskets leaking onto the crossover exhaust pipe below the engine because that is a common and VERY expensive problem on these engines.

I found out that the rear valve cover gasket was leaking oil onto the exhaust manifold and onto the front engine cover. The leak was difficult to see because of the size of the engine and the upper intake manifold had to be removed to see the leak in the rear of the engine.

Replacing the valve cover gaskets was a DIY job or would have cost about $300 at a shop. It solved the smell problem after about 30 minutes of driving to burn off the old oil leaked onto the manifold.

The rear valve cover gasket was very brittle and had a crack in it. The front valve cover didn't show signs of a leak but the gasket was getting hard although not as brittle as the rear gasket.
Probably because the rear gasket is subjected to higher heat than the front valve cover which is exposed to more airflow keeping it cooler.


You do not hear this from dealers. Maybe they know maybe they don't. Having a 2004 Escape which developed the burning oil smell just when you put it on the market. You know what a turn off that can be "has an oil leak". The local garage was aware of the leaks in different places of Ford/Mazda engine. Like you found out it is cheaper and does not hurt to leave it alone. I was told the average repair requires pulling the engine to access the leak location or allow the engine to be (properly) taken apart, etc....At any rate you know the price tag is $1400+. Weight the math if you are keeping it. Know up front you have to tell anyone looking to buy if selling about known problems.

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    I'm not sure this is actually an answer to my question. Jul 12, 2013 at 18:02

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