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Ford Burning Oil Smell: What Causes It And How To Fix It

What causes a burning oil smell in a Ford? If you own a Ford that’s causing a burning oil smell, this is most likely something you want to fix right away. Below we’ve created a list of the three main problems that are probably causing a burning oil smell. First, let’s start with a quick answer:

When your Ford produces a burning oil smell, this is most likely caused by a leaking valve cover gasket, worn valve seals/piston rings, or a blown head gasket. Oil is leaking out of the engine and onto the exhaust manifold or into the exhaust system. Since both elements are hot, this means the oil is burned, causing a burning oil smell.

Below we’ll dive deeper into the root of these problems. First, we discuss how you can identify each problem and what specific symptoms are. After that, we’ll discuss how to fix the problem and how much this will cost. We’ll also discuss which Ford is most affected if you can still drive with a burning oil smell and what Ford has done to fix these problems. Read on!

Option 1: Leaking Valve Cover Gasket

The goal of the valve cover gasket is to seal the valve cover to the top part of the cylinder head. The valve cover gasket should prevent oil from leaking out when it travels around the valves, rockers, and the camshaft by sealing these elements together.

Depending on the engine you have in your Ford, you’ll have either one or two valve cover gaskets. Your Ford has one valve cover gasket when it’s a straight-line engine. You’ll have two valve cover gaskets when the cylinders are arranged in a V-formation. 

Identify

If you have a burning oil smell in your Ford, it’s, first of all, a smart move to check the oil consumption of your Ford. The reason for this is the fact that your car will have a higher oil consumption if the valve cover gasket is leaking. Check your oil reservoir to see how much oil has been consumed.

If you find out that the oil consumption is higher than usual, it’s time to identify the possible leaks. This is pretty easily done. By opening the hood of your car, you’ll, of course, see the engine. The valve cover is the part mounted on top of the engine and seals it off from the rest of the engine bay.

Check the valve cover for oily residue leaking out of the cracks. If you find oil here, you’re most likely looking at a valve cover gasket causing the problem. If you don’t exactly know where to look, watch the video below.

Another symptom of a leaking valve cover gasket combined with higher oil consumption is the engine’s misfiring. Suppose you notice that your engine is running rough or misfiring, then the oil leaking out of the valve cover gasket is most likely reaching the spark plugs. This is possible because the same valve cover covers the spark plugs.

Fix

Fixing a valve cover gasket is not that hard. However, if you want to do this yourself, you need the right materials to remove the valve cover and gasket. Also, you’ll need to order the right valve cover gasket to replace the old one.

The process of fixing a leaking valve cover gasket starts with removing the valve cover. This cover is normally made out of plastic and is mounted on top of the engine. This is normally mounted to the engine with several bolts. The more cylinders your engine has, the more bolts will be on there.

When this cover is taken off, it’s time to remove the coils and the spark plugs. You can leave the spark plugs in the head. After that, you remove the valve cover bolts, loosen the vacuum hoses, and any electrical connection mounted on the valve cover.

Then, you remove the valve cover (you don’t need to drain the oil because the engine should be cold, and there’s no oil in this part of the engine). Then, remove the old valve cover gasket and replace this with the new seal cover gasket. Replace the valve cover, clean the old oil from the valve cover and the rest of the engine bay and attach the vacuum hoses and electrical connections.

Please remember that when you mount all the bolts back in place, this needs to be done with a torque wrench and according to manufacturer specifications. If you fail to meet the guidelines of Ford when doing this, and they find out in case of another major problem, you’ll certainly have warranty problems.

If you don’t want to replace the valve cover gasket yourself, you’ll have to pay a mechanic to do the job. Replacing a valve cover gasket will cost between $200 – $250. Costs are split up between $50 in new parts and $150 – $200 for labor.

Which Fords Have A Leaking Valve Cover Gasket?

Each Ford can have a leaking valve cover gasket, given that these engines are all produced by Ford. However, the Ford F-150 and the 2015 – 2017 Ford Mustang 5.0L are prone to this specific problem. The F-150 never had an official recall for this problem (it did have a recall for a leaking oil pan). The 2015 – 2017 Mustang did have an official recall for the problem, and it should therefore be fixed in these models.

Option 2: Worn Valve Seals Or Piston Rings

If a blown valve cover gasket is not the problem, you’re most likely looking at either a worn valve seal or a worn piston ring. The goal of valve seals is to prevent the oil from the cylinder head from leaking into the combustion chamber (this would cause a burning oil smell). On the other hand, piston rings form a seal between the piston and cylinder wall and prevent oil from entering the combustion chamber. Piston rings are especially a problem with 2018 – 2020 F-150’s with a 5.0L engine.  

Identify

First of all, it’s important to know that both issues will most likely cause blue smoke fumes to exit your exhaust. This means the oil has entered the combustion chamber and is being burned together with the fuel mix. If you have blue smoke coming out of the exhaust (either when starting the car or when you’re driving), this is most likely the cause. These problems will also not cause white smoke coming from the engine bay (then it’s really a blown valve cover gasket).

Now, it’s also important to distinguish between a bad valve seal or a bad piston ring. There’s a small difference you have to be aware of before fixing the problem. You’ll have to take the valve cover off and take the spark plugs out to identify this problem.

A bad valve seal can be recognized by noticing oil built up on the spark plug’s side facing the intake valve. If it’s a worn piston ring, you’ll normally find that the entire tip of the plug will have oil deposits on it.

Fix

The tricky part with this specific problem is that both replacing the valve seals and the piston rings means a complete disassembly of the engine. Therefore, this is best done by a professional who knows exactly what they are doing.

Replacing worn valve seals will generally cost between $1,000 – $1,500. Replacing all valve seals in an engine will cost $50 – $100 in parts costs, but a mechanic will most likely spend a full day on this with labor costs running up to $900 – $1,400.

Believe it or not but replacing worn piston rings is even worse. Replacing worn piston rings will cost between $2,000 – $3,000. Depending on the model, you’ll pay between $100 – $200 for all piston rings and $1,800 – $2,800 for the labor.

Option 3: Blown Head Gasket

Many Ford owners wonder if a blown head gasket can cause the burning oil smell. This is a logical question since many Fords (especially the F-150’s) have many problems caused by the head gasket cracking and starting to leak.

When you smell burning oil, it could be that the head gasket is blown. However, there are some definite symptoms you should watch out for: a dead giveaway of a blown head gasket. You’ll read about these below.

Identify

Identifying a blown head gasket is a pretty easy task. First of all, it’s good to know that the burning smell could be caused by oil leaking into the combustion chamber. This creates a white/blue thick smoke that’s coming out of your exhaust. This is the same smoke that is caused by the worn valve seals or piston rings.

However, a worn head gasket has some other symptoms that you should look out for. The first symptom is that a worn head gasket will also result in coolant leaking into the cylinders, where it’s then burned. This means you will experience the following problems:

  • Misfiring of the engine because oil and coolant are being burned together with the fuel mix
  • Rapid consumption of coolant without an external leak being present
  • Engine overheating because the coolant runs out to quickly

If you notice that your car is overheating or consuming many coolants while you also smell burning oil, a head gasket leak most likely causes this.

Fix

As with most of the problems in this article, a blown head gasket is also not something you like to see in your car. A blown head gasket also means that the engine needs to be disassembled almost entirely. This means the job is best left for a professional.

A head gasket itself is not that expensive and normally costs between $50 – $150. However, the labor costs are the real disaster here. This normally costs between $850 – $1,850, depending on the vehicle you have. In total, expect to spend between $900 – $1,800 on a head gasket replacement.

Is It Bad To Drive With A Burning Oil Smell?

Driving with a burning oil smell is certainly not recommended. Continuing to drive your car with a burning oil smell can damage the engine and the exhaust system, which means the engine can be damaged beyond repair.

Furthermore, you also ruin the opportunity to fix the problem if it’s still fixable. For example, a leaking valve cover gasket is still easily fixable and doesn’t cost that much money. However, driving around with it could result in low oil levels, which will destroy the engine. Also, the oil that leaks onto the exhaust manifold can catch fire, resulting in unrepairable damage.

Driving around with worn valve seals, piston rings or a blown head gasket will also cause unrepairable damage and make things worse than it needs to be. Low oil levels will cause friction within the engine itself. Also, with a blown head gasket, the coolant levels will drop, resulting in overheating of the car, which can also cause unrepairable damage.

When you smell burning oil, it’s best to drive the car to a garage immediately and not make unnecessary trips. Also, keep the speed below 30 miles an hour to prevent unnecessary strain on the engine components.

Did Ford Fix The Oil Consumption Problem?

As you can see, multiple problems can cause a Ford to burn oil and create a very distinct smell. The question here is if Ford has done anything to solve these problems. Before we answer that, it’s important to know that the biggest problem here is with the 2018 – 2020 F-150’s with a 5.0L engine.

If you have another model Ford, it could be your car is just unlucky. If the car is still under warranty, these problems are normally covered; the same goes for an extended warranty. However, if your car is not under warranty anymore, you’ll have to figure things out yourself.

Back to the F-150’s. When the problem first arose, Ford put out multiple service bulletins in March 2019. Ford instructed dealers to replace the PCV valves and the air filter. Customers were told to come back after 3,000 miles to check on the oil levels. If these had dropped too much, the garage was told to replace the engine long bock assembly.

However, in May 2020, Ford stopped this approach and told people to keep refilling the oil levels. Not fixing the problem meant that Ford F-150 owners are stuck with a car that burns too much oil, has several problems because of it and loses its resale value.

Because of this, Ford F-150 owners with a 2018 – 2020 model have filed a class-action lawsuit trying to get Ford to reimburse them for the problems (1).