The Saga of the Engine Oil

My car is 10 years old now, so I need to pay more attention to maintenance items. For example, sometimes the oil gets too low between oil changes.

At a recent gas stop, I noticed that the oil was low. I keep a quart of oil in the trunk for such occasions, so I pulled that out and added it to the engine.

The only problem was that I did not have a funnel with me, so I had to aim very carefully when pouring the oil. Alas, I did not aim carefully enough – I spilled some oil on the engine cover.

Normally, I wouldn’t care about that. But the extra oil dripped off the front of the cover and landed on the front of the engine. It landed somewhere in the middle of some tubes and heat shields.

I didn’t think much about that, other than “oops”.

Then the oil started to smoke.

Some flames appeared.

I started to think more than “oops”.

In fact, here are my thoughts:

Maybe the oil will burn off quickly and the fire will go away.

It’s not going away. And there are rubber hoses and insulated wires right there. If they melted it would be very bad for my engine.

I’m still at the gas pump. Gas stations do not like fires. I can’t let my car catch on fire while it’s in the gas station. It’s also bad that I caused my car to catch fire while it wasn’t even running.

Hey, I’ve blown out candles before. Maybe I can blow out the flames?

At that point I leaned under the hood, took a big breath, and blew. A couple of times. The flames just laughed at me.

Now what? Of course I’m at the pump closest to the road. I wonder how many people are watching and wondering what’s going on.

I’m an engineer in the automotive industry – what if a co-worker drives by and sees my car on fire? I’ll have to fall back on my “it’s not software” excuse…

Great, it’s starting to smoke more… I don’t want any fire trucks showing up.

I started looking around. I knew I don’t carry a fire extinguisher in my car, and I also knew that it would open a can of worms if I asked the gas station clerk for a fire extinguisher.

I finally spotted it – something I could use.

With my car’s hood open and smoke wafting out (at least it wasn’t billowing yet), I walked over to the next pump and grabbed the windshield squeegee. I walked back to my car, held the squeegee over the engine, and squeezed the sponge.

The wiper fluid turned out to be non-flammable. The fire sizzled in protest and the flames went out, but not without first sending up some extra smoke.

With the flames gone, I inspected that area of the engine a bit. Nothing looked melted. I gave the engine another dose of wiper fluid just in case, and I tried to remember if water was one of the things you’re not supposed to use on a grease fire. I assume engine oil counts as grease.

I closed the hood, completed the pay-at-the-pump transaction, and headed onto the freeway. Once on the freeway, I alternated between checking the temperature gauge and praying that the fire would not re-ignite.

And nothing did happen, on the freeway. But I had to take some side roads for a while. Those ended up being stop-and-go that day. My temperature gauge did not go too high, but, while sitting in traffic that was not moving, I saw smoke start to creep from under my hood.

Maybe there was some smoke on the freeway too, but maybe I didn’t notice it because it dispersed quickly at high speeds.

I knew I had to keep moving, so I pulled into the nearest driveway, turned around, and headed to some back roads to get away from the gridlock.

I figured that keeping the car moving would either 1. keep the engine cool enough to prevent a fire or 2. get me closer to home in case the car did catch fire and I had to walk home. Either way, sitting still was not desirable.

There were no more mishaps the rest of the way home. I parked in my driveway, opened the hood, and was relieved to see no evidence of fire.

I now carry a funnel in my car.

And a bottle of washer fluid.

You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.

Exodus 27:20

This little article thingy was written by Some Guy sometime around 6:52 pm and has been carefully placed in the Mishaps category.

6 Responses to “The Saga of the Engine Oil”

  1. phoebe

    I don’t normally use this, but LOL.

  2. Ricky Anderson

    Oi! Glad it wasn’t worse.

  3. Some Guy's Wife

    Hmm, that’s the first I’ve heard of this.

  4. Buckley

    This may be the best blog post you’ve ever written.

  5. tasha

    this just happened to me last night no lie but this has never happened to me b4 i just got a poniac gt & i didnt have a funnel and i had a small fire i used water i keep going out and start my car i see just a little smoke i just dont want it 2 catch fire again i will now buy a funnel!

  6. Scott

    We are kindred spirits, Some Guy. Kindred spirits. Coincidentally, the Tribute was 10yrs old too.

    Always carry a funnel, windshield wiper fluid, and don’t drive a Mazda and we should be fine.

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