What does milky oil on dipstick mean?

If you check oil levels frequently, you are more likely to find problems before they become too serious. An example of this would be when you find a milky white substance on the dipstick. What does milky oil on a dipstick mean and how do I fix it?

When the oil turns milky white, it means that water has entered it. When the two substances mix, a white slime is created. Because water should never be present in the engine, you should take a closer look at what is causing the problem as it could be related to a blown head gasket.

In our guide, we’ll cover the reasons for milky oil on the dipstick, showing you the simple fix and the one you probably don’t want to deal with. We also explain how to stop it.

Causes of Milky Oil on the Dipstick

1. Condensation or humidity

There are some parts of the country that deal more with wet and humid conditions. In these areas, moisture may accumulate in the engine. You can first detect this problem by observing the exhaust gases as water vapor is produced.

Under normal operating conditions, the engine reaches constant temperatures and moisture is burned off. However, not everyone drives their vehicle far enough for the engine to get that hot, resulting in engine moisture. When condensation is not controlled, it can create a milky white substance on the gauge.

Also, water may have gotten into the engine when you were cleaning the engine compartment. If you are using a pressure washer, water may have gotten into the oil. It can also enter the power steering cover or through the air filter, neither of which is good.

RELATED: What’s That White Stuff Under My Oil Cap?

2. Burned head gasket

If you know anything about engine problems, you know it’s a condition you never want to deal with. If moisture can’t be blamed for the milky white residue on the dipstick, you could have a blown head gasket.

The role of the head gasket is to keep the cylinders protected by an airtight seal. With this seal, the cylinders perform as expected because the correct amount of compression is present. This seal is also necessary to keep the oil and coolant separate, although both can be found in the engine.

When the head gasket blows, the coolant begins to leak into the oil passages or combustion chamber. What you are left with is the milky white stuff on the gauge.

A blown head gasket will create other symptoms that you can look for. You may notice white smoke coming from the exhaust or the engine may begin to overheat. It is also possible to detect bubbles in the coolant overflow tank or radiator. If you top off the coolant but have not yet found an external leak, fluid may be leaking into the oil passages.

3. Defective oil/coolant heat exchanger

Some car engines have a heat exchanger installed that maintains the oil temperature using the coolant temperature. Sometimes a gasket on these heat exchangers gives way, or a crack inside the exchanger itself. This will result in milky oil on the dipstick.

However, most car models do not have this part, so you should consult your repair manual or investigate further if your engine does.

Fixes for milky oil on dipstick

1. Take longer trips

If there is no problem with the motor, it can burn any moisture that may be inside the motor. By simply adding time to your normal short trips, you can make this condensation go away quickly.

For trips of less than ten minutes, the engine may never reach the correct operating temperature, especially if you are simply driving around town. Instead, you want to spend a little more time on your trip. We recommend taking the longer route to your next destination, especially if you don’t plan on getting back on the road for some time. You’ll also want to try to get speeds up to 60 mph, which will remove condensation faster than going 25 mph.

2. Thoroughly wash the engine

If you want to wash the engine compartment, you can do it yourself, but you need to be careful. You don’t want water getting into the engine, otherwise, it could cause massive damage. Before you begin, remove the oil cap and check the gasket. If the seal is worn, it cannot prevent water from entering the engine and must be replaced first.

With the seal in good condition, it’s time to spray the engine, but be sure to use a low pressure setting. You can use your home pressure washer, but it should be set as low as possible to get the job done. However, never spray directly onto the engine seals as they are not designed for this pressure level.

Otherwise, you can use an engine degreaser to clean the surface. With a scrub brush and cleaner, you should be able to clean any residue. Plus, you only need a small splash of water to rinse it off, so there’s no chance of oil getting into the engine.

3. Repair the blown head gasket or heat exchanger

Diagnosing a heat exchanger can be quite complicated without proper knowledge. Find out if there are more people with the same engine suffering from the same problem online. If there are many reports of faulty intercoolers on your car’s engine model, it could be the same on yours. To diagnose the heat exchanger, you must remove it completely and check the seals, or use a pressure tester.

Once the head gasket fails, there aren’t many options left to consider. You can find a wide variety of head gaskets on the market. However, many people advise against its use. It’s important to decide what’s best for your car, but you’re unlikely to be worse off using one, so it might be worth a try.

RELATED: How to Test for a Blown Head Gasket (7 Easy Steps)

Otherwise, you need a new head gasket. While the part costs only about $125-$350, the labor adds a lot of money to the bill. Depending on the type of vehicle you own and the area you live in, you could pay between $650 and $1,750 more in labor costs. Additionally, you will be without your vehicle for at least a few days during the construction. If your vehicle isn’t worth repairing, it’s time to start shopping.


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