My car has been making an odd noise for the last couple of weeks. We first noticed it on the way back from my cousin’s wedding (congratulations Mel and Lal!), when we stopped at some traffic lights in Castle Cary and heard a faint ticking noise coming from the engine. My wife described it as being like a leaf caught in a bicycle wheel. My keenly trained ears quickly assessed it to be in sync with the rotational speed of the engine, and experience told me it was probably something running dry. Obviously the engine could do with a top up of oil, and I mentally scolded myself for not checking the level before we left.
And then, well, things got in the way. It was raining. We were ill. I was busy. There just wasn’t an ideal time to pop out and top up the oil, so I just carried on driving to work and back with that ticking noise in the background, a constant reminder that actually the engine wasn’t all that happy, and that I really should do something about it. Finally, this morning, just as we were about to head off to Tesco for the weekly shop, I remembered and checked the oil level. It was indeed low. It wasn’t even registering on the dipstick. My bad. So I hunted around in the garage and found the oil, but realised too late that it wasn’t nearly enough. So I put what we had into the car and drove to Tesco, where I parked up and walked round the corner to the garage to buy some more.
When I got back I opened the bonnet, removed the oil filler cap, removed the oil bottle top, and prepared to fill her up. And that’s where it all went wrong. The angle wasn’t right, the bottle was too full, the bottle opening was far too far away from the engine, I was either too cautious or too enthusiastic, and the first couple of glugs of oil came spilling out into the engine bay, with hardly a drop actually going where it was supposed to. Oops. The engine was still hot from having just been driven, and the oil on the engine block quickly started to steam and smoke off. In the Tesco car park. With people passing by. Yes, I was embarrassed.
Thankfully it looked worse than it actually was. It wasn’t a huge quantity of oil, and it wasn’t actually doing any damage, despite the clouds of white smoke billowing from the engine bay. It hadn’t got on the electrics, it wasn’t going to short anything, it wasn’t going to catch fire. So I put it all away again and popped into Tesco to buy some cheap implement for achieving a more satisfactory delivery of oil to the engine. A 35p plastic jug presented itself, and armed with that I headed back to the car. From then on it was easy, just the way it should have been from the start. I filled the engine with oil, checking the dipstick as I went, until I’d got a suitable level in there. The engine block was cooler now, so it wasn’t smoking, but there was a small pool of oil on the floor below the car, and I knew it was going to heat up once we started to drive, so I just had to convince my wife that it would all be okay.
Sure enough, before we’d been on the road more than a few minutes we began to smell the hot oil burning itself off the engine block. Not entirely pleasant, if you’re not into cars, and when we got home and parked the engine was still smoking quite a bit. But, once again, I reassured my wife that it was all fine, nothing to worry about. When she was inside I took a quick peek under the bonnet though, just to make sure.
We went out in the afternoon too, as it happens. The engine now sounds and feels much smoother and happier, and there’s no more white smoke or oily smell, so all’s good. But that’s another lesson learnt. Never try to fill up with oil without a reliable pouring device. If you do, it’ll all end in tears. Or at the very least, smoke.
Oh, and a final aside to Sarah: you have permission to ridicule me for my momentary automotive ineptness.