Can Jeff stop the oil leaking from his Fiat? Read today's column.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife and I just became the proud owners of a 1981 Fiat 2000 Spider with only 40,000 miles on the odometer. The car is in great shape, runs like new and is absolutely fun to drive. After parking the car overnight, I noticed that a small amount of oil had accumulated under the car, and upon investigation found that oil was seeping from around the cam box cover on the passenger side of the engine. From what I can determine, the leak is small at this point, but persistent, so it isn't something that I would like to let go until I park the car for the winter. The cam box cover looks very accessible, and I have replaced gaskets on small engines (welders and other similar machines), so I am reasonably sure that I am up to the task. However, as in all things mechanical, there usually are unknown things that happen as soon as you put a wrench to it. Are there any quirks particular to this repair that I should know about? -- Jeff

RAY: Yes. Know that it's one of many, many repairs you will be doing through the years. My brother has a '78 version of this car, and if this was the only problem he had, he'd be thrilled.

TOM: Only one oil leak? How'd you manage that, Jeff? That's fabulous!

RAY: This actually is a very easy repair, as are most repairs on this vehicle -- which is only a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from a Radio Flyer red wagon.

TOM: What you refer to as the "cam box cover" is called the "valve cover" on most other cars. There's one on each side of the engine. The cover is held on by three hex bolts. So, the first thing you want to do is check them to see if they're tight.

RAY: If they're not tight, simply tightening them up may stop the leak. If they're already tight, then you need to replace the gasket.

TOM: So you remove the three bolts, and you'll be looking at the cam lobes, and the valves below that. You scrape off the old gasket, careful not to let pieces of it fall into the valve train, and then you put in the new gasket, replace the valve cover, tighten up the bolts, and you're done.

RAY: If you can't find a new gasket, pick up some RTV silicone adhesive at your local auto-parts store. There's a special kind of RTV that's oil-resistant, and we use it to make gaskets when we have an old heap in the shop that we can no longer get parts for (e.g., any of my brother's cars).

TOM: You just squirt a bead of this stuff where the gasket's supposed to go, let it set up for two minutes, slam the cover on, tighten it up and let it dry for an hour. And then drive the car. And presto, you're ready to start looking for the next oil leak! Good luck, Jeff.

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