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Oil on engine

I have a 2012 Ford Fusion. Before an 8 hour drive for vacation, I checked my oil. I either forgot to put the cap back on or didn’t tighten it enough. We stopped after 5 hours with no issues. At the 8 hour mark we parked and there was smoke coming from the front and I realized my mistake. (Why I usually leave all maintenance to the pros. sigh) Anyways, we had to catch a train so I just left it at my friend’s house and didn’t get to check the oil level. I have a new cap and oil in case it needs it. I plan to clean it with degreaser. Is that okay? Is there anything I should know? I have to drive home (8 hours again) and I’m petrified my engine will blow up or catch fire. (Two ladies traveling alone.) Any suggestions? Can you put my mind at ease? Thanks!

If the oil light never came on, then the oil level didn’t get low enough to do any damage. The oil on top of the engine is not likely to catch fire. It is combustible but not flammable. The difference is the temperature required to ignite. Oil has a high ignition temperature, above what the outside of the engine will reach. It can get hot enough to reach the smoke point which is much lower.

Just check the oil level with your dipstick, add oil if necessary and make sure the oil cap is snug. I would not bother degreasing the engine. You can do more harm than good. Oil is a dielectric, which means it won’t short out any of your electrical system. Degreasers and water will.

The longer it stands there in the parking lot the more oil will drip off the engine. Be prepared to see a substantial oil spot on the ground under the car. But it’s better for you the have it drip off like that. If you want to do something, check the oil level and bring it to full, then put on some exam gloves and use up a roll of paper towels wiping whatever you can reach. Then drive it, but maybe just around the area where you have parked until the engine is fully warmed up and smoking if it wants to. If it’s still running OK I’d drive it home. If you’re really nervous about it I suppose you could buy a fire extinguisher to carry with you.

Further to this, maybe the OP’s friend can put some cardboard under the engine area until the OP returns.

Place a catch pan under the engine and clean the oil off the engine with brake parts cleaner.

This will remove the oil quickly and dry rapidly leaving nothing to ignite.


Be prepared to drive home with the windows open. I had a 93 ford truck that would drip oil onto the exhaust due to metal bits on the heads ruining the seal. TSB but no recall, we put in a piece of sheet metal to divert the drips, but was on a 100 mile trip to a conference when it became a problem.

Check the oil and add if needed and when you get home pay a detailer to clean the engine. Dipsticks though are for checking the oil, and the cap is for adding the oil. No reason to take the cap off to check the oil. Hey, at least you checked the oil. Not likely to blow up but hope you didn’t drip oil all over your friend’s driveway.

I’d check the oil, fill as needed, make sure both the cap and dipstick are in and tight, and use paper towels to clean up all the oil I could easily get to.

Why did you take off the cap? Was it low a quart?

Yes. It needed a quart about a week before our trip so I wanted to make sure the level was okay. Thankfully we made it home without any issues! Whew! Hopefully it was just my nerves that suffered. Lol


Sorry I was unclear. My dad had checked it at his house on Christmas and it looked low. It had needed a start the week before and I wanted to make sure all was well before the trip. When I got home I let it cool and checked it again because it was warm at his house and his driveway is slightly slanted. I took the cap off thinking I was going to have to add some oil. While I made a boneheaded mistake, I do know the difference between the function of the dipstick and the cap. Lol!

I did as most of you suggested and filled the oil back up and wiped down as much as I could with shop towels. There was a bit of burn off but we could only smell it when we stopped and it was faint. No smoke! I plan to take it to my mechanic on Monday for the oil change I had already planned and have him check it out.

I am hoping only my nerves paid the price of my mistake. Worrying the entire visit to NYC stinks but I’ll take that over what it could have been!

Thank you everyone for your help!!


If you only had to add one quart or less to top off the oil, there was NO damage. I would be very suspicious of anyone who tries to tell you that there is. It doesn’t take very much oil to make a real mess under the hood, as little as a quarter of a quart (1/4th qt) can soak everything under the hood and make a smoke cloud that would choke an elephant.

Keith…I added about 3 quarts but no oil light ever came on. So far all has been well. fingers crossed

You didn’t overfill did you?


It’s not overfilled. I put a little in at a time and allowed it time to settle before checking. It’s between the 2 marks on the dipstick as noted in the manual.

“I added about 3 quarts”

I’m VERY glad to see your response._
May I suggest that you check your oil level more frequently in the future, so that you don’t need to add such a gross amount of oil?

Look, I’ve forgotten to put on an oil fill cap myself, and it makes a terrible mess. Everyone messes up like this at some point, usually because we got distracted and forgot what we were doing. Don’t worry too much about it, and the older you get the more you’ll do it. From what I’m reading you did the right things to recover.

I hope you enjoyed New York City at Christmas time.

Never forgot the cap myself, but I did add 4 quarts for an oil change before I remembered that I hadn’t put the drain plug back in. Synthetic oil too. We all have our moments (brain farts).

VDCdriver: The oil was full before forgetting to put the cap back on. That’s the only reason I added so much. I get the oil checked/changed regularly.

Wentwest: I am old enough to know better. I was distracted though. For sure. The trip was a Christmas surprise for my daughter. I am not good at keeping secrets so all the planning and sneaking probably got to me. Lol! We definitely had fun! Saw a show and all the important sites. Even got a selfie with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter.) We are HP nerds so that was exciting.

Keith: I needed reminded that we all make mistakes. I was so frustrated with myself. I think I’m getting over it. Lesson learned!

If you needed to add 3 quarts to get the mark on the dipstick where it is supposed to be, suggest before you depart on the return trip to have your car assessed by an experienced mechanic. They’ll be able to listen to the engine at idle and during a test drive and tell you if any major engine damage has occurred due to low oil, which would preclude a long trip.