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Oil tank smells like oil. How concerned should I be?

We recently had our heating system tuned up. The guy didn't notice see leaks but told us we need to replace our oil tank. It is old and really rusty on the outside (basement extremely humid - now controlled better), and it is standing on bad supports. We have the tank scheduled for replacement but the wait is ~3 weeks. The tank is in a large crawl space accessed from basement. The basement does not smell but we've now noticed an mild/moderate oil smell in the crawl space. Only the tank is in the crawl space, not the heater itself. Oil was filled about 2-3 weeks ago and service was done like 1.5 weeks ago.

I have gotten in there with a flashlight and I can't find any evidence of oil spilled on the ground around it. How worried should I be that there is a significant leak, or that the tank will catastrophically fail in the next 3 weeks? Could the smell be due to it being run for the first time today for about 1-2 weeks (and very little so far this season)? I'm just terribly afraid of being on the hook for an extremely expensive cleanup.


  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,787
    If you looked all around the tank and don't see any signs of oil it's probably ok. Another place to look is on top of the tank. Maybe one of the joints in the pipe isn't properly sealed, especially the vent, and the oil smell is coming from there.
    Another place to look is at the plastic gauge for the tank. It could be cracked, loose, or the gasket could've rotted out allowing the smell to seep from there.
    And if you just had a tune up, it's possible some oil was spilled around the fuel filter, or even the filter may have a tiny leak.
    If it were a significant leak you would see it. Oil doesn't really dry.
    Just don't poke at the tank.
    Odd that you filled the oil tank if you are getting it changed out.
    Besides violating the warranty, and going against best practices spelled out everywhere, I wouldn't allow them to put ANY oil from the old tank into the new one.
  • I agree it’s bad timing, but the oil was delivered about a week prior to our learning we needed to replace the tank. Thanks for the tips and pointers very valuable to me!!
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,364

    I would suspect as @STEVEusaPA mentioned that the service tech spilled a little oil.....it doesn't take much to give you a smell.

    Oil tanks seldom et go quickly, they usually start to seep a little. If you don't see any oil I wouldn't worry
  • Thank you both very heartening, I will keep an eye on it and count down the days until replacement and peace of mind. I also hadn’t thought how poorly ventilated that area is so I opened some windows and turned on a fan. Mighta been trapping fumes from even a really small amount.