But to do all this, there has to be enough motor oil, flowing at sufficient pressure.
When there’s a problem in your vehicle’s oil system, one or more warning lights will come on to alert you that it’s time to have your car checked. If you see the low oil pressure or low oil level lights stay on after you start your vehicle, or you notice the light come on while you’re driving, you’ll want to get it fixed quickly—your engine could quickly become ruined if you don’t.
What Are the Oil Warning Lights For?
Your Low Oil Pressure Warning Light
Your engine has many precision-made metallic parts, revolving and moving thousands of times per minute. These parts need to be constantly bathed in a pressurized shower of oil to stay in good working order.
Your engine’s oil pump is responsible for making this happen. A sensor threaded into one of the engine’s oil passages keeps track of the pressure. If it gets too low, the oil pressure warning light will pop on.
This light typically uses a symbol of an old-style oil can with a drop of oil dripping from its spout.
Low Oil Level Warning Light
Your engine requires a sufficient amount of oil to function properly. The low engine oil level warning light is usually linked to a float that’s located inside the oil pan. When the level gets lower than it should, an electrical switch inside the float will trigger the low oil level indicator to come on.
Low oil level warnings can show up in a few ways, depending on the make of your vehicle. It may be a light on the dashboard or, on some vehicles, a message that appears in the driver information center.
The low oil level warning light is similar to the low oil pressure warning light. In addition to the oil can symbol, there may be a wavy or jagged line underneath.
A note about this
In some cars, oil pressure and oil level are monitored by two separate warning lights. In others, both functions are combined into one warning light. Check your owner’s manual to verify how your warning lights are set up.
Why the Oil Warning Lights Come On
An illuminated oil warning light might make you nervous, but knowing the meaning can help you know what kind of service you need. Here are some of the reasons your oil warning lights are lit up.
Your Oil Level Is Too Low
If you haven’t checked your oil in a while, or if something is causing your engine to leak or burn oil, the level can drop to the point where the pump is sending out air along with whatever oil remains. This isn’t the “minimum” or “add” mark on the dipstick — this is way below that. An inadequate amount of oil can cause a loss of oil pressure and can trigger either or both of your oil warning lights.
Pull over and turn off your engine immediately. Let your vehicle sit for about five minutes so that the oil can drain back into the oil pan. Check your oil level. If it’s low, add fresh oil until it reads full. Check your owner’s manual for the correct oil to use. Start your engine and let it idle for a minute. If the lights go out, you have solved the problem. If they stay on, turn off the engine and call your mechanic. You shouldn’t drive the vehicle until it has been repaired.
If you simply forgot to check your oil for a while, then an oil and filter change, followed by more frequent oil level checks, should fix the problem.
If you have an oil leak, its source should be identified and repaired. You might notice stains or puddles under the car, or oil on engine parts under the hood. The engine might have a bad gasket or seal — a mechanic can identify and fix the faulty part.
Or, your engine might be burning some of its oil, especially if it has a lot of miles on it. This can be caused by worn cylinders, piston rings, or valve train components allowing oil to migrate into the combustion chambers and get burned along with the gasoline. Look for black smoke coming out of your tailpipe under acceleration. Call your mechanic if you see any, but know that this may indicate expensive engine repairs ahead.
Your Oil Pump Is Bad
The oil pump in your engine works hard. When your engine is running, the pump must circulate oil to all the engine’s moving parts. If it wears out or fails, it won’t be able to provide proper oil pressure. When this happens, the oil pressure warning light will come on. You may also hear a strange noise coming from under the hood.
Shut off your vehicle immediately. Check the oil level after it has had several minutes to drain back into the oil pan. If the level is between the minimum and the maximum, do not drive the vehicle until it has been repaired. Call us. We can check the actual pressure being produced by the oil pump and make any necessary repairs.
Your Oil Filter Is Blocked
Your engine’s oil filter is its first line of defense against contaminants. As the oil circulates through the engine, it passes through the filter, where dirt, metal particles, and other bad things are trapped. If the filter gets overloaded, it can get blocked and cause low oil pressure.
Change your oil and filter at the recommended service intervals. A blocked filter is usually the result of leaving it, and the oil, in your engine for way too long.
Your Sensor, Wiring, or Warning Light Is Bad
It is possible that the sensor, wiring, or some other part of the warning light system can fail and turn on the light when there is no actual problem. If your engine sounds fine, and the oil level is correct, this could be the issue.
Shut off your vehicle and check the oil level after a few minutes. If everything seems normal, but the light keeps coming on, check with a mechanic. If you have a bad sensor, wiring or warning light, it can be repaired.
Your Oil System Is Clogged with Sludge
Some engines can produce sludge in the oil, which can clog up the intake in the oil pan, your oil filter and the oil passages in your engine. Neglecting the maintenance schedule, using the incorrect oil, or sometimes just poor engine design can lead to this situation. When it happens, the oil will have a hard time flowing, causing the oil pressure light to come on.
Stop driving and get your vehicle taken to a repair shop. Depending on how bad it is, the engine may need to be cleaned of sludge. Switching to synthetic oil, and changing it and the filter at the proper intervals may solve your sludge problems.
Your Engine Is Worn
If your car has a very high number of miles on it, it can experience the effects of engine wear. As moving parts like the crankshaft and the camshafts age, the clearances between these parts and the bearings they rotate within become larger. Oil flows through these larger openings more easily, lowering the oil pressure, and in extreme cases causing the warning light to illuminate.
A mechanic can verify the extent of your engine’s wear issues, and whether the condition is terminal. The age, condition, and current value of your vehicle may or may not support the cost of overhauling or replacing your engine. You may be able to switch to a thicker grade of oil to get the pressure back up and extend your engine’s life.
Can I Drive with the Oil Warning Lights On?
In a word, no. It’s not a great idea.
Once you see an oil warning light switch on, indicating that the oil system has either insufficient pressure or a shortage of oil, you should not drive your vehicle until it has been evaluated by a professional and repaired. If you wait too long or ignore the warning light, you could destroy your engine.
Your car is too great to let an oil issue wreak havoc on your engine. At Euro Motorworks, we’ll pinpoint the problem and get it resolved so you can get back on the road.
When your oil warning light comes on, schedule an appointment with us today.