Ugh! When a warning light suddenly flashes on your car dashboard it instantly causes feelings of dread and anxiety. Don’t panic. The dashboard is the primary way it communicates with the driver about the vehicle’s condition. When the “low oil pressure” flickers on it can indicate a serious issue with your vehicle. When this light flashes on in your dashboard it’s important to stop driving as soon as possible and let your vehicle cool down so that you can check the oil levels.
Low Oil Pressure – What Does The Light Mean?
These days, vehicles have become much more complex machines. Did you know that the average car has well over 200 computer modules working behind the dashboard, all of which are bound by electrical wires that link these components together? They work along with a vast network of sensors that gives off a warning light when triggered. Dashboard warning lights are in a variety of colors, yet the most serious ones are red.
In most modern vehicles the low oil pressure is usually depicted as a red oil can. This warning light indicates that the oil isn’t properly circulating through the engine. In some cases, the low oil level light may come on or the words may flash below the symbol. Either way, this is a significant issue that should be taken care of right away.
After all, the engine needs oil to survive. When the oil isn’t flowing through all of the narrow passageways and the moving parts of the engine the lack of lubrication can result in extensive damage.
Low Oil Pressure – Can I Still Drive My Car?
No doubt, you might be tempted to ignore the red low oil pressure light flashing on your dashboard. We have all been guilty of ignoring a warning light or two. However, when it comes to your low oil pressure light this can be hazardous.
If your engine suddenly stops while you are in traffic this can cause an accident. If you attempt to keep driving your vehicle it may overheat, the engine can stop and refuse to turnover. Of course, you also risk compromising the health of your motor. When the low oil pressure light illuminates you don’t want to keep your vehicle running for long.
Low Oil Pressure – Is There Enough Oil In My Car?
Oftentimes the low oil pressure is triggered when there isn’t sufficient oil in the engine. When there isn’t enough oil to lubricate all the moving parts of the engine it results in friction causing the metal parts to make physical contact with each other. This will dramatically slow down engine performance and may even cause a light tapping sound within the motor.
Aside from lubricating all of the components within the engine or motor, oil is also important because it:
- Engine oil plays a critical role in your vehicle’s cooling process. Of course, the coolant system which includes the water pump, radiator, and thermostat takes care of the majority of your vehicle cooling needs the oil cools down areas of the engine that the coolant doesn’t reach. For instance, the heat that is generated by the combustion chambers is carried away by the circulating oil back into the oil tank where it’s eventually siphoned through and dissipated into the air.
- Oil also keeps the engine clean by removing hazardous debris such as metal and other deposits that could compromise the health of the motor.
Is your car running low on motor oil? Here are some signs of low oil levels that you should look out for:
Smell Burnt Oil – Can you smell oil burning while you are driving? If so, you should pull over and turn your vehicle off. The smell of burning oil can indicate an oil leak and the oil just may be seeping on to parts of the hot engine.
Noises From the Engine – Another major sign that your vehicle is running low on engine oil is the sound of the engine knocking or grinding due to the lack of lubrication without the oil. If this persists it can cause your rods to break.
Poor Fuel Economy – Are you running out of gas more quickly than you normally would? When the engine doesn’t have enough oil circulation through the components it will have to work harder than usual. As the engine works harder it will consume more of your gas.
Engine Overheating – If the “Engine Overheat” warning light flickers in then you may be in some serious trouble. One of the most significant signs that a vehicle doesn’t have enough motor oil if the engines start overheating. The friction caused by the constant metal-on-metal contact starts to make the engine hotter and hotter.
Although the easiest way to determine if your car is running low on oil is through the warning lights on the dashboard, it’s a good idea to pop the hood and manually check the oil levels. First, check the owner’s manual and adhere to the manufacturer's recommendations for checking the oil.
How To Check Your Engine Oil Levels
Of course, if you are checking the oil level yourself, you should make sure the car isn’t running. You’ll want to let the vehicle cool off just a little before you touch it so that you don’t burn yourself on any of the other hot automotive parts.
Next, pop opens the hood and locates the dipstick which is typically located on the left side of the engine and has a yellow or orange handle. Using a clean paper towel or cloth, pull the dipstick from the engine and clean off any oil residue. Insert the dipstick all the way back into the tube on the engine and then slowly withdraw it.
While every vehicle is different the dipstick will have markings on it indicating the right oil levels. There should be two pinholes one that reads “high” and another that says “low” or
“Min” and “Max”. Determine whether the oil streak is near the high or low end of the mark or right in between.
Low Oil Pressure – Why Does My Engine Keep Burning Oil
What if your motor needs more oil? In some cases, simply adding a quart or two of oil to the engine is enough to correct the pressure level. However, even if an adequate amount of lubricant has been added to the motor or the engine the lack of oil may have been due to an underlying issue. Oil consumption increases as the engine ages. Therefore, if an engine is really old you should expect it to burn considerably more oil.
If you have a newer vehicle and you find that it’s consuming or burning oil at an alarming rate it can be due to an oil leak that needs to be repaired right away. Oil evaporation is another possibility that occurs when the piston rings which causes leaks through the seals and the oil plug.
Fixing a low oil pressure issue when there is an oil leak can be nearly impossible without locating the leak. You can get a general idea of where the oil leak is by placing a clean piece of cardboard on the ground underneath the engine.
Low Oil Pressure and Oil Changes – What You Should Know
When was the last time you changed your car’s oil? Motor oil isn’t designed to last long. Over time the fluid breaks down and becomes muddied with participles and detergents. After a while, it isn’t able to provide the lubrication and protection that the engine needs. If you have a habit of going extended periods in between oil changes this can ultimately decrease the oil levels within the vehicle.
Old and dirty oil can affect different components that work along with the engine. Soiled oil can create engine sludge which has a tendency to get stuck everywhere and clogs up the oil pump which prevents it from being able to provide oil to the rest of the engine.
Routine oil changes are one of the most important maintenance procedures you can have performed on your car. Most automotive experts will suggest that you have your car’s oil changed at least once a year or after every 7,500 miles depending on which one comes first. This ensures that you’ll always have fresh oil circulating through your engine.
Low Oil Pressure – Using the Right Type of Oil in Your Vehicle
No doubt, using the wrong type of oil for your car can also cause low oil pressure. If you don’t know for sure what type of oil you need for your vehicle you should refer to the owner's manual. When it comes to motor oil slip-ups the brand of the oil doesn’t really matter, it's the viscosity of the oil that matters the most.
The viscosity of a motor oil refers to its resistance to flow or its ability to lubricate and protect the components within the engine. Motor oil with low viscosity such as oil that’s 5W-20 is thin and light has a low viscosity level. On the other hand,15W-20 motor oil has a higher viscosity level so this oil is likely thicker and heavier.
Motor oil with too low of viscosity for your engine can wear out your engine due to the friction, it can cause increased oil consumption and leaking seals. On the other hand, lubricants with higher viscosity can cause poor fuel economy, operating temperatures will go up and you’ll have more trouble starting the vehicle in the cold.
Different vehicles require lubricants or motor oils of different viscosities depending on what type of engine the vehicle has. That’s why it’s imperative for car owners to use the lubricant viscosity recommended in the oil manuals. When you switch from the motor oil recommended for your car’s engine especially if the oil is of a low viscosity it will cause low oil pressure within the engine. Using low viscosity oil during the colder weather seasons will improve cold start lubrication and balance out oil pressure levels.
Low Oil Pressure – What’s The Next Step
When the “low oil pressure” light comes on, in addition to checking your oil levels you should also have an official oil pressure reading conducted. A mechanical oil pressure gauge will be able to provide a reliable reading. Oil pressure gauges can be purchased or rented from an automotive parts store at an affordable price. This will rule out the possibility of faulty oil pressure sensors in your vehicle.
If your oil levels are low add the right viscosity oil to your vehicle and monitor the light. Have your mechanic check for oil leaks that could be compromising your engine. If you previously used the wrong oil in your car you can have it professionally flushed and the correct oil should be added to the vehicle. Have the oil pump and the oil lines thoroughly inspected by your mechanic to make sure that they have disconnected from the engine or that they aren’t broken.
Low Oil Pressure – Maintaining Oil Pressure
When the engine oil pressure drops it decreases engine performance, poor fuel economy, loss of power and eventually it can lead to the engine seizing. Yes, your vehicle’s engine oil is vital to its overall health and longevity. A balanced oil pressure level ensures that all the important moving parts of an engine are lubricated and are operating smoothly.
Here are a few things you can do to maintaining a balanced oil pressure level in your vehicle;
- Perform routine checks of oil levels and quality
- Change your oil every 7,500 miles or once a year depending on how often you drive
- Follow your car manufacturers oil viscosities recommendation
- Replace the oil filters when necessary
- Have your vehicle serviced regularly
Adequate oil levels also reduce wear and help keep the engine cool while it’s running. Routine maintenance of your vehicle can help ensure that you maintain the proper oil pressure levels in your vehicle. You should regularly monitor your car’s oil and pressure levels to ensure that they are properly balanced.