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What Does It Mean When Your Car Says Check Oil Level?

What Does It Mean When Your Car Says Check Oil Level?

Understanding “what does it mean when your car says check oil level?” is a very critical skill set to prevent major engine damages. When your dashboard says, “check oil level,” the issue might be related to either your engine has a low oil level, or your vehicle is due for an oil change.


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Vehicles are equipped with different warning lights to bring your attention to internal issues. Sometimes the warning lights might indicate a minor issue, but it can be linked to a significant problem that needs immediate attention in a lot of situations.

The check engine oil level is a critical warning light that you must watch because it tells you about what's going on regarding the engine oil. As you already know, the engine's oil is a central fluid that keeps your engine's temperature at the optimum level and prevents engine damage.

This article highlights what your vehicles are trying to tell you when it raises “a check oil level” and provides it with some recommendations on what to do if you got into this situation so you can save the engine as much as you can.

What is the engine oil, and what does it do?

Before we dive into the details about “what does it mean when your car says check oil level?” It is critical to step back and familiarize ourselves with the engine oil and its main role in your vehicle.

Your vehicle's engine consists of multiple internal moving components that are interacting with each other continuously. As these components interact, they generate a lot of friction resulting in excess heat that could elevate the engine temperature. Elevated engine temperature is very critical, and it might end up with what's known as “engine overheating.”

Engine overheating is one of the very critical problems that your vehicle might come across. When the engine passes a certain temperature level, it can immediately get into a situation of self-destruction. Therefore, you must maintain the engine temperature within the optimum level specified in your vehicle owner’s manual.

How does your vehicle cool down the engine?

Luckily, your vehicle relies on several systems that work together to bring the engine temperature down whenever it overheats. Along with these systems, the engine oil eliminates any friction due to moving parts' interaction. Therefore, when you use the right type of oil with the right amount, you don't have to worry about friction because the engine receives the right level of lubrication.

What does it mean when your car says check oil level?

Depending on your vehicle, the check engine oil level light might indicate two different things:

1.    Time to change the oil

Some vehicles are equipped with a certain engine oil level light indicating that it's time to change your vehicle's oil. However, if you don't already know, over time of use, oil gets contaminated and collects a lot of debris as it runs around the engine. Thus, it does not keep its characteristics that help reduce the engine temperature when needed. Therefore, you'll be asked to change the oil and replace it with a fresh one.

The frequency of changing your oil depends heavily on your vehicle's type and the type of oil you decided to go with. Conventional oil is the cheapest, but it needs frequent oil change; however, synthetic oil is the more expensive one and does not need as much oil change as conventional oil. Keep in mind that not every vehicle is designed in a way that accepts synthetic oil. Therefore, before switching to synthetic oil, you must consult your mechanic and ensure that it's OK to do so.

You must follow what's recommended in your vehicle’s owner’s manual about the oil change frequency, which will be classified based on the type of oil you decided to go with.

2.    Low oil pressure

On the other hand, some vehicles are equipped with a second oil light, which is more severe. This light indicates that your vehicle does not have the right oil pressure, and it is very serious to a level that you can't continue driving the vehicle until you resolve the issue.

When the vehicle complains that it doesn't receive the right oil pressure level, it could be a problem with oil leaks somewhere around the oil lines. Therefore, you must stop the vehicle and consult the mechanic immediately about what needs to be done. If the oil leak is not severe, you might be able to get to the repair shop, but in situations where oil leak is major, you must tow your vehicle to the shop instead.

What do you do when your car says check oil level?

When your vehicle's dashboard says, “check oil level,” You must take the situation seriously because it can easily lead to significant engine damages. Whether the issue is related to oil change or low oil pressure, you must follow these steps:


1.    Pull over safely

If you are driving the vehicle on the highway or city roads, you must find a safe time to pull over and stop your vehicle. On the highways, it is recommended that you find the nearest exit and get your vehicle in a location where you can stop safely. However, if the situation is difficult, you might end up stopping the vehicle on the highway shoulder.

2.    Turn off the engine

Once you found the right safe place to park your vehicle, the next step is to stop the engine immediately. After understanding “what does it mean when your car says check oil level?” You can't immediately imagine what could happen if you continue driving the vehicle!

3.    Check the engine oil

After stopping your vehicle, you want to check the oil level. Immediately, pop up the hood and find the oil dipstick. Usually, the oil dipstick is the bright yellow stick, and it should have a label saying “oil.”

If you don't know how to check the engine oil already, you can follow these simple steps:

  • Take out the dipstick and wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth
  • Insert the dipstick all the way and allow it to pick up some oil to determine the oil level
  • Look at the stick and see where the oil level is located
  • Compare the oil level to the required level based on the mark on the dipstick. Typically, the dipstick will show you two marks indicating where the minimum and maximum points are.
  • Top off the oil is needed and make sure it doesn't pass the maximum oil mark

4.    Decide on whether to drive the vehicle or not

After checking the engine's oil and confirming that it's at the right level will, the next step is to determine whether you can drive the vehicle or not. For example, sometimes the oil level might be linked to a major issue related to a severe oil leak. If that's the case, you can't drive the vehicle because it can't immediately lead to significant engine damages.

To make an informed decision, it is recommended that you follow these steps:

Your vehicle doesn't have any oil

As a rule of thumb, if you inserted the dipstick and realized that there is no oil at all, you must never continue driving the vehicle because it's a very critical situation. Instead, immediately consult your mechanic and describe the situation because there might be some major internal issue that can get very complicated just by driving your vehicle for less than an inch.

Your vehicle's oil dropped after topping it off

Another thing you need to do is to check whether the oil level dropped after you top it off. Typically, when you top the oil level, it should not drop immediately. It will take a lot of time until your engine consumes some of it to show a drop.

However, if you notice that the oil level dropped immediately, this indicates an internal oil leak or external oil leak by chance. You can confirm the external leak by looking underneath the vehicle and monitoring any weird oily fluid puddles. If that's the case, you're not allowed to drive the vehicle because it leads to severe damages.

Your vehicle is making weird noises

Sometimes your vehicle might have the right engine oil level, but the check oil level light might be linked to something else. Therefore, a quick way to inform if there is another issue is by listening to any weird noises coming from the engine. Over time driving your vehicle, you should know when it acts normal versus when it's suffering from something.

Can I drive my car if the oil light is on?

As we indicated earlier, it's never recommended that you continue driving your vehicle when the oil light is on. This is because while the light might be linked to the time for changing your vehicle's oil, it can also be linked to severe internal problems linked to low oil pressure.

Low oil pressure is a significant issue and can immediately lead to significant engine damages when continuing to drive your vehicle. Fills, no matter what's the reason behind the oil light, must take immediate action and stop the vehicle if you don't want to pay thousands of dollars on repair costs.

How long can I drive with check oil lights?

It all depends on the type of check oil light you are referring to. For example, if this check light needs an oil change, the expert indicated that you might be able to continue driving the vehicle for up to two weeks, but it's not recommended.

However, if the check oil light has to do with the low oil pressure, you cannot drive the vehicle even a single inch because you will deal with severe engine damage is in no time.

What happens if you go too long without an oil change?

When your vehicle tells you that it's time to change your oil and you ignored it for any reason, you might sacrifice the entire engine. The engine will overheat immediately if it doesn't receive the right level of lubrication and with the oil is dirty, it will not do the job. As a result, it cannot reduce the engine temperature to the optimum level.


Therefore, it is recommended that you never delay an oil change, and it's a crucial task for the end driver to monitor when it's the right time to change the oil. Remember that some vehicles might not throw an error indicating that your cars are due for an oil change; You will start dealing with the problems immediately.


Your vehicle throws check warning lights to bring your attention to internal damages. You must take these lights seriously because they might be linked to significant internal damages.

The check oil level light might be linked to two different issues: it could be either your vehicle's due for an oil change or probably there is an internal oil leak, and it's translated by low oil pressure.

In either case, you should take immediate action and resolve the issue by either changing the oil or inspecting the reasons behind the low oil level. Keep in mind that a low oil level is a severe problem, and it requires immediate attention from a professional mechanic to resolve the issue.

If you realize that your vehicle's check the oil level is linked to a major problem, you must evaluate the situation and see if it's worth the repairs or not because sometimes the problem could be linked to a big issue requiring very high repair costs. When that happens, sometimes you should sell the vehicle and use its money towards a better car that doesn't have any problem.

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