Have you ever wondered, “what is low oil pressure?” Low oil pressure indicates that your vehicle does not have the right engine oil level, which leads to significant engine problems in most scenarios. Therefore, you must take it seriously and resolve issues whenever you deal with low oil pressure.
Your engine must operate within a certain range of temperature. When the engine exceeds the maximum temperature level, it deals with what's known as engine overheating, which is a significant problem that leads to damaging the entire engine.
Multiple components work together to help maintain the engine’s temperature within the optimum level. Your vehicle relies on the cooling system and the lubrication system to keep the engine alive and prevent overheating.
This article will walk you through all the details about the lubrication system. More specifically, it will help you answer the question, “what is low oil pressure?” Once you have a good idea about the low oil pressure, you'll make wise decisions about what needs to be done next when dealing with such a situation.
Why does your engine need oil?
Before we dig into details about what does low oil pressure mean, let's step back and get an idea about why your engine needs oil in the first place.
Your engine has many metal interacting components in any vehicle equipped with a combustion engine. As these components interact with each other, they generate a lot of heat due to friction, and if this heat is not controlled, it leads to significant engine overheating that could damage the entire engine.
Therefore, automotive experts and manufacturers require adding a specific engine oil that takes care of all this friction and prevents your engine from overheating. Of course, the oil will not be the only element in your car that prevents all engine overheating but is an essential element.
You must maintain a specific level of oil all the time for your engine to work properly. At some point, you will need to replace the old oil with a fresh one because as oil gets older, it loses the main characteristics and will no longer be able to drop the engine temperature as it should.
Therefore, you'll have to maintain the right engine oil level, and you'll need to maintain the right oil change frequencies if you want your car to serve you as long as possible.
What does low oil pressure?
While you have a good idea about how often you should change your engine oil, sometimes you'll deal with significant issues where the oil leaks because of some reasons, and when this happens, the oil system will not have the right oil level, which impacts the way your engine performs.
Your vehicle is smart enough to bring your attention whenever there is an internal problem like low engine oil. You won't see a low engine oil level on the dashboard, but instead, you'll see a warning sign indicating that the oil pressure is low, which is analogous to saying that there is not enough oil in your engine's reservoir.
Of course, whenever you see the low engine oil on the dashboard, you must take it seriously because it leads to significant damages to the engine in no time. You cannot wait until you get to the nearest repair shop or when you have time. So it is a big deal, and when it happens, you must stop driving the vehicle and consult your mechanic as soon as possible.
Your mechanic might tell you that you can drive to the nearest shop, but in some scenarios, you won't be able to drive the vehicle, and you'll have to tow it to the nearest shop.
What to do when the oil pressure is low?
Dealing with low oil pressure is not a simple issue, and that's why you'll have to follow the right steps to prevent dealing with complicated problems that could cost you thousands of dollars. Typically, whenever you see the low oil pressure on the dashboard, you need to do the following:
- Do not panic because dealing with such a situation might be stressful to many inexperienced drivers. Panicking will not do you anything, and it will cause negative consequences. Therefore, calming down and understanding the right steps is what's more important.
- If you're driving on the highway, try taking the nearest exit. However, if you realize other symptoms like smoking or high engine temperature, you might need to pull over on the shoulder and wait for roadside assistance.
- After pulling over, stop the vehicle and turn it off completely. Do not attempt to open the hood or touch any of the hot components until your vehicle is cool down for at least 15, if not 30, minutes.
- Look around the vehicle and check for any signs of an oil leak. If that's the case, then you were dealing with a significant issue, and you might not be able to continue driving the car.
- Consult your mechanic and reach out for help. Sometimes you might have a family member or a friend who has the experience and can come and help you. Otherwise, you'll need to reach out to your insurance company, especially if you have roadside assistance that can come and take care of your problem.
- If you are pulled over on the highway shoulder, you should stay in the vehicle and not wander around because it will be dangerous for you, especially if you're stopping it during nighttime and visibility is limited.
- Do not be afraid if you see a police officer stopping by around you. Typically, police officers are more here to help you and to make your vehicle as visible as possible to the other cars in the traffic. Explain to your officer what's going on and get an idea from the officer about what needs to be done and how safely you can get out of this situation.
How much is too low for oil pressure?
You won't immediately deal with the significant damages once the oil pressure drops slightly. In other words, understanding how much is too low for oil pressure helps you evaluate the situation and understand the complexity of the problem.
If you keep an eye on the oil pressure gauge on the dashboard, you will always be ready for anything that could go wrong in the oil system. Typically, oil pressure below 20PSI is where you should worry and take it seriously. The 20 threshold is a common range where your salt dealing with some damage is related to the low oil pressure.
It is recommended that you take the issue seriously whenever you notice that oil pressure is approaching the 20PSI and never wait till the last minute. Typically, the oil pressure drops because the oil gets very old, but, in some instances, if you notice that the pressure is dropping significantly and quickly, it indicates that there is a severe oil leak that might damage the engine in no time.
How to fix low oil pressure?
Assuming that you got to a point where your engine's oil is at low pressure, you'll need to fix the problem as soon as possible. But, of course, fixing the problem depends heavily on the root cause. In other words, there is no one cookie-cutter for how to fix low oil pressure, and you should perform a thorough inspection to deal with the real culprit and resolve it once you know it.
Typically, fixing the low oil pressure works successfully by implementing the following recommendations:
1. Fixing low oil pressure due to supply problems
Typically, your engine oil will be at low pressure if there is not enough supply. In other words, there might be some clogging somewhere in the tubes or the filters that prevent oil from reaching the reservoir. When this happens, you'll have to find where the clogging occurs and replace the faulty component or clean it up.
In some instances, the oil might not approach the right components because of leaks around the tubes. Therefore, your mechanic needs to perform the Thor inspection and detect the leaks. Typically, these leaks happen at weak locations like the turbocharger, the valve seals, etc.
2. Fixing low oil pressure due to wrong oil viscosity
It's important for you as a driver to understand what type of oil you should use in your car. You can't simply go with the one that you like because there are some specifications, and your vehicle is designed in a way that accepts a certain level of lubrication from a certain type of oil.
Every oil has a specific viscosity, representing certain characteristics that make one oil work better than the other for some vehicles. Therefore, you must review your vehicle owner’s manual and understand the viscosity level needed for your car.
Keep in mind that the temperature can impact viscosity, which means that there might be some different ranges for summer and winter viscosities. Some water oils come with multi-viscosity simultaneously, which might be a good idea if your owner’s manual recommends it.
If you discovered that your low oil pressure has to do with the wrong oil viscosity, you'd need to replace the oil as soon as possible to prevent causing some damage to the engine.
3. Fixing low oil pressure due to electrical problems
If the oil supply and the oil viscosity are perfect, your next step is to check some electrical components. In some instances, the gauge itself that's reading the oil pressure might be faulty, which means it's not telling you about what's exactly going on with the lubrication system.
Therefore, your mechanic needs to look closely at each gauge and confirm that no short circuits or open circuits are causing the issue.
4. Fixing low oil pressure due to engine problems
If you are in bad luck, your low oil pressure might be related to a significant problem in the engine compartment. Unfortunately, those problems are very expensive to repair, and they have to do with significant sensitive components in the engine.
For example, a blown head gasket might lead oil to move from one location to another that it shouldn't go to. When that happens, you'll see that the oil pressure gets impacted because it's not designed to go through all the pathways.
Replacing a blown head gasket is not an easy job requiring expensive repair costs.
Therefore, if your low oil pressure problem has to do with some difficult engine problems, you'll need to evaluate the situation and confirm whether you want to fix the vehicle or sell it instead. Unfortunately, in many instances, people give up on their vehicles and decide to sell them, so they don't have to deal with headaches after continuously suffering from low oil levels.
What is low oil pressure? Final thoughts
Low oil pressure is never a good thing, and it indicates that your engine does not have the right level of lubrication, which leads to significant engine damage is due to overheating. Therefore, whenever you deal with low oil pressure, you must take it seriously and consult your mechanic before continuing to drive your car.
In some scenarios, you might discover the low oil pressure very late, and you might get to a point where your engine is completely seized. Unfortunately, the only option would be to replace the engine with a brand new one or a used one when this happens. However, if you feel that repair costs are piling up and approaching 75% or more from your vehicle's value, it might not be wise to spend money on this car, and instead, you might want to sell this vehicle and use its money to buy a better one.
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