You’re driving along when the oil symbol lights up on your dashboard, or worse, you start to notice a burning oil smell. It’s not time to panic, but it’s possible that you have low oil pressure. 

Having the right amount, and right type, of oil in your car is essential to keep it running smoothly. Your engine is filled with metal parts that all work closely together, and your oi is the lubricant used to reduce heat and excessive wear.

We’re going to look at some of the warning signs and causes of low oil pressure, how to resolve it, and even prevent it from happening again.

Signs and Symptoms

Most modern cars will warn you when your oil pressure is getting low. When the sensor that monitors your oil pressure is tripped, an old-fashioned oil can symbol will light up on your dashboard. Some cars will even let you know your oil level on the information screen on start up. 

If the problem is a faulty oil pressure sensor, it could be going off when there’s plenty of oil in the system. Or it might not go off at all and you’ll have to rely on your senses to spot the signs of low oil pressure. 

One of the tell-tale signs is a burning oil smell. If you have an oil leak somewhere in your engine, you’ll be able to smell the oil burning on the hot parts. This could be a serious issue and you should take it to a trusted mechanic as soon as you can.

Another classic sign of low oil pressure are drops of oil left behind when your car is parked. If you notice this on your driveway or parking space after leaving it overnight, it’s a sure sign that you’ve got a leak somewhere. 

You might simply notice a drop in your car’s performance. Low oil pressure means less lubrication, so the moving parts of your engine must work harder than usual. If your fuel economy takes a nosedive but you’re driving normally, it might be low oil pressure   

If you notice excessive engine noise or knocking, this could be a sign of low oil pressure as well. If you have an oil leak or your engine is using too much oil, the vital moving parts can rub together and make some horrible noises. This should be a red flag that your oil pressure is becoming dangerously low.

Another symptom of when low oil pressure has become a serious problem is an overheating engine. If your oil is low, your engine must work much harder, causing excessive heat. An overheating engine can cause catastrophic damage to your car, so get it checked out as soon as you can. 

oil level warning message

Causes

There are plenty of reasons why your car might be losing oil pressure, but there are a few common culprits that mechanics see all the time. Engines in high mileage vehicles become worn over time and the clearances between the moving parts increases, which uses up more oil. 

Hands down the most common cause of low oil pressure is old and dirty oil. Even the best quality motor oil breaks down over time and becomes thinner, especially if you use your car a lot. This thinner and dirtier oil won’t do its job properly and can lead to serious problems down the road.

Another easy mistake to make is to use the wrong type of oil for your engine. You might think that they’re all the same but different oils have different thicknesses, or viscosities, which means how easily they pour at different temperatures. 

Don’t be fooled into thinking that thinner oils give you better mileage or performance, just check you are using the right oil for your make of car and engine type. You’ll be able to find this out in your car’s manual or ask a trusted mechanic. 

draining dirty oil

Diagnosis

We’ve looked at some of the tell-tale signs of low oil pressure, but there are some things you can do to narrow down your problem before you take it to a garage. 

Checking your oil level is part of everyone’s driving test and should be a regular part of any driver’s routine. It’s an easy thing to do and can give you a good idea of your oil’s health as well. 

All you have to do on most cars is pop open the bonnet and find your dip stick. It usually has a brightly coloured handle, so you can pull it out safely. Make sure your engine’s cool and you’re not parked on a slope though.

Pull it out and wipe the oil off with a rag, then replace the dipstick. Pull it out again and you can read your oil level on the end. Most dipsticks have a small gauge on the end with “L” for low, and “H” for high. If you’re within the two markings, you should be fine, but it’s a good idea to top it up to full.

This is a good time to check the colour of your oil as well. Fresh, clean oil is slightly see-through with a brown tint, but if it’s thick, black and sticky it’s time for a change. The older your oil gets, the less protection it gives your engine against heat and wear.

Resolution

Now you’ve got a better idea of what’s going wrong, it’s time to try and fix the problem. Changing your own engine oil could save you lots of money in the future and it’s not too difficult on modern cars if you have the space and a few bits of equipment.

There are plenty of guides out there to help you change your oil yourself, or you could get a handy friend to help you out. It’s just a case of finding the oil drain plug under your car, letting the oil out into a suitable container, changing your oil filter, and topping back up with fresh oil. Don’t attempt it unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing though. 

If an oil and filter change still doesn’t help with low oil pressure, it’s time to take it to your garage.

changing engine oil

Prevention

Preventing low oil pressure problems is important, and will save you time, money and headaches in the future. 

Always use the correct engine oil for your car, and make sure you change your oil regularly. To keep your engine running at its best, change your oil every six months, or every 5000 miles. Make sure your oil filter is the correct type and change it regularly as well. 

Regular servicing and careful driving while listening for strange noises or a change in performance is the best way to spot a problem early on and fix it before it becomes a major problem. 

engine oil advert

 

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