Low Oil Pressure: Symptoms, Causes, and Fixes

Why is Oil Pressure Important?

Oil pressure is essential to the proper functioning of an engine because it ensures that engine oil covers all moving parts. Having the right oil doesn't matter much if it can't cover the parts it's meant to protect.

Oil pressure helps oil flow throughout your engine, covering key components and protecting them from heat, friction, and vibrations. Oil pressure facilitates oil flow, ensuring optimal functionality.

If oil pressure drops below base operating levels, your engine oil will stop flowing. This means your engine oil will be unable to protect your engine because it cannot coat your key components. Low engine oil pressure could mean your engine is running like it didn't have engine oil.

Increased friction and excess pressure can lead to overheating, metal-on-metal contact, and even a blown head gasket.

What is Viscosity?

Viscosity refers to a fluid's resistance to flow. A high-viscosity fluid like honey will flow slowly versus a low-viscosity fluid like water. Oils have varying viscosity, each formulated to maintain different operating conditions.

Engine oils need to strike a balance in viscosity. Too little viscosity means the oil flows easily but does not adequately lubricate and protect engine components. On the other hand, oils with too high a viscosity will not flow throughout your engine, thus failing to protect your engine.

This ideal balance is met by applying enough oil pressure to allow oils to circulate throughout the engine without sacrificing the oil's protective properties.

Low Oil Pressure Symptoms

Low oil pressure is a serious problem that can lead to serious and irreversible engine damage. If you want to avoid thousands of dollars in repairs, you'll need to be watchful of these low oil pressure indicators.

Oil Pressure Warning Light

For many vehicles, an oil pressure warning light is the first indication of an oil problem. For common vehicles,if the oil pressure warning light glows yellow, your oil change is due. However, if you have a red oil pressure warning light, your engine's sensors detect a rapid drop in oil pressure.

Diminished Engine Performance

If you feel like your engine isn't producing as much power as needed, it can be a telltale that there isn't enough oil pressure. If your engine is losing power, stalling, or consuming too much fuel, you may need to check your car. While many factors could diminish your engine's performance, low oil pressure is among the most common.

Burning Aroma

If you smell a burning aroma in your passenger cabin, it could mean that your vehicle is leaking oil. The leaking oil could be dripping on a hot surface, causing it to burn. When you get a chance, pull over to a safe spot and check your oil levels if you smell burning oil while driving.

Engine Rattling

A noisy, knocking engine is more than just a sign of low oil pressure. It's also an indicator of imminent or present engine damage. A rattling engine is one sign you should never ignore because it means engine components are directly in contact. This means your engine's functionality and longevity could be at risk.

If you have a rattling engine, it's best to take your engine to a professional as soon as possible.

Engine Overheating

What Causes Low Oil Pressure?

Your car can lose oil pressure for several reasons. Here are some of the most common causes of oil pressure drops.

Low oil level is among the most common causes of oil pressure drops. This is because a lack of oil leaves space for pressure to escape. If you recently changed oil, this may also indicate that your engine is burning too much oil. Your engine could have worn piston rings, leaking seals, or a plethora of other problems depending on the age and condition of your vehicle.

If you've recently changed your oil, the first step is to check your oil levels and top it off as needed. You might also need to check for oil drops on the floor that indicate an oil leak.

Excessive Wear

If you have enough oil, your low oil pressure is likely caused by excessive engine wear. Engine bearings are particularly susceptible to wear and tear at high mileage.

Generally, it's best to have a mechanic check your vehicle if you have low engine oil pressure. They are the best equipped to identify worn engine parts and know how to disassemble and reassemble engines properly.

Mismatched Oil Viscosity

Oil viscosity is one of the most important properties to look out for. It directly impacts how well the oil coats and protects your engine. The ideal oil viscosity is the one recommended in your owner's manual.

Reminder: If your oil's viscosity is too high, it may not flow well enough to coat your engine's components. If your oil's viscosity is too low, it lacks the necessary properties to sufficiently protect your engine.

When you change the oil yourself, double-check the manufacturer's handbook to ensure which is the correct oil. If a shop performed the oil change, simply ask them what oil they used. Knowing your vehicle's ideal oil viscosity is crucial.

Don't forget to account for seasonal changes and your use cases when selecting a viscosity weight. If you live in extremely cold weather, use an oil with a "W" label. These multigrade oils behave differently depending on the temperature.

At low temperatures, these oils flow freely, as with low-viscosity oils, coating your engine components. They behave like high-viscosity oils at higher temperatures, providing your engine with much-needed protection.

Oil Leak

An oil leak happens when you have a broken filter, gasket, seal, or poorly-tightened drain plug. Either way, when you lose oil, you also lose pressure. Oil leaks are not inherently dangerous to your engine; you can simply address the leak and refill your oil.

However, make sure you don't prolong your fix. An oil leak means you'll have to top off your oil more often. This is a waste, as you're likely to be leaking perfectly good oil.

Regular Exposure to Extreme Temperatures

Extreme temperatures affect the way oil behaves. Extreme cold can impede oil flow as though it were of higher viscosity. This means your oil may not properly lubricate your engine because it cannot sufficiently coat your engine's parts.

Inversely, extreme heat causes oil to behave as though it were thinner, diminishing its protective properties. Light oil will flow freely but will not protect your engine's parts adequately.

Note: You need not change your diesel engine oil to accommodate the seasons' temperature changes. A high-quality diesel engine oil will remain reliable across all temperature ranges.

Faulty Oil Pump

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We know that scheduling car care services between work, school and play can be a hassle. That’s why we make it as easy and straightforward as possible, offering you neighborhood convenience, superior service, comfortable waiting areas or free local shuttle service and the option of staying in your vehicle for some services while we work. It’s all about meeting your needs and standing behind our work.


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