Why is my Engine Oil Light on?

Lampje Motorolie

If you see a small engine oil light on the dashboard of your vehicle, it usually means one thing: something isn’t right! And while these lights rarely pop up, it’s scary when they do, especially when it’s that pesky dripping oil can. Are you out of oil or is it a leak? How long has the light been on? How often is this an emergency? Before you panic, find out what the oil light on your car means, what could be the problem, and how to fix it.

What does it mean when the engine oil light comes on?

If the engine oil light on your dashboard comes on, it could means your car has low oil pressure. This drop in oil pressure can be a sign of a number of things: you are low on oil, your oil is dirty, or you have an oil leak.

How do I know if my oil is low?

Motor oil is not meant to last forever. And while you don’t burn through it like you do with gas, it will eventually go low after enough driving. While almost every vehicle has a system to monitor oil pressure, not all vehicles have dashboard oil pressure gauges. That’s why it’s best to check your oil level at the source! Fortunately, checking your oil level is easy! Start by referring to your owner’s manual. It walks you through the next steps and lets you know where to look for different pieces and parts. Flip open your hood and locate your car’s oil dipstick – it usually has a yellow or reddish handle. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it with a clean cloth. Reinsert and remove the dipstick to get a new oil reading. If the remaining oil on the end of the dipstick is at or below the “add” mark, it is time to change the oil.

If your oil light comes on while braking, it could also be a sign that your oil is running low. After all, oil is a liquid. And if your tank isn’t completely full, the oil has room to slosh away from the oil pressure sensor, especially when you brake.

How do I know if my oil is dirty?

Unlike your gas lamp that comes on when your fuel tank is nearly empty, a lit oil light doesn’t always mean your oil is low. It could also mean that your engine oil has become too dirty.
How does engine oil get dirty? As it runs through the engine, it can pick up dirt, dust, and small debris, creating gunk. While you may still have the right amount of oil in your car, the blockage can activate your oil light.

Check for dirty oil the same way you check your oil level: look at the oil on the dipstick. Clean oil should be transparent, amber, and slightly runny. If your oil looks super dark, has a strange odor, or feels thick and untidy, it’s probably old and needs to be replaced.

How do I know if my oil is leaking?

If your engine oil light is on but you recently had your oil changed, there may be a leak. To check for oil leaks, park your car on a level surface for a few hours and inspect the ground underneath for puddles.

If you don’t see any puddles but still suspect a leak, try adding your oil to the mark on your dipstick. (You can read how to do this for your specific make and model in your owner’s manual). Make sure the oil light is off when you turn on the car. Go for a drive and see if the oil light comes on again. If so, check your oil level. When they are low, it is time to make an appointment to repair oil leaks.

Sometimes oil leaks cause other symptoms, such as a burning smell or smoke coming from the engine. However, these symptoms may not always appear. Typically, the best way to rule out engine oil issues is to return your car for a full vehicle inspection. The expert technicians at your local Auto Care will help you determine if you have a leak.

My oil is fine, but the oil light is still on

The oil light on your dashboard does not always mean that your oil is low, leaking or dirty. Instead, it could mean replacing your oil pressure sensor or your oil pump.

Is my oil pressure sensor defective?

Your oil pressure sensor is a small plug-like sensor that monitors your vehicle’s oil pressure and alerts you if it falls below a certain limit. But like anything else in your car, it can wear out, sending faulty signals that activate your oil light.

To check if your oil pressure sensor is worn out, the sensor will need to be removed using an oil pressure sensor connection. Unless you have the tools and expertise to do it yourself, have a knowledgeable technician troubleshoot your oil pressure sensor.

Is my oil pump bad?

A bad oil pump will not efficiently circulate oil to the moving parts of your engine, often resulting in engine noises and overheating, which can lead to more serious problems. If you suspect your oil pump is bad, stop driving immediately. The ANWB can take you safely to one of our nearby locations, so that we can have your oil pump and your vehicle perform optimally again.

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