Low oil Pressure Symptoms: Causes, And Fixes

If you’re running your engine without the right amount of engine oil, your engine will incur severe damage. Many systems in your vehicle are designed to monitor the motor oil pressure and level. For the car computer to oversee motor oil pressure, the oil switch needs to be in good working order. The oil switch, also known as the oil pressure sensor, works together in harmony with the oil pressure gauge in your instrument cluster.

When the sensor detects low oil pressure or low oil level, it will send a signal to the car computer, which will, in return, ask the pressure gauge to reflect the change. And that will trigger the oil warning light to pop up on your dashboard.  Failing to recognize low oil pressure symptoms and symptoms of high oil pressure and fix them on time can lead to catastrophic engine damage.

Low oil pressure symptoms

There are a few symptoms that will pop up to notify the driver of low oil pressure or low oil level. We’ve outlined the four most common symptoms of low oil pressure.

Low oil pressure symptoms

  • Oil pressure light
  • Rattling or Knocking Sound
  • Check engine light
  • Seized engin

Oil pressure light: Once your engine has low oil pressure, the car computer will trigger the oil pressure light. Your vehicle is designed with an oil switch. This switch’s sole work is to monitor the oil pressure in your engine as the engine is running. If the oil pressure gets too high or too low, the oil switch will signal the ECU. The ECU will then cause the oil pressure light to pop up on the dashboard.

However, most times, the oil pressure on the dashboard doesn’t necessarily mean you have high or low oil pressure. A failing or lousy oil switch can give false readings saying the oil pressure is high or low and cause the oil pressure light to come on.

Rattling or Knock Sound: Extreme low oil pressure and knock sound are inseparable. A widespread sign of low oil pressure is a Rattling or Knocking Sound. The engine oil is meant to lubricate the internal engine components, and the oil is meant to circulate at a designated speed with the help of the oil pump. And if the oil becomes extremely low, it will cause friction and metal-to-metal rubbing.  This can cause a strange sound coming from the engine system. You have to turn off your engine once you notice this strange Knocking Sound.

To be sure the Knocking sound has to do with low oil pressure, check your dashboard for oil light. If these two signs come on, you have low oil pressure. Another way you can know if low oil pressure is truly the case is; when the engine is running on idle, open the engine and see if the oil is pumping out. If it’s not, you’re dealing with low oil pressure issues.

Check engine light: The engine oil plays a significant role in every engine. It lubricates every internal engine component to prevent friction and maintains the engine’s optimum operating temperature. Can low oil cause high temperature? Yes, just like a radiator with a low or coolant leak, Low engine oil will cause high temperature and trigger the check light. The oil pressure controls the timing chain adjuster. If the timing adjuster is not getting enough oil to work efficiently, for instance, the timing chain adjuster could cause the timing to jump, and the engine warning light will appear.

Seized engine: In as much as symptoms notify the driver of a problem, engine seizure is a problem itself, and you would never want to experience it. If you continue driving your car with low oil pressure and a Knocking Sound until it stops, chances are your engine has seized. Unfortunately, after showing low oil pressure, a seized vehicle engine might be difficult and costly to repair. It is cheaper and better to replace the entire engine.

If you’re looking for a low oil pressure motorcycle, this guide will still be useful regardless we use vehicle engines for elaborations.

Low oil pressure causes

Knowing the causes of low oil pressure is a must to fix the issues without spending unnecessary money on trial and error. There are a few causes that can prompt a low oil pressure.

  • Low oil level
  • Wrong oil type
  • Metal shavings
  • Lousy or failing oil pump
  • Engine sludge
  • Clogged oil filter
  • Damaged bushings/bearings or internal oil leak

Low oil level: If you’re using an older vehicle and notice a low oil gauge on idle, you have to ensure your motor oil level is okay. Pull out the dipstick and see if it’s on the right level. Modern vehicles do not have oil-level sensors. However, if you see a yellow oil light on your dashboard, it could mean you have low oil pressure in your engine. Check the oil dipstick and see the oil level.

You can also recognize this if the oil light appears while steering. The oil pump will suck air instead of oil if it is low. If your oil level is extremely low, the oil pump will suck air from the crankcase and cause a fluctuating or low oil light. If your engine does not have a dipstick and you don’t know how to check your oil level, visit your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website.

Wrong oil type: There are different engine oils based on engine viscosities, so using the wrong engine oil could cause low oil pressure, especially when the engine is running at idle. For instance, if your engine requires 5W-50 and you pour in 0W-20, you might notice a low engine pressure when the engine gets hot.

Some engines require thicker oil to run nice and smoothly on idle. If you have low oil pressure and suspect you poured in the wrong type of motor oil, visit your owner’s booklet or manufacturer’s website to know the recommended oil for your vehicle and have an oil filter and engine oil changed.

Metal Shavings: If your oil level is okay and you have the right type of oil in the engine, then the most common cause of low oil pressure you want to check is metal shavings and grits in the oil strainer. Typically, the oil pump sucks the engine oil from the bottom of the crankcase via a pipe. On the opening of the pipe, there is a net that filters the oil getting into the oil pump (the oil pipe and the net are known as oil strainer). As a result of filtering the oil, the oil strainer may gets clogged from metal shavings and grits.

Lousy or failing oil pump: As the heart of the engine that supplies oil to the internal engine components, if it starts failing, it won’t circulate oil to the entire engine components. Suppose the oil pump fails, it will cause catastrophic engine damage.

Engine sludge: When you fail to do the regular oil change and scheduled maintenance, the engine oil will stick and clump together to form engine sludge. If oil sludge is present in your engine, it will prevent or reduce the pressurized oil circulation within the engine and trigger the low oil light to come on. Engine sludge can be hazardous. If you are concerned about your engine’s longevity, you would love to read detailed information on the dangers and preventions of engine sludge.

Clogged oil filter: Using an inferior oil filter can be more dangerous than having the wrong oil type in your engine. A poor-quality oil filter can clog within short intervals and prevent adequate oil flow to the entire engine.

Damaged bushings/bearings or internal oil leaks: There could be damaged bushings that could cause internal oil leaks. However, this is not common, but when it happens, it will cause low oil pressure. It could leak from a lousy gasket or cracks. Another reason could be you have a damaged crankshaft bearing, but usually, you’ll hear a Knocking Sound that will accompany it. If you’re not a professional mechanic, you might not be able to diagnose it.

symptoms of high oil pressure

How to fix low oil pressure

When your oil pressure light comes on, it means your computer says your oil pressure is low. In the next few paragraphs, I will show you how to diagnose and carry out a low oil pressure fix.

Things Needed:

Step 1. Park your vehicle: Park your car on a level and hard ground. Put on the hand brake.

Step 2. Check the oil level: Next, shut off the engine and open the hood. Pull out the dipstick and see if your low level is oil. Remove the dipstick, wipe it off, push it back in, and then pull it out and check the oil level. If your oil level is low and you’re close to the scheduled oil change date, you have to service your engine, test drive it, and see if the light will disappear. But if you just did a recent oil change, you might want to top up the oil. If the engine oil is gauged, you have to move on to the next step. Pretty dirty oil can cause trigger oil light.

Step 3. Check if your oil filter is pumping: while the engine is off, slack the oil filter, but don’t take it off completely. Then have an assistant start the engine while you see if engine oil will throw out with pressure. If it doesn’t, that means you have a faulty oil pump that needs replacement. However, if the engine was giving a knocking sound and stopped when you slack the oil filter, chances are you have a clogged oil filter. Your best bet is to purchase a quality oil filter and replace the clogged one.

Step 4. Check the oil switch: The oil switch communicates with the car computer about engine oil pressure. The spring inside the switch can wear out and send false readings to the car computer. Since you cannot check the sensor yourself, it’s a good idea to buy one and replace it. It is inexpensive and will cost only a few bucks.

To replace the oil switch, you have to locate it first. It is usually found near the oil filter. Once you locate it, you can slide it under your vehicle and replace it using the right socket set and ratchet. In case the oil filter is blocking your path, remove it so you can gain balance and install the new oil switch. Before installing it, get some thread tape and tape the oil switch thread. This will prevent it from leaking anytime soon. And, of course, remember to reinstall the oil filter.

Step 5. Clean your oil strainer: One of the common causes of low oil pressure is a clogged oil strainer. It is found in the crankcase and attached to the oil pump. If you have checked the above steps and everything seems okay, chances are you have a clogged oil strainer.

To clean the oil strainer, you might have to drain out the engine oil and lose the crankcase. Pry it out and locate the oil strainer. If it’s clogged, unbolt the bolts holding it and clean it with fuel. Apply sealant on the crankcase and reinstall it using the reserve process. If you notice the low oil causes rough idle and you see engine sludge in the crankcase, you would want to add an engine restore additive to your engine.

Low Engine Oil Pressure Diagnostics YouTube


Q: Can you drive a car with low oil pressure?

No, driving a car with low oil pressure or low oil level can severely damage your engine system. If low oil light pops up on your dashboard while the vehicle is running on idle or driving, you have to park, turn off your engine and have the issues addressed before hitting the road.

Q: How long can an engine run without oil before damage?

Engine oil plays a significant role in the smooth running of an engine. Arguably, an engine will run without oil in it. The engine can run 5-10 minutes before failing. And in most cases, it can fail a lot quicker.

Q: Can low oil damage the engine?

A low oil level in an automotive engine is likened to someone with deficient blood in the system. Extreme low engine oil can cause catastrophic damages that may require rebuilding or replacing the entire engine.

Q: What does a car sound like when it needs oil?

If you ignore the signs of low oil pressure for a long, the engine will start making a rumbling, Knocking, or even roaring to let you know that it needs oil. Prior to this point, the engine must have incurred severe damages.

Q: Will the check engine light come on for low oil pressure?

The check engine light usually comes on when there are issues in the engine. If you have low oil pressure, it will affect other engine components and, thus, cause the engine warning light to come on.

Final word

Visiting a mechanic garage for scheduled maintenance is crucial to preventing unnecessary repairs in your vehicle. You should regularly monitor your engine oil level and pressure, and it doesn’t take much effort and time. Not watching out for low oil pressure symptoms, knowing the causes, and fixing it on time will cause tremendous engine damage that may require rebuilding or replacing the entire engine. Hence, ensure you fix low oil pressure at the earlier stage or call for professional assistance.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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