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Oil Light: Why is it on? What to do?

Here's where you can find out what to do when the oil light comes on
If you want to know what to do when the oil light comes on, this is the right place

“The oil light in my car keeps coming on when I start the car and then shuts off after a few minutes. I check the oil level every day. Should I be worried about this?”

Motorists all over the world pose questions like the one above every day. The oil in your car is a great deal. It is the lifeblood of the engine. If for some reason this lifeblood is low, then surfaces would not get the lubrication they need to guard against friction. You could do some serious damage to your engine if you drive with low levels of oil in your car.

“The oil light in my car keeps coming on when I start the car and then shuts off after a few minutes. I check the oil level every day. Should I be worried about this?” 
Credit: obdadvisor.com

How does the oil in your car work?

It’s a simple system. Oil is pumped from the oil pan and distributed through passages cast in the engine block. It is then directed to the moving parts of your engine.

Why is my oil light coming on?

There are basically two reasons why your oil light would come on. The first one is that you have low levels of oil. You can rectify this by topping up the oil in your car.

The other reason has to do with the oil pressure. That red oil light will come on when your engine pressure goes below 10 lbs. per sq. inch. Oil pressure at idle ranges from 15 to 20 lb. per sq. inch so your oil light should still not come on at idle. At high speeds, the pressure can go up to 70 lb. per sq. inch.

Another reason why your light keeps coming on is dirty oil. If you don’t change your oil as regularly as you should, it could lead to the build-up of sludge. This deposit of impurities could affect the normal oil pressure and cause that light to come on.

Going back to that question at the beginning

When the oil light comes on at low speeds (like at startup) and then shuts off, the pump is probably still fine. If however, the light comes on at high engine speeds then you may have bigger problems. It usually means that your oil pump isn’t working as well as it should. You should have a mechanic check your oil pump, repair or replace it if necessary.

Check the sensor

A lot of people don’t consider the sensor to be the likely culprit, but sometimes some particle of dirt can get in the sensor and mess with it. Sensors are easy to replace. You can do this in your own garage if you have instructions on how to replace your car’s sensors. When you are done, take it for a test drive. If the light still comes on when you start and idle the car, then you might be due for a new pump.

Bonus: Innova 3040E: Oil Light Reset Scan Tool with Live Data Review

What should you do when your light turns on?

The first thing you should do when your oil light goes on is to pull over to the curb and switch your engine off. It is dangerous to keep driving with an oil light that’s on. Open the hood and use a dipstick to check the oil level in the oil sump.

If the oil on the stick is below a certain mark, then you need to fill up with oil before you drive off. If the dipstick is completely dry then there is not enough oil for the dipstick to read. It means that your oil level is too low. In the latter case, don’t even attempt to drive the car. If you do, you run the risk of burning bearings and seizing the entire engine.

Get the car towed to a service station where a mechanic can have a closer look at it.

It’s better to spend money on towing fees and mechanics than to spend it on a new engine. It might turn out to be a faulty sensor, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you are wondering how bad things can get then imagine an engine block that has gotten so hot, it welds onto itself. At this point, the engine will have seized and you would be looking at replacing a busted engine block. New, even refurbished engines are expensive. You can avoid all this by regularly checking your oil level and never missing a scheduled oil change.

Is it safe to drive when the oil change light is on?

It is not safe to drive with the light on. If Murphy’s law does come into effect, your engine might seize in the middle of the road. If this happens, you may lose control of your vehicle and can cause an accident.

Get your car checked out immediately.

How to reset the oil change light with an OBD2 Scanner?

When you’ve checked the oil levels, replaced the pump and fixed sensor you might find that the oil light still comes on. This could simply mean that the light needs to be reset. You can reset your oil light with an OBD2 Scanner. The scanner can be attached to the on-board diagnostic connector under your steering wheel. You will find one of these on most cars made after 1996. The scanner will read the error codes recorded by the car’s diagnostic system. Before you do anything further, write out these codes in their specific order. You may need the codes later on to repair some other part of your vehicle. Once you are done recording the codes on the scanner, you may then press the “clear” button. If you don’t have a scanner, you can take your car to a dealer to have the light reset for a fee.

The Bottom line

Oil is important to your car and that is why your car even has an indicator to warn you when the levels are low. You should check your oil levels and your oil pump when your light comes on. Driving with the oil light on can be dangerous. It may end up damaging the moving parts in your engine and cause it to seize. The best and safest thing to do when the oil light comes on is to stop. Your oil light is the one light you cannot afford to ignore.

Tim MillerFounderOBD Advisor

I’m Tim Miller from Denver, Colorado. I’m the founder of obdadvisor.com, an automotive blog about "Auto Diagnostic Tools and Repair Guides". My fan page is facebook.com/autozikcom. I've been working as an automotive mechanic and blogger for over 10 years writing articles to share my experiences and expertise.

Web: https://www.obdadvisor.comEmail: [email protected]
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4 thoughts on “Oil Light: Why is it on? What to do?”

  1. No oil on the dipstick does NOT mean necessarily that there is NO oil in the car. It means there is not enough for the dipstick to read. Most dipsticks read 1.5-2 qts. Even a small engine with a small oil pan holds 3.5 qts or more, most cars on the road today hold 4.5 qts or more, some SUV and pickups as much as 8 qts. Topping off 1 1st at a time is ALWAYS the first thing to do in that case. Also, the red oil light is NOT reset by OBD. It is a live signal directly from the oil pressure sending unit. The only way to turn that light off is to fix the issue, whether it is low oil, the sensor or worse.

  2. I have a problem with my oil gauge reading high. It goes all the way over to 80. Don’t know why or what to do about this.

    1. High oil pressure can be caused by different factors including Faulty oil pressure sensor, Faulty oil pump; leaking piston rings, or incorrect engine oil grade.

      The symptoms may be Blinking oil pressure light; Whining sound coming from the engine; lack of power; or oil leaks.

      Fixing the problems is not really an easy task. You have to inspect the causes of the problems, which means you have to check the oil pressure sensor, oil pump, piston rings, and engine oil grade to identify the exact causes of the problem

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