What causes low oil pressure? If you’re a veteran driver, this is one of the most disturbing questions you must have asked yourself when driving. Not only is it annoying, but it’s also a serious issue that can damage your engine if you’re not careful. In fact, if the pressure oil light comes on, you should stop driving immediately to remedy the situation.
Now, oil is an important fluid that your engine needs to stay alive. Its primary purpose is to lubricate all moving parts within the engine to protect them from friction. Besides, oil plays a key role in cooling down the engine whenever temperatures rise.
But, to do all these, your vehicle’s oil must build up pressure to reach all corners of the engine. In case the oil pressure is low, then pressure buildup will be impossible meaning your engine will suffer from insufficient lubrication. With that said, this guide will discuss what exactly causes low oil pressure, its symptoms and how you can remedy this condition.
What Causes Low Oil Pressure?
If you’re driving and the oil pressure light suddenly turns on, then it means your car’s onboard computer is trying to warn you of a potential problem with your oil’s pressure. Sometimes, a faulty sensor can trigger the engine light to turn on and other times it can be because of low oil pressure in the engine.
In either case, it’s highly recommended that you park your car beside the road to verify what exactly might be the problem. In this section, we’re going to discuss some of the common causes of low oil pressure.
Low Oil Level
One of the major causes of low oil pressure is insufficient oil in the engine system. If you’re a veteran motorist, then I believe you’ve once forgotten to check your engine oil level. Since this is part of your car’s regular maintenance, checking the oil level ensures that all components within the engine are getting sufficient lubrication.
In case you’ve topped up your engine with more oil and the oil pressure problem seems to get worse, then there’s a possibility of serious leakage in the oil supply lines. To remedy this problem, you need to lift your car to inspect the hood for any signs of leaking components.
You also need to inspect the condition of the plugs and the oil seals to see whether they’re worn out. Lastly, old engines tend to burn more oil than newer engines. Therefore, you need to check the oil level more frequently to avoid this issue.
Wrong Oil Viscosity
Oil’s viscosity is another common reason that causes low oil pressure in most cars. This mostly happens when you top up engine oil at home without contacting an expert mechanic. Since there are many oil types to choose from, some people order any type of oil without even referring to their car’s manual.
For instance, if you use less viscous oil in an engine with bigger bearings, then this oil will create less resistance when flowing causing the engine to overheat. As a result, this creates low oil pressure in the engine.
On the other hand, if you use a more viscous oil in the wrong engine, the oil will be too thick to flow causing a lack of lubrication hence low pressure.
To those using mono-grade oils, you need to be very keen when switching the oils as outside temperatures can hugely influence the oil viscosity, which again can result in low oil pressure.
Internal Oil Leakage
Earlier on, we mentioned something to do with oil leakage within the engine. You see, as your engine gets old, some components that allow efficient circulation of oil within the engine can wear out due to excess pressure and friction causing oil leakage in the process.
One of these components is the relief valve. The relief valve is tasked to regulate oil pressure within the engine. Since it does this by opening and closing automatically, debris and other piston deposits can sometimes get stuck in this area causing the valve to stay open. Other times, the valve can get weak and become leaky causing oil pressure to lower.
Another component is the crankshaft bearing. Now, the oil pump is responsible for pumping oil. The bearings, on the other hand, are responsible for creating clearance between them and the crankshaft journals.
Now, as your engine ages, these bearings get weak thus increasing the amount of clearance. As a result, this causes more oil to pass through leading to a reduction in oil pressure.
Problems with the Oil Pump
The oil pump is a very crucial component that facilitates the movement of oil to vital parts such as the crankshaft, pistons, and bearings. If this component is damaged, then it means the oil pressure will automatically drop causing serious problems.
Now, what causes damages to the oil pump? Well, one of the common causes is excessive wear to the gears causing the pump to lose enough power to create suction. Another cause is increased clearance inside the pump causing a reduction in pressure.
The last cause is too much dirt and debris in the oil pump. This mostly occurs if you’re using contaminated oil or when the oil is too dirty.
Dirty Oil Filter
When the oil is pumped by the oil pump, it first flows through the oil filter before moving to the engine. The oil filter is tasked to sieve out any dirt and debris from the oil to avoid clogging the oil supply lines. When the filter becomes clogged with too much dirt and debris, it creates an obstruction that restricts the flow of oil causing a reduction in oil pressure.
Faulty Oil Pressure Gauge
Have you ever driven your car then out of nowhere, you see the oil pressure warning light turn on? Then, after testing the temperature, checking the oil level, inspecting signs of leakage, and testing the oil pressure, you find out that everything is working perfectly.
In most cases, this issue is caused by a defective sensing unit. To troubleshoot this problem, simply pick an oil pressure gauge and test the oil pressure in your engine. If it falls within the recommended levels, then it simply means the oil pressure sensor is faulty and needs to be replaced.
What are the Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure?
Having discussed some of the common causes of low oil pressure, our next focus will be discussing some of the common symptoms you’re likely to experience. While some of these symptoms are mild, most of them are severe and have a huge impact on your car’s drivability.
So, if you ever notice any of these five symptoms while driving, then it’s a clear sign you’re dealing with low oil pressure.
Dashboard Warning Light
The best thing about most modern cars is that they’re connected with an onboard computer that monitors the performance of the car via various sensors. One of these sensors is the oil pressure sensor that’s wired on the engine oil system to monitor the level of oil.
If the oil level goes below the recommended levels, the onboard computer automatically activates the oil pressure sensor to notify you of an underlying issue. This notification usually comes in form of a dashboard warning light that turns on. If this is what you’re seeing in your dashboard, then you should either top-up your oil level or contact your lube shop in case the problem persists.
Unusual Clunking Sound
One of the benefits of sufficient oil pressure is to move the oil to all corners of the engine when driving. This allows the various moving metal parts to enjoy sufficient lubrication for them to perform optimally. In case the oil pressure is low, then it’s unlikely enough oil will reach every part of the engine to lubricate these parts.
As a result, this creates metal-on-metal contact, which comes in form of clunking, grinding, and knocking sounds. Most of the parts that are hugely affected by insufficient lubrication include the camshaft, valve train, rob bearings, and piston wrist pins.
In case these parts experience an elevated level of friction, they’re likely to deform which in this case, will lead to complete engine damage and massive repair costs.
One of the lesser-known functions of motor oil is to cool down the engine when temperatures climb. In case there’s insufficient flow of oil in the engine system, the temperature is likely to climb causing the engine to knock.
But, before this happens, the little amount of oil left in the system will start burning and later vaporize causing a pungent burning smell that’s noticeable when driving. Another cause of such a characteristic burning smell is when there’s oil leakage in the engine.
When oil leaks from ruptured hoses and pipes, it drips on the hot metal parts of the engine causing a burning smell. So, to remedy this problem, you should park your car beside the road to check the oil level. From there, you can either top it up or call a mechanic to check the exact cause of the problem.
Two of the major functions of oil in your engine are to lubricate the metal parts and to assist the cooling system in regulating temperatures inside the engine. If oil lacks enough pressure to circulate the engine, the temperature is likely to rise due to increased friction between the moving metal parts.
As a result, this causes parts of the engine, such as the camshaft, the cylinder wall, and the top of the engine, to get extremely hot. Next, you’re likely to see the engine temperature gauge turn on signaling an increased heat buildup in the engine.
In case you see this symptom, you should pull over immediately and turn off the engine. Allow it to cool down before checking the oil level.
Reduced Engine Performance
Most modern engines are designed with impressive fuel economy, which is due to efficient engine performance. For the engine to perform efficiently, it requires proper lubrication in all its moving parts.
Now, supposing your engine is experiencing a reduction in oil pressure? What this means is that crucial areas such as the camshaft and the cylinder walls will struggle to get sufficient lubrication.
As a result, your engine will be forced to work extra harder to meet the demands of your vehicle leading to sluggish acceleration especially at low RPMs. This leads to increased fuel consumption and poor fuel economy.
Fixing Engine Low Oil Pressure Issues
From what we’ve discussed so far, low oil pressure is an issue that can cause significant engine damage if it’s not addressed on time. While some of these causes are easy to fix, others are quite complex and demand professional mechanics to handle them.
With that said, this last section will highlight some common treatments you can consider to manage issues related to low oil pressure.
Check the Oil Level:
If the oil pressure light in your dashboard turns on, the first major culprit that is likely to be a possible cause is the low oil level in the engine. To check the oil level, all you need is to insert the dipstick in the oil cylinder to check its level.
If the level is in between the “Max” and “Min” markings on the dipstick, then it means the amount of oil is sufficient. However, if the oil level falls below the “Min” marking, then it means the oil level is insufficient. In this case, you need to top up the engine with more oil.
Check Oil Viscosity:
Another treatment you can consider to remedy low oil pressure issues is sticking to the recommended oil viscosity when changing the oil. This can be achieved by referring to the car’s manual in case you’re in doubt.
Remember, using the wrong oil viscosity will lead the pressure sensor to interpret it as a low oil pressure issue as the oil is unable to flow properly to meet the engine’s demands.
Damaged Oil Pump:
Other times, a faulty oil pump can be the major cause of low oil pressure. Some of the factors that cause a faulty oil pump include incorrect installation, pumping contaminated oil, and having damaged gears. If the oil pump is the cause of the problem, then it needs immediate replacement.
Internal/External Oil Leaks:
Oil leakage is another major cause of low oil pressure in most vehicles. In most cases, the leakage can occur internally or externally depending on the situation. External oil leakage is caused by leaking hoses and pipes and can be remedied by replacing the pipes and other fixtures.
On the other hand, internal oil leakage involves leaking of the piston rings, valve seals, and PVC valve fixtures. Since fixing these components can be quite complex, contacting an expert mechanic is the best possible solution.
Faulty Pressure Gauge:
Sometimes, a faulty pressure gauge can be the cause of the problem. If that’s the case, all you need is to replace the pressure gauge with a third-party replacement with the help of an expert mechanic.
Dirt and Debris Buildup:
Lastly, the low oil pressure problem can be a result of an accumulation of dirt, debris, and sludge in the oil pick-up lines or the oil filter. Since this prevents sufficient oil from flowing to various parts of the engine, you must inspect the filter frequently to remove any sludge buildup.
Lastly, How Do You Check Oil Pressure Level?
Testing the oil pressure level is a simple task that can be accomplished using an engine oil pressure test kit. So, how do you perform this simple procedure?
- Step One: First, you’ll need to park your car, turn the engine off and allow it to cool. Next, open the hood and locate the oil pressure switch.
- Step Two: With the oil pressure switch on your radar, open the oil pressure sender to attach your oil pressure gauge to the adapter.
- Step Three: Next, turn the engine on to allow it to reach its normal operating temperature. Next, refer to your owner’s manual to determine the precise oil pressure your engine should maintain. In most cases, this value should range anywhere between 25-65 PSI. If the oil pressure fails to fall between these two values, then it means you have low oil pressure.
As you can see, low oil pressure is a problem that doesn’t seem too serious to solve. All you need is to pull over immediately and turn off the engine. Once the engine cools off entirely, you can proceed to check the oil level to see whether it’s below its recommended level.
Besides checking the oil level, you can also decide to check the oil pressure level by using an oil pressure gauge.
With that said, this guide has discussed everything you need to know regarding low oil pressure. In case you have a question or maybe you’d like to add a point on top of what we’ve discussed, then you’re free to do so in the comments section below.