Fix Low Engine Oil Pressure: Symptoms & Causes

Oil is the lifeblood of your car engine. And like low blood pressure in humans, low oil pressure can wreak havoc on your car’s engine. Low oil pressure means that critical components inside the engine are facing oil starvation.

Oil, not oil helps lubricate moving parts, it also dissipates heat away from the high-stress areas in the engine.

Common Causes of Low Oil Pressure: Low oil level, Clogged Oil Filter, Clogged Pickup Strainer, Faulty Pump, Sludge Formation, faulty oil pressure sensor, and Incorrect Oil Viscosity

Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure

Knowing when the oil pressure is low is crucial for the health of your vehicle. Let’s look at the symptoms your should look out for:

1. Low Oil pressure Warning Light: Almost all cars nowadays have electronics that monitor various sensors including oil pressure sensor. low oil pressure warning

If it detects any problem, a warning sign would light up on your dashboard. That said, in some rare cases, an oil pressure sensor can fail to inform you about the low oil pressure. Therefore, it’s better to also look out for other symptoms below.

2. Drop in Engine Performance: When the oil pressure drops, the oil will struggle to get to critical areas of an engine like camshaft and cylinder walls. This results in sluggish acceleration, especially noticeable at lower rpms. As the revs increase the oil pump pressurizes the system even more and oil is then able to pass through the obstruction. Sluggish acceleration is also a symptom of bad fuel filter or bad EGR Valve.

3. Overheating Engine: As the oil moves around in the engine, it carries heat away from really hot parts like camshaft, cylinder walls, and head area of the engine. When the oil is not able to flow easily, there is increased heat buildup which will show on your engine temperature gauge. The radiator fan will also start to come on quite often. What to do when the engine overheats

4. Burning Odor: All engine oils have a flashpoint, a temperature at which oil starts to turn into vapour. If the engine is overheating, the oil will get too hot and start to vapourise. If you notice this acidic burning smell coming from the engine bay then it’s a good sign that your car’s running too hot or the oil has gone bad. Mineral oil has lower flash point compared to synthetic so it will start burning off earlier.

5. Increased Vibration: Engine oil keeps lubricating hundreds of engine components to smoothly glide over each other. But when engine parts are not receiving the required amount of oil, the vibrations would increase. Even though all cars these days have rubber engine mounts, the vibrations can still be noticed during a test drive. If you drive a manual transmission car, you could even feel gear level vibration increase.

low oil pressure warning
Low Oil Pressure Warning

6 Common cause for low oil pressure:

If you suspect that your engine is starving with low oil pressure, you need to know the possible cause for this issue. One or more of these six things could be causing low oil pressure in your vehicle.

1) Low oil Level: This is the first thing you should check if you suspect low oil pressure. It’s recommended to check oil level once a month but how many people actually do it? Not many. If the oil level on your dipstick has gone lower than the minimum mark then that could cause low oil pressure. Top off the oil if required.

Watch the video below to see how oil flows inside the engine:

2): Clogged Oil Filter: Do you change the oil filter on every oil change? If not then that could get clogged with debris and sludge. This is especially more likely to happen on a diesel engine. A clogged up filter is a big obstruction in the oil’s pathway and that would surely reduce oil pressure.

3) Blocked Oil sump pickup strainer: At the end of oil pick up pipe in the sump is a mesh filter, also called strainer. Since this is not easily accessible, it’s not inspected or cleaned during regular service. This strainer can get clogged too if it picks up debris from the dirty oil. To clean this, you’ll need to remove the oil pan (sump) to access it. Just clean it with some kerosene and a brush and put it back on.

4) Faulty Oil Pump: Oil pump failure is not quite common as being submerged in oil, it’s always lubricated. However, it can still fail in some rare cases.

4) Sludge formation in Engine: With modern oils, sludge formation is not a big problem these days. But if you don’t follow scheduled servicing of your vehicle, the old oil will loose its cleaning properties and sludge formation would increase.

Sludge can stick to the narrow oil pathways and make it narrower. The oil will then have problem flowing inside the engine.

Using wrong grade oil with incorrect additive package can also cause sludge formation. So always crosscheck correct oil grade from vehicle owner’s manual.

5) Too low or High oil viscosity: The oil pressure sensor is calibrated to work with oil viscosity recommended by the manufacturer. The pressure warning could be triggered if the engine oil is too thin or thick. That’s why many people have an issue with low oil pressure after oil change.

A low viscosity oil will easily flow through the oil galleries and there will be less resistance. This will result in less oil pressure build up.

If the oil viscosity is too high, the resistance to move around will be higher but it might have difficulty reaching narrower and difficult to reach oil pathways. The oil pressure will be high just after the oil pump but it will be low higher up in the engine.

6) Defective Oil Pressure sensor: If your car seems to run just fine, the issue could also be due to faulty oil pressure sensor. It can throw up oil pressure warning light even if everything’s fine. But you should not neglect this warning as low oil pressure can really hurt your engine by causing excessive wear to internal parts.

How to fix low engine oil pressure?

Starting going through all the above mentioned probable causes. Start with checking the oil level. If that’s fine then move to changing oil and oil filter. Motor Oils available on Amazon

Before flushing out the old oil you can also try a brand name Engine Flush to help clean sludge. Before oil change, engine flush is added to old oil, and the engine is kept running for 10-15 minutes before draining out the oil.

If this doesn’t fix the low oil pressure then try replacing the sensor as it’s quite inexpensive.

Move to clean oil pickup strainer next. This is an easy job but the oil pan needs to be removed so make sure you have a new gasket to install it back. Just clean the stainer with kerosene, parts cleaner, or WD-40 and an old toothbrush.

Your last resort should be getting the oil pump inspected. The pump should be able to generate oil pressure within spec.

Can you drive a car with low oil pressure?

Yes, in most cases your car will remain drivable even with low oil pressure warning light. But you should not drive it for too long as oil starvation can damage the engine. Immediately check the oil level and top up if required. If that doesn’t fixes it then take it straight to the mechanic shop while driving within low rpm range.

How do you fix low oil pressure?

Things to check to fix low engine oil pressure: oil level, oil viscosity, clogged oil filter, blocked pickup strainer, faulty oil pump, faulty oil pressure sensor, and sludge formation in the oil galleries.

Will oil change fix low oil pressure?

Engine oil change might fix the low oil pressure issue. Ensure that you use engine flush additive before draining old oil. This will help clean out the sludge. Then replace the oil filter and engine oil with manufacturer’s recommended viscosity.

Checkout: Symptoms of Bad Fuel pump

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Siddharth Sharma

Siddharth has always been passionate about Cars and Bikes. He was the kind of kid that always had the latest Auto magazine in his school bag. He had this dream- to become a professional racecar driver. Finally, in 2012 he found himself racing as a rookie driver in the Polo R Cup national racing championship. Over time he had to readjust the sail and get into automotive journalism to continue enjoying machines on wheels.