The Check Engine Light can turn on for many reasons, often indicating that your engine is encountering misfiring issues. With that in mind, can low oil be a culprit?
Yes, low oil can cause the Check Engine Light to flash. When the engine’s oil level drops significantly, it can lead to reduced oil pressure. Low oil pressure will as a result trigger the Check Engine Light as a warning sign of impending engine damage.
In this blog post, I will examine the impact of low oil on your vehicle, how to check oil levels and symptoms of low oil pressure. Furthermore, you’ll know the steps to take when it happens and the OBD codes to look out for.
How to Identify the Signs of Low Oil
Identifying the signs of low oil in your vehicle is essential to prevent potential engine damage and ensure proper maintenance. Here are key indicators to watch for:
1. Check Engine Light Begins to Flash
A warning light on your dashboard, often labeled “Check Engine” or “Oil,” will turn on when the oil level is critically low or if there’s a drop in oil pressure. Pay attention to any warning lights and address them promptly.
One other common scenario where you might see the Check Engine Light flashing is under hard acceleration
2. Noise Caused by Friction Between Engine Components
Low oil levels can lead to increased friction between engine components. Listen for unusual noises such as knocking, ticking, or clattering coming from the engine, especially during acceleration or at idle.
3. Oil Pressure Warning Light Illuminates
Some vehicles have a separate oil pressure warning light. If this light comes on while driving, it signifies low oil pressure and requires immediate attention.
4. The Engine Performance Reduces
Insufficient lubrication can result in decreased engine performance, leading to reduced power, sluggish acceleration, or even stalling.
5. Increased Exhaust Smoke
Low oil levels can cause excessive exhaust smoke, particularly if oil is burning in the combustion chambers. Blue or gray smoke from the tailpipe is a sign of potential oil consumption issues.
Insufficient oil can lead to poor heat dissipation, causing the engine to overheat. Watch for rising temperature gauges on the dashboard.
7. Oil Leaks
Check for oil spots or puddles beneath your parked vehicle. Oil leaks may indicate not only low oil levels but also potential damage to gaskets or seals.
8. Oil Smell Inside the Vehicle
If you notice a strong oil odor inside the cabin, it could indicate an oil leak or burning oil in the engine.
9. Dashboard Messages
Modern vehicles equipped with advanced diagnostics may display messages or codes related to low oil levels or pressure. Refer to the vehicle’s information display for alerts.
10. Frequent Oil Changes
If you find yourself needing to top up or change the oil more frequently than usual, it may indicate excessive oil consumption, which can be a sign of underlying issues.
11. Unusual Vibrations
Low oil levels can lead to increased friction and vibrations in the engine. Pay attention to any unusual vibrations or rough idling.
12. Loss of Power During Acceleration
A significant drop in oil level can result in a noticeable loss of engine power, especially during acceleration.
Impact of Low Oil Pressure on Your Vehicle
Low oil pressure in a vehicle can have severe consequences for engine performance and longevity. Here is a list of the impacts of low oil pressure, along with explanations for each:
1. Inadequate Lubrication
Engine oil is essential for lubricating moving parts in the engine. Low oil pressure means insufficient lubrication, increasing friction, wear, and potential damage to engine components.
2. Engine overheating
Oil also serves as a coolant by dissipating heat generated during engine operation. When oil levels are low, it cannot effectively absorb and dissipate heat, leading to engine overheating.
3. Increased Friction and Wear
Low oil pressure results in increased friction between engine components like pistons, bearings, and camshafts. This heightened friction accelerates wear and can lead to premature component failure.
4. Noise from Engine
As oil pressure decreases, it may not provide adequate cushioning between moving parts. This can lead to knocking or unusual noises within the engine, signaling potential damage.
5. Reduced Engine Performance
Low oil pressure can impair the engine’s ability to perform optimally, resulting in reduced power output, poor acceleration, and decreased fuel efficiency.
6. Risk of Engine Seizure
In extreme cases of very low oil pressure, there’s a risk of engine seizure. Seizure occurs when the friction and heat generated by metal-to-metal contact cause the engine to lock up, resulting in catastrophic failure.
7. Increased Emissions
Low oil pressure can lead to incomplete combustion, increased emissions, and reduced environmental performance of the vehicle.
8. Check Engine Light Activation
Modern vehicles are equipped with sensors that monitor oil pressure. When pressure drops below safe levels, it triggers the Check Engine Light, signaling a problem that requires immediate attention.
9. Potential for Engine Damage
The cumulative effects of low oil pressure, including increased wear, heat, and friction, can ultimately lead to severe engine damage if not addressed promptly. Repairs or engine replacement may be necessary.
10. Decreased Longevity
Continuous operation with low oil pressure accelerates engine wear and shortens its overall lifespan. Regular maintenance and monitoring of oil levels are essential to ensure engine longevity.
How to Check Oil Level in Your Vehicle
You can determine if your vehicle is low on oil by following these steps:
1. Check the Oil Dipstick
- Locate the oil dipstick under the vehicle’s hood. It usually has a brightly colored handle, often yellow or orange, labeled “Engine Oil” or “Oil.”
- With the engine turned off and parked on level ground, pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towel.
2. Reinsert and Remove the Dipstick
After wiping the dipstick clean, reinsert it back into the dipstick tube completely.
3. Inspect the Oil Level
- Withdraw the dipstick again and examine the oil level. There are typically markings on the dipstick indicating the acceptable range for oil level, usually between “Low” and “Full.”
- If the oil level is below the “Low” mark or significantly closer to it, it’s a sign that your vehicle is low on oil.
4. Check the Oil Color and Consistency
- While inspecting the oil level, also note the oil’s color and consistency. Healthy engine oil is typically amber or brownish and has a smooth texture.
- If the oil appears extremely dark, gritty or has a burnt smell, it may be time for an oil change, regardless of the oil level.
5. Refer to the Owner’s Manual
Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will provide specific information about the recommended oil change intervals and the type of oil to use. It’s essential to follow these guidelines for proper maintenance.
6. Monitor Warning Lights
Some modern vehicles are equipped with oil pressure warning lights or oil level monitoring systems.
If your vehicle has such features, pay attention to any warning lights on the dashboard, as they can indicate low oil levels or oil pressure issues.
Some Common Low Oil Error Codes to Watch Out For
OBD-II error codes related to low oil pressure or oil-related issues are typically designated by the “P” prefix, followed by a specific code number.
Here are some common OBD-II error codes related to low oil pressure or oil problems that you should watch out for:
1. P0521 – Engine Oil Pressure Sensor/Switch Range/Performance
This code indicates a potential issue with the engine oil pressure sensor or switch, which can result in low oil pressure.
2. P0522 – Engine Oil Pressure Sensor/Switch Low Voltage
P0522 signifies that the engine oil pressure sensor or switch is detecting a low voltage condition, which could be due to low oil pressure.
3. P0523 – Engine Oil Pressure Sensor/Switch High Voltage
This code indicates that the engine oil pressure sensor or switch is detecting a high voltage condition, which may be caused by a fault in the sensor or low oil pressure.
4. P0545 – Air Intake Heater Relay 1 Low
While not directly related to low oil pressure, P0545 can indirectly indicate engine performance issues that may be caused by low oil levels or oil pressure.
5. P0551 – Power Steering Pressure Sensor Circuit Range/Performance
While primarily related to power steering, this code can also be triggered by low engine oil pressure, as it affects various systems in the vehicle.
6. P0621 – Generator Lamp “L” Control Circuit
Although not exclusive to oil-related issues, P0621 may indicate electrical problems that can result from low oil pressure affecting the engine’s overall performance.
7. P0622 – Generator Field “F” Control Circuit Malfunction
Similar to P0621, this code can be indirectly related to low oil pressure affecting electrical components.
How To Prevent A Check Engine Light Associated With Low Oil
To prevent a Check Engine Light associated with low oil, consistently follow your vehicle’s recommended maintenance schedule, which includes regular oil changes.
Check your engine oil level using the dipstick periodically, especially before long trips, and top up as needed to maintain it within the recommended range.
Keep an eye on warning lights and unusual engine noises, addressing them promptly if they occur. Address oil leaks promptly to prevent a decrease in oil levels.
Lastly, use high-quality engine oil recommended in your owner’s manual, as quality oil helps maintain proper lubrication and minimizes the risk of low-oil-related issues.
Will low oil trigger check engine light?
Yes, low oil can trigger the Check Engine Light. When the engine’s oil level drops significantly, it can result in reduced oil pressure. This will trigger the check engine light to come on.
What causes the engine light to flash?
Common causes of a flashing Check Engine Light include severe misfires, potentially leading to catalytic converter damage and critical issues related to engine components like the ignition system, fuel delivery, or emissions control system.
What are the symptoms of low oil?
Symptoms of low engine oil include a flashing Check Engine Light, engine knocking or unusual noises, reduced engine performance, overheating, increased exhaust smoke, oil leaks, and a burning oil smell inside the vehicle.
Can low oil cause engine to misfire?
Yes, low oil can cause engine misfires. Insufficient engine oil can lead to increased friction and heat within the engine, affecting the performance and lubrication of critical components.
This heightened friction can result in misfires, as it interferes with the smooth operation of pistons, valves, and other engine parts.
Low oil levels can indeed lead to this warning, signaling critical issues that demand immediate attention.
Recognizing the symptoms, responding promptly, and maintaining proper oil levels are essential for preserving engine health and preventing costly repairs.
As a vehicle owner, prioritize regular oil maintenance, monitor oil levels, and seek professional assistance to ensure your vehicle runs smoothly and safely.
By taking these proactive measures, you can avoid the anxiety and inconvenience of a flashing Check Engine Light and maintain your vehicle’s longevity and reliability.