5 Low Oil Pressure Symptoms (And Common Causes)

(Updated on March 31, 2022)

The internal combustion engine is comprised of many small moving parts. Some of these parts rub together and create friction. With all this activity going on, an excessive amount of heat is generated inside the engine.

Because of this, the engine needs a lubricant to ensure these components are cooled down and running smoothly. Engine oil serves as the primary lubricant and cleans away debris from the surfaces of the components too. Therefore, you’ll always want to have the proper amount of oil flowing through your engine.

The oil pump creates the necessary pressure that allows oil to flow through the components of the engine. The oil flows through the passageways until it reaches the bearings. As long as the oil pressure stays sufficient, the rotating shaft will not create any excess friction or cause any other problems.

The amount of oil pressure needed depends on the status of the engine. If the engine is idle, then oil pressure will be lower. If you are accelerating the vehicle, the engine requires more oil pressure. It’s as simple as that.

Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure

When you have low oil pressure, the signs will be quite obvious. In fact, the symptoms that you experience will totally alter your ability to drive the vehicle safely and effectively.

You should take your vehicle (or have it towed) to the nearest auto mechanic whenever you notice any of these symptoms. If you have already figured out the cause, then you won’t need to worry about a diagnostic examination.

Below are the top 5 symptoms that will occur when you have car engine is experiencing low oil pressure.

1) Warning Light

flashing oil pressure light

The first symptom you will probably notice is your oil pressure warning light illuminating (steady or flashing) on the dashboard. There are sensors (ie: oil pressure sensor) which can detect the level of oil pressure available.

These sensors are connected to the engine control unit. If low pressure is detected, the computer unit activates the warning light.

2) Poor Engine Performance

car jerks idling

Your engine performance will lose its efficiency if you have low oil pressure. The engine components won’t get lubricated properly, forcing the engine to work harder just to sustain the power needs of the vehicle.

Noticeably worse fuel economy will also result from this too.

3) Burning Smell

burning smell

Sometimes when you have low oil pressure, the oil will fall onto the hot components. Without enough pressure to keep the flow going, the oil stays on these components longer and get burned. As a result, a burning smell will form from the burnt oil.

4) Strange Sounds

strange noise

If the engine’s components cannot properly be lubricated from the oil, then they’ll grind together and cause all sorts of clunking and grinding noises. If you hear any strange noises like this from the engine, it is a clear sign that you could have low oil pressure or low levels of oil.

But to be honest, if you get to the point of hearing these noises, it may already be too late and an expensive repair will be necessary.

5) Overheated Engine

engine overheating symptoms

A lack in oil pressure means the engine cannot be cooled enough from the oil. Therefore, the engine will start to heat up until it becomes overheated. Check the temperature gauge and you should see the needle moving toward the red zone.

Common Causes of Low Oil Pressure

You may come across a situation where you have low oil pressure at the wrong time. For instance, if you step on the gas pedal to go faster but there is not enough oil pressure being generated, then you have a big problem.

There are many reasons as to why this could be happening. Do not always assume the worst-case scenario because it might not be that bad.

To help diagnose the issue, here are five common causes of low oil pressure in your engine.

1) Wrong Oil

engine oil type

The manufacturer of every automobile will recommend the best oil to use for its engine. Basically, the viscosity of the oil must be adequate enough for the engine’s needs. If the viscosity is too low, then your engine will experience lower oil pressure inside of its passageways.

A lot of people make this mistake whenever they switch oil to a different one, usually one that’s on sale. Don’t make this mistake or else it could cause you problems on the road. Make sure to use the type of oil the manufacturer recommends.

Related: Full Synthetic vs Synthetic Blend Motor Oil

2) Low Level of Oil

ticking after oil change

It is important to check your oil level every so often. If you end up with an inadequate level of oil in your engine, it will be harder for the oil pump to maintain consistent oil pressure.

Cars tend to have low oil levels if the oil has not been changed in a long time. This is even more common with newer vehicles too.

See Also: What Happens When You Put Too Much Oil in Your Car

3) Old Oil

low oil symptoms

If you leave the same oil in your engine for too long, it will start to lose its much-needed viscosity. This means the oil will thicken excessively and cause problems with the oil pressure.

Here is another reason why changing your oil at regular intervals is important. Oil gets a little worn each time you drive your vehicle. The more you drive, the more worn the oil gets. Check your owner’s manual to see how many miles you need to drive between each oil change.

4) Worn Oil Pump

The oil pump is what makes the oil pressure magic happen. If your oil pump starts to go bad or gets worn out, then it won’t be able to create the proper pressure for the oil flow in the engine. Although this problem is rather uncommon, it can happen.

5) Clogged Oil Filter

Oil needs to pass through a filter to clean the contaminants out of it. Eventually, your oil filter is going to get clogged with debris. Once that happens, it will restrict the oil flow considerably. This will ultimately result in a huge oil pressure reduction.

6 thoughts on “5 Low Oil Pressure Symptoms (And Common Causes)”

  1. I have a 2003 ford f150 with a 2000 5.4 excursion engine in it. When truck is cold everything is good. When truck Warms up and at idle my oil pressure drops and I hear knocking. I have new pressure switch and oil pump, pick up tube and Carter Pan are clean. What can be causing my problem?

    Reply
    • I don’t know. It might be worth doing a used oil analysis with a company like Blackstone, as this could give you a clue where your engine is experiencing wear and if your current oil and oil change interval is appropriate for your engine.

      Reply
  2. I’ve done overhauling on my kia morning engine. A computer diagnosed has been done but no fault was found but yet the car loses pwer

    Reply
  3. I have a 1983 Small Block Ford 302 that has 60psi oil pressure at idle, but when I accelerate it drops to 40psi. Under steady driving it goes back up to about 65 psi. I don’t understand it but i would like to know what’s going on.

    Reply
  4. Change oil indicator comes on. Noticed now when I accelerate over 40 mph jeep vibrates and doesn’t shift into next gear. Checked oil dipstick and it reads just above last X mark should I add a quart of synthetic oil in it before taking it 18 miles to get an oil change?

    Reply
    • You’re fine to drive 18 miles without adding oil, if the oil level is still above the low mark. I’m not sure the oil indicator has anything to do with the vibration and shifting issues though.

      Reply

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