Oil warning light: What problem does it indicate?

Oil light on the dashboard
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A lit oil warning light warns of a severe problem you should not underestimate. But what is the reason for this warning light to come on?

We will answer this very frequently asked question in today's article.


Why is my oil warning light on?

A lit oil warning light means only two problems: insufficient oil pressure or a low engine oil level. In both cases, however, there is a risk of insufficient lubrication, which can lead to engine damage.

Oil pressure warning light

You should stop driving immediately if this light comes on and check the engine oil level.

Low engine oil level

If the oil level is low, it is necessary to top up the engine oil and drive the car at a leisurely pace home or directly to the service center, where they will find out why and where the engine oil was lost. Engine oil can be lost in the engine, or it can flow out of the engine.

Oil is lost in the engine

If the oil is lost in the engine, it penetrates the combustion chamber and subsequently burns. There can be several causes of engine oil burning. It can be, for example, a turbocharger that has worn bearings. The reason can also be worn piston rings, cylinders, cylinder liners, the pistons themselves, or a damaged gasket under the cylinder head.

All these problems, except for the worn turbocharger, are manifested similarly, namely loss of compression. However, it should not be forgotten that not all the mentioned problems will occur on all cylinders at the same time.

However, thanks to this, it is relatively easy to determine a faulty cylinder by examining and comparing spark plugs or by compression measurement and comparing it with other cylinders. However, the blue smoke from the exhaust, which we have already written about, can alert you to engine oil burning.

Oil is leaking from the engine

However, oil loss may not only be caused by a worn engine component but also by engine oil leakage through various seals or the clumsiness of the driver, for example, when he punctures the engine's oil sump.

The oil was lost for no reason

It is necessary to realize that every single engine has a default engine oil consumption, even if everything is in order in the engine and there is no malfunction or other problem that could cause oil loss.

The manufacturer specifies engine oil consumption but usually ranges from 0.3 liters to 1 liter per change interval. However, if you exceed the regular engine oil change intervals, it may happen that the engine oil consumption will be higher for one change interval than indicated by the manufacturer.

Driving style also has a significant impact on typical oil consumption. Suppose you drive your car too often into the tachometer's red zone. In that case, the regular engine oil consumption can again be slightly higher than that specified by the manufacturer. This regular engine oil consumption occurs when the oil enters the combustion chamber.

The engine oil level is alright, but the oil warning light is constantly on

If the engine oil level is alright and the oil warning light is still on, it is probably a malfunction of the oil pump or clogged lubrication ducts. However, it does not always have to be such serious problems.

A faulty engine oil pressure sensor can also report low engine oil pressure. Unfortunately, without engine diagnostics, it is challenging to determine if it is just a sensor error or if the engine oil pressure is low due to a damaged oil pump or clogged lubrication channels.

However, suppose the engine oil level is average, and the oil warning light constantly indicates an error. In that case, it is recommended not to drive the car any further and have the vehicle checked and this problem solved as soon as possible. If the oil pressure were low and you continued to drive the car, you risk seizing the engine.


In conclusion, I would add that ignoring the illuminated oil warning light can lead to severe damage to the engine, the repair of which, in some cases, can exceed the price of the entire car.