Engine oil light: what to do?

If you notice while driving that the engine oil light comes on, your first instinct should be to leave the traffic lanes as quickly as possible and stop in a safe place. In fact, this warning light informs you of an engine oil pressure fault. Continuing to drive in these conditions can be dangerous and damage or even destroy your engine. What does this light actually indicate? Why does it light up? What to do if this is the case? Our answers in this file.

What is the purpose of the engine oil light? What does it indicate?

The engine oil light is intended to alert you when the vehicle’s engine oil pressure level is out of specification. With the coolant temperature warning light, it is a warning light that should force you to stop your vehicle immediately. In fact, just driving for a few minutes with an engine oil pressure level that is too low is enough to cause serious damage.

A car engine is made up of several moving parts. To prevent them from wearing out when they come into contact, the engine is lubricated by a film of oil under pressure generated by the oil pump. Thanks to this pressure, the engine is kept at the right temperature in order to avoid any risk of overheating, its parts are protected and it cleans itself automatically by evacuating foreign bodies. To be compliant, this pressure oscillates between 1 bar at idle and 5 bars at high speed. Consequently, when it is below 1 bar, the engine oil warning light comes on and alerts you.

This small orange or red light is clearly recognizable since it represents an oil can. Most recent vehicles also alert you with a signaling message. Given the importance of this light, it is essential to regularly check that it is working properly and that the probe which detects the pressure is in working order. To do this is very simple. When you switch on your vehicle, the engine oil warning light should come on and go out as soon as you start it.

Why can the engine oil light come on?

When you notice that the engine oil light comes on, you should stop as soon as possible, as soon as you have the opportunity, that is, after leaving the traffic lanes. Here are the possible causes of its ignition:

  • Loss of engine oil pressure : this is the most frequent cause of ignition. In this case, either the oil level is too low and causes the pressure to drop, or the oil pump is faulty. You can add oil to bring the pressure back up to a normal level, which should turn off the light. But it is recommended to see a mechanic who can check that the problem is not more serious. Always ask for advice if the oil level is good or if the light does not disappear after an upgrade.
  • A fault in the pressure sensor : the engine oil pressure sensor may be malfunctioning and mistakenly informs you that the pressure level is bad, when it is not. You will have no choice but to replace the part in a garage.
  • Oil pump malfunction : if the oil pump, whose role is to send oil into the engine circuit, is faulty, only an oil change will allow you to solve the problem.
  • An oil leak : an oil leak is possible and can come from several places (hose, tank, filter, cylinder head gasket, etc.). In the event of a leak, you will observe a seepage in the engine compartment, or even a burning smell. It is also possible that a puddle of oil is visible under the vehicle after parking.

What to do when the engine oil light comes on?

When the engine oil warning light comes on, you must act immediately to avoid any damage to your engine. Here’s the procedure to follow :

  • Step 1 : as soon as possible, leave the traffic lanes and park in a safe place. Turn off your engine.
  • 2nd step : Wait a few minutes to allow the engine and oil to cool, otherwise you could burn yourself.
  • Step 3 : Open the car’s front hood and engine compartment guard. Remove the dipstick, clean it with a rag and plunge it back in to check the oil level.
  • Step 4 : If the oil level is normal, check that no oil leaks are visible. Be careful not to burn yourself while doing this, as the oil can be very hot.
  • Step 5 : if the oil level is below the minimum mark, top up with suitable oil to return to the correct level. Before closing the bonnet, check with the dipstick that the level is satisfactory.
  • Step 6 : Get back in the car. By switching on the ignition, the engine oil warning light should come on, and it should go out when you start the vehicle.

If the engine oil light stays on, turn off the engine and have your car towed to a garage or home.

The mechanic will then make the necessary repairs to allow you to recover your vehicle in working order. He will begin to check that no oil leaks are apparent. If this were the case, he will have to repair or replace the parts in question.

If there are no leaks, the mechanic will assess other potential oil pressure issues. He may therefore have to replace the oil filter, carry out a compression test, replace the engine oil pressure gauge or even the oil pump.

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