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7 Low Engine Oil Symptoms (+Causes, FAQs)

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Engine oil is vital for keeping your engine in prime condition. 
That’s why getting a regular oil change is the most basic TLC you can provide to your vehicle.     

But what if your vehicle shows low engine oil symptoms before it’s due for a top-up?
And what are the reasons for the low oil level?

In this article, we’ll list down the common low engine oil symptoms and why your car may be running low on oil. We’ll then answer some queries regarding engine oil.                        

This Article Contains:

Let’s begin. 

7 Low Engine Oil Symptoms

When your car is running low on engine oil (motor oil), the signs are hard to miss. 
Here are some things you may experience due to low oil or low oil pressure: 

1. Illuminated Oil Pressure Warning Light

An illuminated oil pressure light is the most definitive way to tell you that you have low engine oil. 

Most modern vehicles have a warning light (oil light) connected to a system of sensors that evaluate the oil pressure and report it to the ECU (Engine Control Unit). If your car lacks sufficient oil pressure, the ECU triggers the warning light you can see on your dashboard.

If you see this oil warning light, get your vehicle inspected ASAP for low oil pressure or get a motor oil top-up, if required.

Note: If your oil warning light only flickers instead of staying steadily lit, you should still get your oil pressure and oil level checked. But, if the oil light doesn’t go off even after an oil top-up, the low oil pressure could be due to a faulty oil pressure sensor, oil pump, or oil pressure gauge, amongst other things. 

2. Burning Oil Smell

If your vehicle starts giving off a burning oil smell, pull over immediately.

A burning oil smell from your vehicle and subsequent low oil level could indicate an oil leak from one of the engine components. This oil may drip on a hot engine part, causing that burning smell. 

Once you pull over, let your vehicle cool down. Then, check the dipstick for a low oil level. If it’s low, don’t drive, as low oil can lead to severe engine damage. Either refill the engine oil or call for auto assistance. 

3. Knocking or Clunking Noises

Sounds of any kind coming from under the hood are never a good sign.

If you hear a knocking or clunking noise from your engine components, chances are you’re running low on engine oil.

Why does that happen?

When your car engine doesn’t have enough oil flow, its parts can rub together and create friction. This can loosen engine rods, a critical engine part responsible for tightly securing the pistons. Without lubrication, these rods will be thrown around inside the engine, creating the knocking sound. 

You may also hear lifters or cam bearing noise due to low oil pressure, low oil level, or if the oil has lost its oil viscosity

Note: Oil viscosity refers to how easily the oil flows at a specific temperature.

Regardless, your powertrain can seize and break down completely if the issue isn’t addressed. It’s best to schedule an engine service or get an oil change when you notice this symptom. 

4. Engine Overheating

Another common low engine oil symptom is engine overheating. 

While the cooling system (coolant, radiator, water pump, etc.) is responsible for keeping your vehicle parts cool, engine oil also helps keep areas cool where the coolant can’t reach. 

Without sufficient oil pressure, your engine will work with decreased lubrication. The lack of lubrication causes friction between metal parts and can also cause them to heat up. As a result, your vehicle may shut itself off to prevent engine damage, or the heated components could start a fire, which can be pretty dangerous. 

So, if the temperature gauge rises to unsafe levels, it indicates that your engine is overheating. Pull over right away and call roadside assistance. 

Important: Don’t try to open the hood immediately, as hot coolant can explode out of the reservoir and can cause severe burns. Allow the engine to cool off to check the coolant and engine oil level, and top them off as required. 

5. Sluggish Vehicle Performance

Did you know that low engine oil can also impact your car’s efficiency?

Since the engine oil maintains lubrication for smooth functioning, the lack of it can cause your engine to go into overdrive. This not only results in sluggish engine performance and reduced efficiency, but can lead to severe damage that would require expensive engine repairs. 

6. Poor Fuel Economy

Without sufficient oil flow, your engine must work harder to meet the vehicle’s demands. And the harder the engine works, the more fuel it will burn. 

This can affect your fuel economy, which means you’ll be stopping by the gas pump more often.

So if you notice a drop in your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, get your car inspected for low engine oil as well. 

7. Car Stalling

Many vehicles come equipped with fail-safe features to prevent the engine from severe damage. One of them is that the engine stalls and dies when there’s low engine oil pressure or the oil level drops. 

That said, engine stalling itself is pretty taxing on the motor. It could damage the pistons and other components, which can be expensive to repair or replace. 

So, if your vehicle keeps stalling, it’s time to check for low engine oil pressure or low oil level. 

Now you know what signs to look for to confirm a low oil level. 
But what could be the reasons for the low oil in your vehicle?  

Why is My Engine Running Low on Oil?

Here are two possible reasons for the low oil level in your vehicle: 

1. Engine Oil Leak

If you have a low oil level despite having a recent oil change, your engine may have a motor oil leak. 

Your engine may leak oil due to a poorly installed oil filter, worn seals, or a cracked oil pan, allowing the oil to seep out.  

If the leak from the oil pan or any other part is severe, you might notice a puddle of oil under your vehicle. However, minor leaks are hard to spot and often require engine dismantling. 

2. Engine Oil Burning 

If you see low pressure on the oil pressure gauge or a low oil level in the reservoir but can’t spot a leak, chances are that your engine is burning oil internally. 

Your vehicle burning a small amount of oil is normal, especially as the engine ages. Topping it off with some new oil should fix the issue

But if your new car is rapidly burning oil, and you spot blue smoke from your exhaust, it can indicate a bigger problem that should be addressed ASAP.  

With the low oil symptoms and causes covered, let’s answer some motor oil related FAQs. 

3 FAQs on Engine Oil 

Here are answers to some common questions you might have regarding engine oil: 

1. What is Engine Oil, and Why is it Important?

Engine oil or motor oil is a thick fluid used to lubricate different metal parts to prevent friction. Another role played by motor oil is to keep the components cool and prevent the car engine from overheating. 

Besides these two primary functions, engine oil also keeps the engine parts clean by picking up dirt and debris. 

Now, while all engines require motor oil, the type and weight (thickness) of the oil can differ from engine to engine. 

Your engine is designed to use a specific oil viscosity listed in your owner’s manual. You should always stick to the oil type specified for your engine. Doing otherwise could impact your fuel economy and damage your oil pump and motor over time. 

2. How To Check Low Engine Oil?

Here are the easy steps to check your engine oil level: 

3. When Should I Change My Oil?

There’s no specific schedule as to when you should change your engine oil

While mechanics initially recommended getting oil changes every three months or 3,000 miles for conventional oil, it’s no longer the case. Modern, high-quality synthetic oil in a new car can last almost 10,000 miles. 

So, as a rule of thumb, follow your manufacturer-recommended oil change intervals. At the same time, keep an eye on the oil warning light to get a top-up earlier if required. 

Wrapping Up 

Engine oil is a vital component that helps keep your engine lubricated, cool, and clean. But, the oil can diminish over time, hampering your engine performance. 

If you’ve been noticing low engine oil symptoms that aren’t going away after a top-up, or if you just need an oil change, reach out to RepairSmith

RepairSmith is a convenient mobile vehicle auto repair and maintenance solution that offers convenient online booking and competitive prices for all auto repairs.  

Contact us to get the correct diagnosis for your low oil symptoms or to perform a quick oil top-up right in your driveway!