While driving, if you observe an oil light beeping on your dashboard, simply pull over and investigate the problem. Consider the warning as your engine may be low on oil, and driving further may result in engine failure. 

This article will investigate some of the possible causes of the oil light turning on and off. 

Why Does Your Car’s Oil Light Come On?  

Low oil pressure is the main reason your oil light comes on and off. Low oil pressure occurs when your pump does not provide enough oil to the engine. Oil cannot circulate through the engine and lubricate the components due to low oil pressure. 

The majority of cars have a low oil pressure indicator on the dashboard. The oil pressure gauge looks like an old fuel can with a drip of oil dripping from its tip. This is different from an oil life monitor as that tells you how long your current oil will last.

If it’s red, it indicates your engine’s oil pressure is low. This can happen for a variety of reasons. 

6 Factors to Consider When Your Oil Warning Lights Come On 

Low Oil

If the oil light flashes on and off, you are probably low on fuel. Turn the engine off immediately and check the oil level.  

Here’s how to check your vehicle’s fuel level:

  1. Turn off the engine and wait a few minutes for the oil to cool. Don’t check engine oil with the car running.
  2. Take a Dipstick based on your car’s model. Wipe it down with a cloth and place it inside the fuel tank. 
  3. Take the dipstick out and check the oil level. 
  4. If very little oil is on the dipstick, your oil will soon run out. 

If your oil pressure is low, refill your tank right away. Ensure not to overfill it; low oil pressure can result from an empty and overfilling your tank may result in the formation of bubbles and froth. This is due to oil in the sump coming into contact with the crankshaft, especially in older engines that lack windage trays as a layer. The formation of bubbles in your car’s oil can result in varying oil pressure. 

Oil Pump Isn’t Working 

If your oil light turns on, your oil pump isn’t delivering enough oil to the moving parts, such as the pistons, bearings, and camshaft.  

How to determine if your oil pump is damaged: 

  1. If you hear engine clatter from moving parts, your oil pump is most likely damaged since oil flow slows due to a failed pump and sludge buildup. 
  2. Experiencing engine overheating. 

The factors listed above do not necessarily indicate that your oil pump is damaged, but they are symptoms of a damaged oil pan. Damaged oil pans can cause an increase in internal friction, which can cause long-term damage to your engine. Make sure to have your oil pan replaced by a mechanic, as this could cause the oil light to turn on.

Clogged Oil Filter 

When the oil leaves the pump, it is directed to the oil filter to be screened for contaminants. The oil filter is in charge of removing impurities from your oil that can accumulate over time as the oil keeps your engine clean. Dirt in oil can cause a blockage and set off a low oil warning.

Clogged Oil Filter 
Credit: Quora

How to determine if your engine oil is dirty: 

  1. Insert a dipstick into your oil tank. 
  2. Examine the dipstick. Clean oil should be clear and slightly runny. 
  3. If your oil is super dark, thick, and sludgy to the touch, it’s probably old and needs to be replaced. 
  4. Check your oil filter because fixing it could remove the impurities in the oil. 

If your oil contains many unwanted impurities, ensure your oil filter is functioning correctly.

Leaking Oil

Another explanation for the low oil pressure alert could be that your oil is leaking. Internal factors such as broken pistons, damaged head gaskets, worn-out oil filters, loose or cracked oil filler caps, and many others can cause oil leakage. If you notice oil patches on the ground where your car was parked, your oil is most likely leaking.

How to determine if your engine’s oil is leaking:

  1. Start the engine for a few minutes and ensure your gas tank is full.
  2. After a few minutes, simply move the car to a different location and check the surface. 
  3. If it is splattered with fluid that smells like oil, your fuel is most likely leaking, resulting in a low oil pressure alarm. 

Low Oil Viscosity

A low viscosity oil is less thick and has less resistance to flow. A low viscosity oil in the summer can trigger low oil pressure warning. High viscosity oil can also cause slow oil flow in your engine, resulting in low oil pressure. Check the owner’s manual for the recommended oil viscosity for your car. Oil should always be chosen based on its viscosity grade.

For example, in 15W40 grade oil, the number before W represents the oil’s viscosity in cold temperatures, while the number after W represents the viscosity of your oil in hot temperatures. The higher the number after W, the better the performance in high temperatures, and vice versa. 

Fault in Oil Pressure Sensor  

If your oil light is flashing on and off and you can’t figure out why. One possible cause is your oil pressure sensor or switch is not functioning properly. There could be an issue with the oil pressure sensor wiring, resulting in false alarms. Our cars have two types of oil pressure sensors: electrical and mechanical.  

Most modern cars use an electrical oil pressure system because it is simple to maintain and can be integrated easily. Mechanical oil pressure sensors require more maintenance and, if damaged, can frequently cause false alarms. If your car’s tank is full and you still receive low oil warnings, contact your mechanic and have your oil pressure sensors fixed. 


To summarize, you should not disregard an oil light warning on your dashboard because it could indicate serious engine problems. There is a chance that your oil filter or the oil pump is malfunctioning. Maybe you’re out of gas, or maybe it’s just a false alarm caused by your faulty oil pressure sensor. 

Make sure to turn off the engine immediately and investigate the cause of the oil light warning. Start the engine only if the oil pressure light on the dashboard is not red. If you cannot find a solution, contact your mechanic and have your vehicle inspected and diagnosed. 

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