A Guide to Oil Warning Lights

Bradley Jando | Tuesday 28th March 2023 11:16am

Engine Oil Gauge Showing a High Level

When a warning light suddenly appears on your car’s dashboard it can be alarming, however, it’s important to remember not to panic and to stay as calm as possible - especially if this happens while you’re driving. In many cases, as long as you get the issues checked out by a trained technician as soon as possible, you can continue driving. In other circumstances, however, you may need to pull over and seek immediate assistance. This makes it essential to understand what each light means and how serious of a problem it is indicating. One such light that often causes confusion among drivers is the oil light.

The unexpected appearance of this warning light can indicate a number of different problems, from a low oil light level or a drop in oil pressure to an overheating engine. However does the appearance of this warning necessarily mean that your car is unsafe to drive? In this post we take a look at what this warning light is, what it could mean if it comes on and how to go about solving the issue.

Where is the oil warning light and what does it look like?

Before you drive a new or unfamiliar vehicle, you should take the time to get your bearings and acquaint yourself with its specific controls, specifications and settings. This process should include the warning lights on the dashboard. Although most of these lights and alerts are now fairly standardised across all makes and models of vehicles, you should always consult the vehicle’s owner’s manual if you notice any you don’t recognise or understand.

While the specific location and image that represents the oil warning light will differ from car to car, it will typically feature on the dashboard and will resemble an old-fashioned oil can. In some vehicles, there may even be the word ‘OIL’ under or next to the light. As with all warning lights, the oil warning may behave differently depending on the make and model of car. The light may appear in different colours depending on the severity of the issue it is flagging up, for example. Typically, a red light means immediate action should be taken, while orange or yellow is usually to let you know that a more minor issue needs attention. In some vehicles, warning lights may also flash to indicate urgency.

Oil warning lights: causes and solutions

An oil warning light may appear, or start to flash, if your vehicle is experiencing any of the following engine oil-related issues:

Low oil levels or worn-out oil

This is the primary cause of oil light warning alerts. An engine needs oil to reduce friction between all the moving parts, ensuring it can run smoothly. When your car doesn’t have the right level of oil, a lack of lubrication can cause the engine to seize up or damage itself beyond repair. With this in mind, you should regularly check your oil light level, alongside your other key car maintenance jobs, and book your car in for an oil change every three to six months or every 5,000 miles - whichever comes first. This simple job, which can be done as part of your car’s service or as part of an engine oil and filter change package, will make sure your vehicle always has clean, fresh oil circulating through its engine.

Faulty oil pressure gauge or oil pump

If, after your oil warning light has come on, you have checked your oil levels and found them to be normal, it is possible that the issue lies within your car’s oil pressure gauge. Faulty wiring or a larger electric problem can cause the gauge to malfunction and provide inaccurate readings, which in turn could activate the oil warning light. An expert technician can perform a mechanical oil pressure test, or use a full engine diagnostic test, to determine whether or not a lack of pressure or faulty gauge is the cause of the problem.

Clogged filter

Oil filters play an essential part in maintaining the oil pressure in your car’s engine - if the filter becomes clogged or overly-dirty, oil pressure will increase and the flow will reduce. This can cause the oil warning light to activate. If this is the case, the best course of action is to have an oil filter replacement. This will ensure that oil pressure is once again regulated correctly and the flow of oil is restored, allowing the engine to function normally.

Engine overheating

Your engine burning through oil is another common cause of oil warning alerts, particularly in older cars. If your oil warning light is illuminated or flashing, and your engine is making an audible clicking sound, the chances are the oil in your car is failing to lubricate the moving parts in the engine due to overheating. When oil is overheated, it can either burn off completely or change in viscosity and behave more like water than oil, failing to lubricate the engine. If this is happening and is not properly addressed, the engine can undergo wear and tear far more quickly and, in more serious cases, be subjected to irreparable damage. With a whole range of different issues potentially causing your engine to overheat - from a leak in the cooling system or condensed coolant to a broken water pump - the quicker you seek professional assistance and have your car diagnosed, the better.

When in doubt, ask for expert advice…

When it comes to your oil warning light, finding out what is causing the alert and having it professionally repaired is vital. Ignoring this light or even just delaying getting a mechanical diagnosis can lead to expensive and sometimes irreparable damage to your engine. As soon as the warning light appears - particularly if this is paired with an unusual knocking sound from the engine, steam or smoke coming from the bonnet or a general loss of engine performance - don’t wait until your next scheduled service. Take your vehicle to a trained technician as soon as possible.

If you have any questions about oil maintenance issues, feel free to give us a call or drop by one of our Kwik Fit centres today to book an appointment or talk through your options with a technician. Our team of dedicated experts are always happy to help.

Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.

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