Causes and Symptoms of Low Engine Oil Pressure
Rather complex moving parts of the vehicle are in the engine. When the piston of the engine completes one full cycle of up and down motion it is equivalent to one RPM (revolutions per minute). In an idle engine, the rpm is typically 600-900 rpm. At high speed, the rpm could reach up to 7000 rpm. Engine oil pressure plays a crucial role to keep these parts moving freely by reducing friction. Not enough engine oil pressure leads to troublesome issues. Let's talk about the symptoms and causes of low oil pressure in more detail.
Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure
Oil Warning Light or Oil-Pressure Gauge Light
Whenever there is an oil pressure drop or significantly low oil level in the car, the car will immediately display a warning light on the dashboard. This could be an engine check light or an oil-pressure gauge light depending on the issue.
Smell of Burning Oil
A burning oil smell indicates that there is likely an oil leak. That leaking oil is probably hitting on the hot surface of other components in the car, which results in a burning smell. If you experience a burning oil smell while driving, It is advised to safely pull over to check the oil level of your car. Consult the technician for further maintenance.
Diminishing Engine Performance
Low oil pressure means your engine won’t be getting enough oil to deal with the friction generated by the movement of pistons and other moving parts of the engine. In such conditions, the engine is working much harder and the performance of the engine will decline. You could also experience burning through your gas tank faster, engine stalling, and losing power while driving.
Increased friction due to low oil pressure creates more heat between the moving parts. If not dealt with quickly, engine overheating could turn into a much more complex issue such as coolant fluid burning and the radiator burning. The normal engine operating temperature is in the range of 195 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. The engine heat gauge on the dash does not display the exact engine temperature. Instead, the gauge has a marking for cold and hot on the edges. The gauge indicator stays in the middle during the normal operating temperature range of the engine. It’s a cause of concern if you see the gauge indicator more than three-quarters from the cold side.
One other very obvious sign of low oil pressure is weird noises coming from the engine. The friction of moving parts with not enough oil for lubrication creates knocking, grinding, ticking, and whining noises.
Causes of Low Oil pressure
Low Oil Level
Low engine oil is the most common cause of low oil pressure and is also easy to fix. Every vehicle has the recommended miles after which the engine oil needs to be changed. It is because the oil gets dirty and might also lose some volume with time. For older vehicles, which are prone to oil leaks, it is important to regularly check the engine oil level.
Dirt or Debris in the Oil Pickup Tube
The oil pump picks up the oil from the oil pan via a pickup tube. Accumulation of dirt or debris in the tube or tube screen can cause low oil pressure. It is important to check the tube passage and change the clogged tube and tube screen when needed.
Another common cause of low oil pressure is an oil leak. It is easier to visually see the external oil leak in the vehicle. All you need to do is look underneath the car while it is parked. If there is a leak it will be visible on the ground. External oil leaks are relatively easier to fix but would still need a technician's assistance. Internal oil leaks can be tricky to detect and fix. Such leaks could happen due to worn-out piston rings, valve failure, and valve seal failure.
Oil Filter Issue
Dirty oil could clog the oil filter and result in low pressure. The oil filter also has a pressure relief valve which when damaged would allow the oil to freely pass through. This creates low pressure. It is recommended to change the oil filter every time with an oil change.
Oil Pressure Gauge Issue
Like any other mechanical part, the gauge can eventually fail and provide the wrong pressure reading. Once you have checked every possible cause for the oil pressure drop and still could not figure out the issue, getting the pressure gauge tested is recommended if other symptoms exist.
Camshaft and crankshaft bearings in the engine wear down from friction and heat. The hole through which they seat widens and leads to oil escaping out of the chamber. This creates low oil pressure.
Oil Pump Issue
Oil pump failures can happen due to inadequate oil levels, oil contamination, or incorrect installation of the pump itself. Oil pumps also wear out with time and usage.
Oil Viscosity Issue
Using the recommended oil for the vehicle is important to maintain the right viscosity of the oil. It is one of the important factors for proper oil pressure. Using a high viscosity oil would restrict the easy flow of oil creating high pressure and using a low viscosity oil would be able to flow faster and create a low pressure.