3 Signs Your Car’s Engine Oil Might Be Running Low

Read our detailed guide to learn when it might be time for you to top-up or replace your car's engine oil.
3 Signs That Your Engine Oil Might Be Running Low
By - Yaajyaansh Bhardwaj
April 23, 2024

The engine oil of your car is often the unsung hero of your car’s performance. It’s the reason why everything in your car runs smoothly. It ensures that all the engine components are lubricated properly and that all moving parts work harmoniously together. However, like any important component of a car, the engine oil, too, needs regular attention and maintenance to keep your car running at its best. Failure to do so can lead to wear and tear of your car’s engine and in some cases, permanent damage. So it’s essential you know what signs you should be looking for to check if your car’s engine oil is low.

Why Should We Change Engine Oil Often?

The main job of engine oil is to lubricate the internal components of your engine and keep things running smoothly by reducing friction and preventing potential damage. However, over time, engine oil naturally deteriorates, losing its effectiveness in breaking down & cleaning the dirt and debris particles that accumulate within the engine. Filters do catch some of these particles, but they can only do so much. Eventually, this buildup of particles surpasses the filter’s capacity, ultimately leading to contaminants seeping into your engine.

Without regular oil changes, this buildup of debris and contaminants can cause significant damage to your engine. Excessive friction begins to develop between the engine’s moving parts, forcing the system to work harder than it should. This increased friction, in turn, generates a lot of heat and pressure throughout the engine, putting unnecessary strain on its components.

All of this leads to premature engine wear & tear, decreased mileage, slower performance, and a direct impact on emissions. 

Today’s cars are designed with engine controls that heavily rely on proper engine oil maintenance. Engine controls influence critical factors such as mileage, emissions, and overall efficiency, with engine oil playing a pivotal role in powering these controls. When oil levels drop too low or become contaminated, these engine controls can’t perform their core functions properly.

Therefore, it becomes extremely important to check signs to change your engine oil.

How to Check Engine Oil Level?

Road Trip Preparation Guide

Often, the best method to check if your engine oil level is low is by directly checking it using the dipstick located in the engine bay. Here’s a simple guide to help you through the process of checking the engine oil level and adding engine oil if required:

Step 1 – Preparing Your Car: Parking on Level Ground, Allowing the Engine to Cool

Before checking your engine oil level, make sure that your car is prepared and has the right conditions to check the engine oil level. 

Make sure that your car is parked on a flat surface or a levelled road with minimal tilt. Parking on a ramp or uneven ground may lead to an inaccurate reading of the oil level due to the tilt of the vehicle.

Apart from that, to get an accurate oil level reading, it’s important to check the oil only when the engine is cool. Avoid checking the oil level immediately after driving as the engine will be hot. Let the engine cool down for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the oil to settle in the lower oil pan. This not only ensures that all oil from various parts of the engine collects in the pan but also helps lower the oil temperature.

Step 2 – Inspecting the Dipstick

When you open the engine bay, try to locate the dipstick cap, which is often yellow in colour. In most cars, it would be located around the centre of the engine. Once you find it, pull it out and wipe the dipstick with a clean cloth. 

Next, place the dipstick back into its compartment tube and wait for about 5 seconds. Afterward, pull it out again and examine the oil mark on the dipstick. The yellow-orangish engine oil fluid would stick onto the dipstick indicating the level of the engine oil. Your dipstick would have a maximum-minimum marking on it which shows the ideal range of the oil level. 

If the oil level falls below the minimum mark, it signifies a level lower than the ideal range.

Step 3 – Top up the Engine Oil

Before actually adding more engine oil, make sure you’re using the correct type for your car, matching the grade specified by the manufacturer available in the car brochure.

If the oil level is below the minimum mark, locate the engine oil filler cap, typically marked with a symbol or the word “oil.” Then, top up the oil if the oil level is below minimum. Pour the engine oil in small increments, periodically checking the level to prevent overfilling.

If by any chance you overfill the oil level, remove the excess oil using a suction pump inserted into the cap access point or dipstick tube. If a suction pump isn’t available, drain the excess oil by loosening the drain plug or oil filter, allowing it to drain until the level is corrected.

Signs Your Engine Oil Level is Running Low

There are many telltale signs that your engine oil might be running low and needs some attention: 

Illuminated Oil Pressure Warning Light

The most direct indication that your engine oil level is running low is when your engine oil light is on. Your engine oil light is a warning light that can be seen with other warning lights in your car instrument cluster near the speedometer. 

Impact on Engine: Performance, Mileage & Overheating

A low level of engine oil can lead to decreased efficiency in your vehicle. When the engine lacks proper lubrication, it works harder and burns more fuel. If you notice a decrease in mileage or sluggish performance, it’s a sign that an oil change is needed. If you notice a loss of power when accelerating, it indicates diminishing vehicle performance. Additionally, low oil pressure can cause an unusual amount of stalling during engine startup. 

Another common symptom of low engine oil is engine overheating. While the cooling system, including coolant, radiator, and water pump, primarily maintains vehicle parts’ temperature, engine oil also plays a role in cooling areas inaccessible to coolant. Without adequate oil pressure, the engine operates with reduced lubrication, leading to increased friction and heat generation between metal parts. Consequently, your vehicle may shut down automatically to prevent engine damage. At the same time, overheated components could pose a fire hazard, which is also extremely dangerous. If the temperature gauge indicates unsafe levels, it signals engine-overheating.

Burning Oil Smell

If you detect the smell of burning oil inside your cabin, it’s a clear indicator that your engine requires attention, likely requiring an engine oil change. This smell signifies an oil leak from one of the engine components, with the leaked oil potentially dripping onto a hot engine part, leading to the distinct odour. The burning smell can also mean that the oil is burning within the engine, requiring immediate action to prevent further damage.

Summary

Knowing the importance of engine oil, why it’s crucial to change it regularly, and how you can check your oil levels to ensure everything is running smoothly will ensure that your car has a healthy life. If you know these three main telltale signs that your car’s engine oil might be running low, signalling the need for immediate attention, then you will never need to worry about what to do in such a scenario. Neglecting regular oil changes leads to premature engine wear, decreased performance, and reduced fuel efficiency. By staying informed and proactive with oil changes, you can ensure that your engine operates at its peak performance and enjoys a longer lifespan.

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