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What Does It Mean When Your Oil Light Comes On?

Your vehicle’s oil light on the dashboard flashes red. Now what?

Check engine warning light.First, there is no need to panic. If you’re driving a newer vehicle, be aware that it may have two dashboard oil lights. One is the orange “reminder” light that it’s time to change your oil. If that’s the one that’s on, no problem; just know to have your oil changed soon. But if the “real” red-colored oil light is on, there’s likely an issue that needs to be addressed more critically.

What It Your Red Oil Light Means

A red dashboard oil light can mean one of several things, such as:

  • Your oil level is low.
  • Your oil pressure is low.
  • Your oil pressure sending unit (sensor) is faulty.
  • Your oil pump needs to be replaced.

Any of these is challenging at best and perilous at worst. Do not ignore that red light.

What to Do

Pull over to the curb or shoulder as soon as it’s safe to do so and stop. Turn off the engine. It is dangerous to continue driving with the oil light on because it’s possible, although not likely, that you’ve completely run out of oil. If that’s the case, your engine may suddenly stop while you’re driving and cause an accident.

Open your hood and check your oil level. If it’s low, add more oil if you have some with you. If you don’t know how to check your oil, call your roadside assistance service, tell them what happened, and ask them to send someone to assist you.

The oil level shows the amount of oil left in your vehicle; oil pressure is how well your oil pump is circulating oil through the engine. If oil pressure is low, either the pump isn’t circulating enough oil or there isn’t enough oil to circulate. It’s vital to have sufficient pressurized oil circulating through your engine to lubricate its parts. Without it, your engine can be damaged.

If you’ve checked your oil level and added more oil if necessary, get back in your vehicle, start the engine, and see if the oil light is still red. If it’s not, you’re good to go, unless the engine is making noises. If it is, or if the oil light is still red, don’t drive. Call for a tow.

Find Out Why Your Oil Light Came On

Even if your oil light went off after you added more oil, the fact that you had to add it may indicate that you have a leak somewhere. Start checking for telltale oil stains or puddles underneath your vehicle, especially after it’s been parked overnight. Also, be sensitive to burnt oil smells coming from your engine or blue smoke coming out of your tailpipe. Any of these signals an oil leak or internal consumption. Take your vehicle to a service center to be checked out and fix any leaks or oil consumption concerns.

If you had to be towed, a competent mechanic has already gone over your car to find why your oil light came on. If your oil pressure sensor was faulty, it may have been detached, dirty, or broken and in need of replacement. If the problem was the oil pump, you probably need a new one. That’s not inexpensive, but it’s far preferable to having to get a new engine. Who knew that little red oil light was so important?