Low Oil Pressure – Troubleshooting, Actually Starts At The Dipstick

Low Oil Pressure - Troubleshooting, Actually Starts At The Dipstick
Low Oil Pressure - Troubleshooting, Actually Starts At The Dipstick

Low oil pressure is something no one wants, but it happens more often than you think.

Consequently, low oil pressure, can cause damage to different engine components, spelling trouble for your engine.

A good place to start troubleshooting, low oil pressure conditions, is at the dipstick. Check the oil level to see that it is, at the proper level.

So, when your engine has low oil pressure, friction between different parts increases.

As a result, you could see, a decline in engine performance. In other words, watch out for common signs, of lower engine performance. For instance, such as, lower fuel economy, loss of power, and engine stalling.

Common Symptoms Of A, Low Oil Pressure:

  • Warning Light, The simplest sign of a low oil level is when, the oil warning light comes on.
  • Smell of Burning Oil, This burning smell could be from, an oil leak onto the hot components of your engine.
  • Knocking Sounds, The reason is because, there is less oil, to lubricate the engine parts.

A Low Oil Level, Could Be The Engine, Leaking Or Burning Oil

So, if the engine is leaking oil, install new gaskets or seals, to fix the leak. But, if the engine is burning oil, the valve guides and seals could be the cause. Also, on high mileage engines, you may have, worn piston rings or cylinders.

Oil On Dipstick
Checking Engine Oil Level

A wet compression test and/or cylinder leak down test will tell you, what parts may be worn out. Because, if this is the case, you will be visiting, your local machine shop for engine repairs.

Engines Are Built To Use, A Certain Viscosity Of Engine Oil

Heavier viscosity oils, such as 20W-50, straight 30W and 40W, may help maintain good pressure, in hot weather. But, are too thick, for cold weather driving. Furthermore, causing start-up lubrication problems, especially in overhead cam engines. Light viscosity oils, on the other hand, such as straight 10W or 5W-20, may improve cold weather starting. But, may be too thin, for hot weather driving, to maintain good pressure. That’s why, most OEMs today, recommend 5W-30 for year-round driving, in modern engines.

Oil Pressure Light, Gauge And Pressure Sending Unit

So, if the oil level is okay, the next thing to check would be, the pressure sending unit.

Sending Unit
Oil Pressure Sending Unit

The Three Most Common Symptoms, Of A Faulty Oil Pressure Switch Or Sensor Are:

  • Repeated Blinking, from the Oil Light.
  • The Wrong Reading Shows, on the Oil Gauge.
  • The Oil Light, Comes On.

Firstly, disconnect the unit and check the warning lamp or gauge reading. Because, if the warning light remains on with the sending unit disconnected. Then, there is probably a short to ground, in the warning lamp circuit. Likewise, if there is no change in the gauge reading, the problem is, in the instrumentation, not the engine. Actually, bad sending units, are quite common. That’s why, many technicians will replace the unit, without checking anything else, to see if that cures the problem.

Switch Or Sensor
Oil Pressure Switch Or Sensor

This approach might save you some time, but it is risky. Because, unless you measure pressure directly, with a gauge attached to the engine. Then, you have no way of knowing, if pressure is within specifications or not. Furthermore, most warning lamps, won’t come on, until you have, dangerously low pressure (less than 4 or 5 lbs.). So, don’t assume the absence of a warning lamp means, oil pressure is okay. Subsequently, if the engine is making any, lifter or bearing noise.

If a check reveals unusually low oil pressure readings, check the oil filter. It is possible the oil filter, might be clogged with gunk. Try replacing the oil filter and see if that makes a difference.

Finally, Checking The Bottom End

The next step would be, to drop the oil pan and check, the oil pump pickup screen. Check to see that the pickup tube is, properly mounted. And, is firmly attached to the oil pump (no leaks) and is not obstructed.

Engine Bottom End
Engine Bottom End

If the oil pump is inside the crankcase, the next step might be to remove and inspect the pump. A broken pump drive would tell you, something entered and jammed the pump. If the pump is worn or damaged, replacement is the only option.

If the pump appears to be okay, the next step would be, to measure the rod and main bearing clearances. Check the clearances on, the main bearing, closest the pump (since this has the greatest effect on pressure). Also, clearances on the furthest rod bearing, (since this will show, the greatest wear).

Consequently, worn crankshaft bearings, will have to be replaced. But, before you do so, carefully inspect and measure the crankshaft journals. And, check for wear, scoring, out-of-round and taper. Because, you may have to, regrind or replace a worn crankshaft.

Other checks might include, camshaft, cam bearings and lifters. Remember, excessive clearances or leaks anywhere in the engine’s oil supply system, can contribute to low pressure.


Good oil pressure depends on several critical factors, such as:

  • Oil supply.
  • Engine oil type.
  • Engine condition.
  • Oil pump condition.
  • The weather.
No Oil Pressure
No Oil Pressure

While many older oil pressure gauges were, actual hydro-mechanical gauges, warning lights. Now, most modern gauges are electrical or electronic. So, when investigating low pressure problems, the best way to test actual oil pressure. Above all, is with a mechanical oil pressure gauge. Finally, oil pressure can be checked, at the sending unit passage, with a mechanical oil pressure gauge.

Thank You !