Low Oil Pressure at Idle: Causes & Symptoms + How to Fix it

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low oil pressure

Has it ever felt like that there is too much metal in your engine? You hear the whining and clinking sound of engine components rubbing against each other. The top reason behind such symptoms is the low oil pressure in your engine.

This article will discuss the downsides of having low oil pressure, the symptoms, and causes of low engine oil pressure, and how to fix it.

What is Oil Pressure?

low oil pressure light

Oil pressure is the pressure at which the engine oil is being delivered to the engine via an oil pump. If the oil pressure is too high or too low, you have a problem.

Oil is pumped into the engine for lubrication and cooling purpose. If this oil is not delivered at a certain pressure, then some engine core components might stay deprived of the oil flow. This would lead to improper functioning.

Oil pressure is also vital to maintain engine temperature as it does not allow the engine temperature to go past a certain point. If the pressure falls below the required levels, heat is not removed efficiently.

Why Does Engine Oil Pressure Vary? And What is Normal Oil Pressure?

There is a long list of factors that can vary the oil pressure. But before that, you must know how engine oil pressure is measured. A pressure gauge inside the engine intakes the oil supply and reads its pressure accordingly. An oil pressure sensor is also there, but it serves a different purpose.

Ideally, the oil pressure gauge should read 50 Psi. Anything above it or below it must be considered cautious. Though the ideal oil pressure is 50 Psi, the actual oil pressure can vary between 10 and 70 Psi.

The actual oil pressure lies in this wide bracket due to the following reasons:

  1. Oil pressure is affected by the weather. Too hot and cold temperatures on the outside can vary the oil pressure.
  2. Oil pressure is measured as resistance to the oil flow. Different bypass valves, engine bearings, and pathways offer different resistance. Hence, the variable oil pressure.
  3. More oil needs to be pumped into its systems when a car is running at a higher speed. More oil means more oil pressure.

Downsides of Having Low Oil Pressure

Low oil pressure can be pretty dangerous for the engine. It can hurt your engine and vehicle in several ways. Following are the downsides of having low oil pressure:

  1. Low Performance of Engine
  2. Quick Wear of Engine
  3. High Engine Temperature
  4. Breakdown of Core Engine Components

Low Performance of Engine

Where the choice of engine oil can directly impact the performance of your engine, the pressure of engine oil is also critical for optimum performance levels. The amount of resistance offered to the core components of the engine while they are moving together directly decides the output power at the shaft.

If more heat is dissipated while overcoming the friction between mating parts, you will, in turn, get a low amount of power output. Hence, engine oil pressure must be maintained to get good performance from the engine.

Quick Wear of Engine

There are hundreds of different parts in the head of the engine. When a four-stroke engine operates, these parts combine to bring about the combustion process. When mechanical components rub against each other, the top mating layer of metal wears out.

The normal pressure of engine oil ensures enough layers of fluid between mating parts. So, before the parts could touch each other, the fluid layers prevent direct contact.

Hence, there is no protective layer on the components when oil pressure is low. As a result, they wear out sooner than expected.

High Engine Temperature

No matter the downside of low engine oil pressure, it would come down to one thing: the mating of moving components in the engine’s head. And the high amount of friction offered by these components to each other when the oil pressure drops.

When there is no lubrication between moving parts, the rubbing of metals against each other will gradually increase the local temperature. When the oil pressure drops, it cannot reach deep places in the engine head. As a result, some parts run dry.

It is very harmful and can give you a blown gasket or seized engine.

Breakdown of Core Engine Components

Low oil pressure can increase the chances of breakdown of core engine components when you have low oil pressure. It is due to two main reasons that were previously explained in the above headings. One, the local temperature of the parts keeps on increasing if the engine oil is not reaching there, resulting in a partial meltdown.

Secondly, it also speeds up the process of wearing components. Which reduces their life, and you have to replace these parts before their actual age is reached.

Another reason why core components of the engine can break down is due to the vibration produced when the engine is running dry. Hard metals hitting each other without any lubrication will increase the vibrations. These vibrations can cause the instant breakdown of a part.

10 Reasons Why You Get Low Oil Pressure At Idle

Following are the major reasons why you get low oil pressure at idle:

  1. Low Oil Level
  2. Poor Car Maintenance
  3. Worn out Oil Pump
  4. Malfunctioning Pressure Gauge
  5. Dirt and Debris in Oil Pump
  6. Internal Oil Leakage
  7. Very Old-Engine
  8. Clogged Oil Filter
  9. Mismatched Engine Oil
  10. Faulty Engine Oil Pressure Sensor

Let us explain these causes a bit:

Low Oil Level

The engine oil is part of a closed-loop system, so its quantity should remain unchanged. But sometimes, due to leakage or spillage, a part of engine oil can be lost in the system.

Pressure and weight are interchangeable terms. The optimum level of pressure can never be maintained if the right amount of oil is not present in the reservoir.

Even if all linked components like the oil pump responsible for building the correct pressure are working fine, the desired pressure will not be achieved.

Poor Car Maintenance

If you want to avoid any problem in your car, the pro tip is to maintain it well. There are two types of maintenance, one is scheduled, and the other one is unscheduled. Unscheduled maintenance can not be avoided at times.

However, scheduled maintenance is your turf. If you choose to delay it then problems are bound to occur. But if you meet your timeline and scheduled maintenance goals, the likelihood of problems like low oil pressure is eliminated.

Worn out Oil Pump

The basic function of a pump is to increase pressure. For maintaining the correct amount of pressure in the engine an oil pump is placed. This pump takes oil from the sump and works on it to increase its pressure. Then this pressurized oil is delivered to the required areas.

Like any other mechanical equipment oil pump is made of bearings, shafts, and rotors.

These components have a life span. Once it is reached they have already worn out. If your car is too old and so is your oil pump then it is possible that due to this the oil pressure is low.

Malfunctioning Pressure Gauge

An analog or digital pressure gauge is present in cars to measure engine oil pressure. It is located at the outlet of the oil pump. Sometimes the sensing element of the pressure gauge is faulty. Or, at times, the gauge can have a zero error.

Any such thing can lead to the wrong pressure reading. The sensing element of the pressure gauge can become faulty if the high oil pressure occurs at the inlet. It may push the sensing element beyond its elastic limit.

Dirt and Debris Oil Pump

Dirt and debris are the worst nightmares for automotive parts. You would not even know what hit you, but the part will become faulty. The same is the case with the oil pump, though an oil filter is present in the oil supply chain.

Yet some microparticles can pass through it. When these particles reach the oil pump, they are deposited over there. Dirt and debris keep on building until the pump stops working completely.

This is when you get a drastic drop in the oil pressure.

Internal Oil Leakage

There is a long chain between the reservoir and engine head that oil has to pass before reaching the final destination. Oil inlets and outlets are usually sealed. If any of these seals are loose or worn out, then oil can leak.

Oil can also leak out from the washers and bearings. You should also make sure that the cap through which engine oil is filled should be properly closed.

Another kind of leakage can be inside the engine. This type of leakage is more harmful as it can add harmful products to the combustion process. Due to internal leakage, the oil can reach the combustion chamber, where it reacts with fuel and air.

So, low oil pressure can be caused by any leakage as well.

Very Old-Engine

Old cars become vintage but old engines become a liability. You can clean an old engine and overhaul it, but there is no way to make it new again. Engines have an end life. Once that life is reached, they tend to pose problems.

They have deposits inside them that can prevent oil from reaching the normal pressure level.

Clogged Oil Filter

Oil filters filter out the dirt and microparticles present in the oil. But there is a limit to this filtration. At times the oil filter becomes dirty to the extent of choking. This is why it is recommended to change your oil filter every time you change your oil.

A clogged oil filter can also cause low oil pressure in your engine. Make sure that your oil filter is clean at all times and you are changing it after regular intervals.

Mismatched Engine Oil

The oil viscosity is a delicate matter. You should check the recommendation of the manufacturer before changing the oil. If you are using high viscosity oil then the chances are that the oil pressure will remain low.

On the other hand, if you are using low viscosity oil, the oil pressure will always be higher. Hence, the wrong choice of oil can also lead to high or low oil pressure.

Faulty Oil Pressure Sensor

Engine oil pressure sensor is present to maintain the pressure on the output of the oil pump. The ECU of the car receives a reading from the oil pressure sensor. Then according to this reading from the sensor, it instructs the oil pump to adjust the outlet pressure.

A lot of factors are in play here. If the outside temperature is low then the oil might have become viscous. In this scenario when ECU receives a signal that oil pressure is low. It will instruct the oil pump to work harder and achieve the normal pressure.

When the oil pressure sensor is not working correctly, you can have low oil pressure.

6 Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure

If you want to nip the evil in the bud, then you must watch out for the following symptoms:

  1. Check Engine Light
  2. Poor Engine Performance
  3. Oil Pressure Light
  4. Whining Noise From Engine
  5. Overheating of Engine
  6. Difficulty While Starting

Following are the signs of low oil pressure:

Check Engine Light

Check engine light is the ultimate warning that something is wrong with your engine. There are about 50 problems in your car that can cause the check engine light to come on. That is why it is never the best idea to rely only on check engine lights.

Whenever you see a warning light on your dashboard, you must try to look out for other symptoms as well. That can help you in narrowing down the problem.

Poor Engine Performance

As mentioned earlier, low oil pressure can cause your engine to give poor performance. It is also a symptom of low oil pressure. You would feel that the engine of your car is lagging.

When pressing the gas, the car is not accelerating as it should. In this scenario, you should check the oil pressure gauge of your car. And try to get to the bottom of this issue.

Oil Pressure Light

Separate warning lights are also available on the dashboard for some issues.

In the case of low oil pressure, you get an oil pressure warning light. The oil pressure sensor measures the value of pressure in the closed-loop. If you have low oil pressure then the oil warning light comes on.

Whining Noise From Engine

Whining or rattling noise from the engine is very common when you have low oil pressure. The reason behind this noise is the mating of metal parts without any lubrication.

When the engine’s metal components hit each other without any layer of oil between them, it produces a certain kind of noise. Whenever you hear such noise, always check for low pressure of oil.

Overheating of Engine

Due to the rubbing of dry metal parts against each other heat is produced in the engine. This heat is transferred throughout the engine head. It can cause your head gasket to blow.

Initially, you will get a warning light for high engine temperature. You should observe other symptoms and check for problems like oil pump failure.

Difficulty While Starting

When the oil pressure is low you will face difficulty starting the car. It is because the initial push of the piston becomes very hard when you don’t have proper oil pressure.

If the cranking of your engine is getting heavier, it is due to the low oil pressure.

How To Fix Low Oil Pressure At Idle?

By studying the causes and symptoms of low oil pressure, now you must have an idea of how to spot the problem of low oil pressure. Now let’s see how to fix these.

DIY Methods to Fix Low Oil Pressure

Once you have established that the engine has low oil pressure, you can try following DIY procedures to fix the low oil pressure at idle.

Check the Oil Level

Most of the time, low oil pressure is due to the engine’s low level of oil. If the engine is heating up, it burns oil faster than usual. Hence, first of all, you should take out the dipstick and fill the engine oil to the marked level.

Replace Seals

Various seals are present in the route of engine oil. The most important ones are bypass valve and valve stem seals. You can also try replacing these seals since they are responsible for keeping the vacuum and maintaining the pressure.

Try Changing Viscosity of Oil

The owner’s manual has different recommendations when it comes to engine oil. It is possible that if one type of oil is not suiting your car then another type of oil might. Each type of oil has a slightly different viscosity. If required pressure is not achieved with one viscosity then try another one.

Replace Oil Filter

As mentioned above, a clogged oil filter can cause low oil pressure. Hence if your oil filter has become too old or you think it is the main pain point, then try installing a new oil filter.

Cleaning of Oil Pump

Cleaning an oil pump can have a similar effect as replacing an oil filter. There is an internal filter at the inlet of the oil pump as well. You can try cleaning it to achieve a certain pressure.

You can also try cleaning the oil pump in general to improve the oil pressure in your engine.

The Professional Way to Fix Low Oil Pressure

If the DIY hacks are not working for you, then you need to visit a car care professional to deal with the issue of low oil pressure.

  1. Tell your mechanic to check for an internal oil leak. Oil may flow into the engine via worn-out seals.
  2. If you have a damaged oil pump, then it needs to be replaced. But you have to be sure that the faulty oil pump is causing the low oil pressure.
  3. Wrong signals sent by the oil pressure sensor can also keep the oil pressure low. Hence, tell your mechanic to check the oil pressure sensor and replace it if it has a problem.
  4. Piston rings are a highly critical component of the engine. If they are worn then engine oil can leak into the pistons. You can try replacing these rings as well.

How Much Does It Cost To Fix Low Oil Pressure?

It would depend upon the cause of low oil pressure. It can cost you in the range of $15 to $5,000 to fix the low oil pressure.

If you just have to replace a couple of seals, the problem will be solved in $15. However, if you have an old engine causing this issue, its replacement will cost you around $5,000.

Similarly, replacing worn piston rings can cost you $1,500. On the other hand, replacing a faulty oil pump can cost you around $1,000.

It is also possible that your oil pressure is fixed by cleaning the oil filter or pump. If you can do the cleaning yourself, it will cost you nothing.

Conclusion

Low oil pressure might not sound like a critical issue but it is as vital an issue as it can get. It can be caused due to low levels of engine oil, a faulty oil pump, clogged oil filter, internal oil leaks, faulty oil pressure sensor, or malfunctioning pressure gauge.

Low oil pressure can also be caused by dirt and debris trapped inside the oil pump to keep the pressure from building up.

This issue of low oil pressure reveals itself in several ways. You just need to be a little cautious to spot it. If you see a check engine light or oil warning light on your dashboard, check for the low pressure of oil. Similarly, the poor performance of the car and clinking noise from the engine will also mean the same thing.

Once you have narrowed down the problem that is causing the low pressure of oil, you should cure it by a DIY method. Or if the issue has become worse you can take the car to a Mechanic. Either way, you need to fix this issue quickly if you want to prevent anything bad from happening.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can you drive with low oil pressure?

There is no clear response to this query. The most suitable reply to this question is that you can drive until the symptoms become very harsh.

For example, if the engine is heating up due to the issue of low oil pressure, you can drive unless the heat gauge crosses the halfway mark. Similarly, you can decide concerning the severity of other symptoms as well.

Can additives increase the oil pressure?

Yes, additives can increase the pressure of engine oil to an extent. Additives work in two ways. Either they alter your engine oil’s viscosity or act as a detergent. This detergent clears out any dirt particles in the path of engine oil.

Can weather affect the oil pressure?

Yes, the weather has a huge impact on engine oil pressure. Different viscosity of the oil is recommended for summer and winter. It is because the oil’s viscosity directly decides the pressure at the outlet of the oil pump.

Hence, before you dwell on fixing the pressure of oil, you need to consider weather as well.

What should your oil pressure gauge read at idle?

There is no clear-cut reading your oil pressure gauge should read at idle. We cannot generalize the pressure reading as well since different cars have different oil pressure.

But still, to give you an idea, your oil pressure gauge should read between 20 to 30 Psi when your car’s engine is running idle. However, when the engine is running at high rpm the pressure gauge should read somewhere between 50 and 70 Psi.

Can your oil pressure become low after an oil change?

Yes, if you changed the viscosity of your oil while changing it, it may impact the pressure. You must keep track of oil pressure every time you change the composition of the oil.

Can a bad oxygen sensor cause low oil pressure?

No, a bad oxygen sensor cannot directly cause low oil pressure in the engine. It is there to decide the amount of air flowing into the intake manifold. Oil pressure is governed by several factors and multiple sensors by O2 sensor is not among them.

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