While driving your favorite cars like Audi, BMW or Subaru, you have observed that low oil pressure light has illuminated on the dashboard which usually means that the oil level is quite low in your engine crankcase. After this, you might be asking the question: how far can you drive on minimum engine oil?
When the oil level is low in your car, I would recommend you accelerate slowly, turn lightly, and avoid autocrossing. This is done to prevent overstraining your engine.
When changing oil, you should also have an idea about engine oil viscosity. For this, you can check my guide on 10w30 vs SAE30.
Moreover, if the oil level is low in your car, it will take harder for an oil pump to pump the oil from the crankcase to the engine oil galleries. As a result, your car can shake on a cold engine startup.
What You Will Learn:
Meaning Of Oil Warning Lights
Oil warning light has a sign like Aladin’s lamp. If the oil pressure is low in your engine (which is a more serious problem and the engine should be stopped instantly), the light will illuminate in red color.
If the oil level is MIN in your engine, the same indicator will illuminate, but with a yellow or orange color and a wavy line below it.
What Does an Oil Light On Dashboard Indicate?
The oil light on the car dashboard indicates that there is either not enough oil in the car or the oil is leaking due to worn-out engine components. The oil warning light comes on when the oil pressure drops below a certain level.
Sometimes, the oil light on the dashboard may come on even though the engine is working properly. It is important that you check your car regularly for the oil level, oil leaks, and other oil-related problems. This could be a sign of a number of other problems, including a leaking head gasket
Here are the possible causes of oil light on the dashboard:
1. Low Oil Level or Oil is Dark and Filthy
When oil is brand new, it is typically golden in color. As oil wears down, it becomes darker, thicker, and more viscous due to engine sludge.
Engine oil is basically a combination of base oil, and a number of additives that provide properties like anti-wear, anti-corrosion, and friction reduction. You can check my guide on best oil for 350 Ecoboost engine to learn about engine oil properties.
As the oil ages, it can develop a number of problems including, among others, the formation of sludge, varnish, and gum that affect its viscosity and ability to keep the engine clean and lubricated.
I have written a detailed guide on the best oil for high-mileage engines. You can check that out to learn more about engine oils.
How to diagnose?
You should regularly monitor your engine oil condition and its level using a dipstick. One thing I would like to highlight is that dipstick does not touch the bottom of the oil pan.
When your dipstick is bone dry, your engine still might have 1 to 2 quarts of oil left. Usually, the high/low marks on the dipstick are a quart or less apart.
Since the dipstick is not touching the bottom of the oil pan, we can’t predict if the oil pan is fully empty or if there is still a quart of oil left.
So, you should add a couple of quarts of engine oil before you take your car to the shop to get the oil changed. If you do not add oil at this stage, the oil pump will run dry and will damage.
Bonus Read: Consequences of changing oil after 2 years
2. Oil Pressure Is Low
If you can see the red light on the dashboard, it means that oil pressure is low, which more serious problem than a low oil level.
In an engine, low oil pressure doesn’t necessarily mean that the oil level is actually low. With time, the clearances between engine parts, such as piston and cylinder, crankshaft, and bearings, increase. When bearings wear out, they offer no resistance to oil flow, due to which oil pressure is decreased.
As a result, oil is unable to develop certain pressure to operate some hydraulic valves and lifters, and is also unable to maintain a protective film between engine parts. You should also see if there is any oil leakage from the cylinder head and camshaft.
Moreover, due to increased clearance between the piston and engine cylinder, oil also enters the combustion chamber and burns with the fuel. This will also increase fuel consumption.
I have also written a detailed guide on low pressure at idle. I would highly recommend you to check that out first before proceeding further. You will get answers to your major questions.
3. Oil Pressure Sensor is Malfunctioning
The oil pressure sensor converts oil pressure into electric signals and transfers those signals to the ECM (Engine Control Module).
If oil pressure falls below a certain level, ECM turns on the oil pressure light. So, you also have to check if the oil pressure sensor is faulty or not.
How does it become faulty?
There are three possibilities that the oil pressure sensor is faulty:
- Spring inside the sensor has worn out
- Oil is leaking out of the pressure sensor
- The electrical part is all covered with oil
4. Malfunctioning Oil Pump
The engine oil pump is responsible for circulating oil throughout the engine to lubricate critical components. It uses a set of gears that turn within a housing to create pressure and flow. Over time, the clearances between the oil pump gears and housing can increase due to normal wear.
This allows oil to leak back through the pump rather than building pressure. If the clearances become too large, the oil pump will not be able to generate adequate oil pressure at idle. This lack of oil pressure will cause the low oil pressure warning light on the dash to illuminate.
A bad oil pump with excessive clearances can therefore directly cause low oil pressure conditions that trigger the warning light. Replacing the worn oil pump will typically resolve the issue and restore normal oil pressure.
How Far Can You Drive On Minimum Engine Oil in BMW?
According to the owner’s manual of BMW, you can drive up to 50 miles if the oil level is low. On the dashboard of the BMW, it illuminates a light blue colored light below which it is mentioned at oil has dropped below a lower mark. In such a case, you can drive to the nearby service center and add one quart of oil.
How Far Can You Drive On Minimum Engine Oil in Audi?
According to the users, you can drive Audi up to 100 miles when you observe low oil level light on the dashboard. While low on oil, you should avoid aggressive driving.
Here is what a user says about this:
“I usually get the notification around 5000miles to add more oil on the Audi RS. Drove another 120miles with the notification without issue or computer saying anything else. Just kept RPMs low and no aggressive driving until I got it topped up.”
Will Driving With Low Oil Damage Engine?
Driving with low oil can damage your engine. When the engine is running at low oil levels, it cannot absorb heat and lubricants from friction. As a result, the temperature inside the engine rises.
If the engine is overheating, it will burn oil and lose its lubrication. It can also damage the engine’s components, leading to engine failure.
You need to have at least 2 quarts of the recommended engine oil in your trunk at all times so that when you see low oil level light, you get topped it off.
Some First Hand Experiences Shared By Users In Different Communities
Our team conducted research across various online communities, forums, and subreddits to gather user comments and opinions on “driving with low engine oil”.
Ran my Focus with minimum oil for about 75 miles. Didn’t realize until the engine performance dropped. Checked the oil, and it was super low. Filled it up and thankfully, no lasting damage. Now, I make it a point to check the oil every few weeks.
I once drove my Malibu nearly 100 miles with low oil without realizing. Started hearing a ticking sound from the engine. Stopped and checked – the oil was almost gone! Refilled it, and thankfully no serious issues, but the mechanic said I was lucky. Always checking the oil level now.
Learned my lesson the hard way with my CX-5. Drove about 70 miles on low oil. The engine started to stutter and lose power. I immediately stopped, added oil, and took it to a mechanic. Thankfully, no long-term damage, but now I check the oil level every month.
So, I unknowingly drove my Civic with low engine oil for about 50 miles before the engine started making a weird noise. I immediately pulled over and checked the oil – barely anything on the dipstick! Got it towed to a mechanic who topped it up and luckily no major damage done. But boy, was that a wake-up call to regularly check my oil levels!