Low oil pressure at idle is when the oil pressure gauge on your dashboard shows a lower reading than usual when your car is idle or at a stop. As a car owner, you should pay attention to your oil pressure gauge as it indicates the health of your engine’s lubrication system.
In this article, we’ll go over the common causes of low oil pressure at idle, how to diagnose the issue, and what steps you can take to fix it. Let’s dive in!
Causes of Low Oil Pressure at Idle
1. Low Engine Oil Level
Low engine oil level is one of the most common causes of low oil pressure at idle. The engine requires sufficient oil to maintain proper lubrication and keep the components from grinding against each other.
When the oil level is low, the oil pressure drops, and this can cause significant damage to the engine.
2. Faulty Oil Pump
The oil pump is responsible for circulating the oil throughout the engine. If the oil pump is not functioning correctly, it can lead to low oil pressure at idle. A faulty oil pump can be caused by several factors, including worn bearings, damaged gears, or a broken driveshaft.
3. Clogged Oil Filter
A clogged oil filter can restrict oil flow to the engine, leading to low oil pressure at idle. Over time, the oil filter can become clogged with debris, dirt, and other contaminants. Changing the oil filter every time you change your engine oil is recommended to prevent this issue.
4. Worn-out Engine Bearings
Engine bearings are crucial in supporting the crankshaft and connecting rods, allowing them to move smoothly. When the engine bearings wear out, they create space between the crankshaft and the bearing surfaces, causing a drop in oil pressure. This issue is common in high-mileage engines and can lead to catastrophic failure if not addressed promptly.
5. Faulty Oil Pressure Sensor
The oil pressure sensor measures the oil pressure in the engine and sends a signal to the oil pressure gauge on the dashboard. If the oil pressure sensor is faulty, it can provide incorrect readings, leading to low oil pressure at idle.
6. Thinning of Engine Oil
Thinning of engine oil can also cause low oil pressure at idle. Engine oil thinning occurs when the oil’s viscosity decreases, making it unable to maintain adequate pressure within the engine.
Also, thin oil can be caused by several factors, including using the wrong type of oil, extended oil change intervals, or overheating of the engine.
7. Worn-out Oil Pressure Relief Valve
The oil pressure relief valve is responsible for maintaining the correct oil pressure in the engine. If the valve becomes worn out, it can cause low oil pressure at idle. A worn-out oil pressure relief valve can be caused by several factors, including debris buildup or lack of proper maintenance. A professional mechanic can diagnose and replace the faulty valve if necessary.
8. Faulty Oil Pressure Gauge
A faulty oil pressure gauge can also cause low oil pressure at idle. The oil pressure gauge measures the oil pressure and sends a signal to the dashboard. If the gauge is faulty, it can provide incorrect readings, leading to low oil pressure at idle.
9. Overheating of the Engine
Overheating of the engine can cause low oil pressure at idle. When the engine overheats, the oil thins out, which leads to low oil pressure. Overheating can be caused by several factors, including a malfunctioning cooling system, a damaged radiator, or a clogged coolant system.
10. Faulty Oil Pickup Tube
The oil pickup tube is responsible for drawing oil from the oil pan and delivering it to the engine. If the pickup tube becomes damaged or clogged, it can cause low oil pressure at idle. A damaged pickup tube can be caused by several factors, including debris buildup or lack of proper maintenance.
Symptoms of Low Oil Pressure at Idle
1. Warning Lights
A warning light on your dashboard, such as the oil pressure light or engine light, may illuminate if there’s low oil pressure. These lights are designed to alert you to potential engine problems, and you should not ignore them.
2. Engine Noise
If you hear knocking, ticking, or other unusual noises from the engine, it may indicate low oil pressure. Low oil pressure can cause increased friction and wear on engine components, leading to noise.
3. Oil Pressure Gauge Reading
The oil pressure gauge on your dashboard may show low readings or fluctuate when the engine is idle. If the gauge reads below the normal range, it shows low oil pressure.
4. Poor Engine Performance
Low oil pressure can cause poor engine performance, such as reduced power, acceleration, and fuel efficiency. This is because the engine is not getting the necessary lubrication and cooling to operate at peak performance.
5. Oil Leaks
Low oil pressure can cause oil leaks from various engine components, such as the oil filter, oil pump, or oil pan. These leaks may be visible as spots or puddles on the ground where you park your vehicle.
Low oil pressure can also cause the engine to overheat, as the oil helps to dissipate heat from the engine components. If the engine temperature is higher than normal, it could indicate low oil pressure.
How to Repair Low Oil Pressure at Idle
1. Add Engine Oil
Low oil level is a common cause of low oil pressure at idle. Adding more oil can help increase oil pressure. To add oil, park your vehicle on a flat surface and turn off the engine. Locate the oil dipstick, remove it, and wipe it clean. Reinsert the dipstick, remove it again, and check the oil level. If it’s below the recommended range, add the recommended type of oil through the oil filler cap. Reinsert the dipstick, start the engine, and check the oil level again to ensure it’s at the appropriate range.
2. Change the Oil Filter
A clogged oil filter can also cause low oil pressure at idle. To change the oil filter, locate it on your vehicle, place a drain pan underneath, and use an oil filter wrench to remove it. Wipe the filter mounting surface clean, lubricate the new filter’s gasket with fresh oil, and screw the new filter into place. Tighten it according to the manufacturer’s specifications and add the recommended amount of oil to the engine.
3. Replace the Oil Pump
A faulty oil pump can cause low oil pressure at idle. This is a more complicated repair that should be done by a professional mechanic. They will remove the oil pan and pump to inspect them for damage or wear. If the oil pump is faulty, they will replace it with a new one. After installing the new pump, they will reassemble the engine and add fresh oil.
4. Replace Engine Bearings
Worn engine bearings can cause low oil pressure at idle. This complex repair should only be done by a professional mechanic. They will remove the engine from the vehicle and disassemble it.
Also, they will inspect the engine bearings for wear and damage and replace them as necessary. After replacing the bearings, they will reassemble the engine and reinstall it in the vehicle.
5. Replace the Oil Pressure Sensor
A faulty oil pressure sensor can also cause low oil pressure at idle. To replace the sensor, locate it on your vehicle, disconnect the electrical connector, and use an oil pressure sensor socket to remove the old sensor. Install the new sensor, tighten it according to the manufacturer’s specifications, and reconnect the electrical connector.
6. Use the Recommended Type of Oil
Using the recommended type of oil and changing it regularly can help prevent thinning of engine oil, which can cause low oil pressure at idle. Check the vehicle owner’s manual for the recommended type of oil and oil change frequency. Purchase the recommended oil and oil filter. Park the vehicle on a flat surface and turn off the engine. Drain the old oil and remove the old oil filter. Install the new oil filter and add the recommended amount of new oil. Start the engine and check the oil pressure to ensure it’s at the appropriate level.
7. Replace the Oil Pressure Relief Valve
The oil pressure relief valve is responsible for regulating the oil pressure in the engine. A faulty valve can cause low oil pressure at idle. To replace the valve, locate it on your vehicle and use a valve removal tool to remove it. Inspect the valve for damage or wear and replace it if necessary. Install the new valve, tightening it according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
How to Prevent Low Oil Pressure at Idle
1. Regular Oil Changes
One of the most crucial steps to prevent low oil pressure is to change your engine oil regularly. Over time, engine oil breaks down and loses its ability to lubricate and cool components effectively. A good rule of thumb is to change your oil every 5,000 miles or as your vehicle manufacturer recommends.
2. Check Oil Level Regularly
Regularly checking your engine oil level is an essential preventive measure to avoid low oil pressure. Ideally, you should check your oil level every time you fill your gas tank or at least once a month. If the oil level is low, add oil to the engine immediately.
3. Use the Right Oil
Using the correct type and grade of oil your vehicle manufacturer recommends is essential to maintaining proper oil pressure. Using the wrong oil can lead to poor lubrication and increased engine wear.
4. Avoid Idling for Extended Periods
Idling for extended periods can cause low oil pressure, especially in older vehicles. Suppose you need to idle your vehicle for an extended period, such as when warming up the engine on a cold day. In that case, keeping the engine RPMs slightly higher than idle speed is best for maintaining oil pressure.
5. Check for Leaks
Regularly checking for oil leaks from the engine components, such as the oil filter, oil pan, or valve cover gaskets, can help prevent low oil pressure. If you notice any leaks, have them repaired promptly.
6. Maintain Proper Engine Temperature
Overheating can cause low oil pressure, so it’s essential to maintain proper engine temperature. Ensure your vehicle’s cooling system functions correctly, and the coolant level is topped up.
Read: Cam Phaser
Low oil pressure at idle is a problem that should not be taken lightly. It can be caused by various factors, including worn-out components, low oil levels, and clogged filters. However, ignoring low oil pressure can lead to significant engine damage and costly repairs.
Also, it is essential to take preventive measures, such as regular oil changes, checking oil levels regularly, and avoiding extended idling, to maintain proper oil pressure. If you experience low oil pressure, address the issue promptly by making the necessary repairs or seeking professional help.