Why is My Oil Change Light On?

Oil is the lifeblood of every automobile engine. Part of maintaining your vehicle means paying strict attention to required oil maintenance, including regular servicing at recommended intervals. Keeping up with service scheduling is often not enough, if something is wrong with your vehicle's engine. Luckily, there are some handy indicator lights that can let you know when there is a problem that requires your attention.

When something has gone wrong, knowing what your car's dash warning lights mean will make determining what's wrong much more straightforward. Here are a few pointers to remember regarding oil gauges and indicator lights.

Understanding Oil Pressure

The job of the engine’s oil pump is to pump oil from the oil pan into all the passages of the engine, lubricating bearings and metal-on-metal components with motor oil. To do this, some of these tolerances are extremely tight and require the oil to travel under a good deal of pressure to properly lubricate.

Some engine oil pressure gauges will remain steady in the operational range while others will actually fluctuate depending on engine RPM. That said, most normal engine oil pressures at operating temperature are somewhere between 25-40PSI. Some gauges today don’t have pressure values on them, but simply have an “ideal zone” that’s indicated on the gauge. What’s important here is to simply understand that ideal point that your engine operates at, and take note of anything out of the ordinary.

Gauges are commonly designed to show the desired PSI at the top of the reading range or with a shaded ideal area for easier recognition in case of a problem. Many vehicles though still don’t have a gauge, and simply have a light indicating there’s a problem. It is possibly the most important warning instrument on the dashboard as it effectively measures the vehicle’s operating pressure in real time, much like blood pressure monitors function for the human body.

If your oil pressure drops drastically or is consistently very low, immediate attention is usually needed. Older, high-milage engines will generally operate at lower oil pressure just from older, worn components and the engine entering the end of its life cycle, but no oil pressure at all means the vehicle should be shut down immediately and examined on whether you have a gauge issue (which can happen) or an actual pressure issue.

The Difference Between Gauges and Warning Lights

It is important to understand the different functions of oil indicators and oil gauges. The oil pressure gauge provides a constant reading that shows the actual oil pressure or range at any given time while the engine is running. The oil light, or oil pressure light that typically looks like a bright red light that says “OIL” only comes on when there has been a drastic drop in oil pressure or low oil level to a point that needs immediate attention, and it is essential to respond quickly if the light does happen to come on.

While there are times that the sending unit that triggers this light could just malfunction, there could also be a problem with oil level or oil pressure. Whether the sensors are malfunctioning or there’s legitimately an issue with the oil and the engine, they always mean you need to have someone take a look immediately. Driving with the wrong amount of oil, or with oil pressure that is too high or low can seriously damage your engine, leading to costly repairs. If you are driving and an oil light comes on, get off the road as soon as you possibly can, and shut off the engine. We’ll talk more about this in a minute.

What Does the Oil Change Light Mean?

Many vehicles today are equipped with a Maintenance Required, Service Required, or Oil Change light. This indicator is sometimes confused with a Check Engine Light, but they are very different. This light is made to be an oil change reminder or maintenance interval reminder and can be easily reset by a shop or by yourself when you do an oil change. Every vehicle’s maintenance light reset is slightly different, and some vehicles are not equipped with this, so reference your owner’s manual or online search to reset your light. You can also look through our list of Preferred Shops for any oil change needs or visit your local AutoZone store.

What Does Low Oil Pressure Mean?

There are instances where the oil pressure reading cab reach an undesirable range with or without any flashing or red illumination from the dashboard. Any reading below 10 PSI is a sure sign of an internal problem, so is a reading over 70 PSI. Low oil pressure is generally a sign of a worn engine with worn bearings, oil pump, or a partially blocked oil pick up in the pan. Neglecting oil changes to a serious degree can also cause massive pressure issues. A no-oil pressure situation is generally a failed oil pump, but could also be a number of other issues, and will need to be checked out carefully.

Whatever the case, any time a low oil pressure or no-pressure is indicated, you should immediately pull the vehicle into a safe location and shut down. Driving on no oil pressure will only last a few more minutes, and you’ll be replacing a seized engine.

Once pulled over and shut down, check your oil level first. Look under the vehicle for any leaking oil. Ruptured oil filters are rare, but they can happen, and are especially suspect immediately after an oil change. Any major leaks in the oil system (filter, oil cooler) will immediately be apparent from a visible oil leak that’s large. If all of these check out, the issue could be internal, and the gauge/light will need to be ruled out versus an actual internal engine problem. Although oil pressure issues are generally rare, it’s important to know how to react to them and treat every one of them with extreme caution.  

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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