Can Low Oil Cause Check Engine Light to Come On?

Written by

Charles Bolte


Vernon Hoppe 

Can Low Oil Cause Check Engine Light to Come On

An illuminated check engine light is somewhat alarming for many drivers. Especially knowing that it could indicate a serious problem lurking somewhere inside your hood.

Perhaps you have already wondered if can low oil cause check engine light to come on. The answer is ‘no’. Low oil may activate a low oil warning light but won’t cause check engine light to flash.

However, low oil levels can still contribute to engine problems that can prompt the engine light to turn on. Read on to learn how.

Can Low Oil Cause Check Engine Light to Come On?


First off, it is a common misconception that a low oil level will turn on the check engine warning light because a separate light indicator is also designated to notify you when you are running on inadequate engine oil.

A flashing engine light can indicate a few problems, but low oil levels aren’t directly one of them. It is because a separate light indicator is also designated to notify you when you are running on inadequate engine oil. However, it is not to say that low oil has nothing to do with the reasons for check engine light to come on.

To understand how low oil can trigger the check engine light, it is best to know what other engine problems are directly associated with or caused by low oil volume. These problems are two common reasons that could illuminate the check engine light.

1. Low oil pressure


When you are running low on oil, it could lead to low oil pressure within your engine. Especially when you drive an older car, you’ll most likely deal with leaks and higher oil consumption, which often results in low oil levels.

When the oil level is below the average dipstick line, the oil pump will not be able to generate sufficient pressure causing low oil pressure inside the engine. This can eventually trigger your check engine light, as it can breed more related engine issues.

Low oil levels are likely the problem when the low oil pressure light turns off after adding oil.

2. Overheating


Low oil levels and overheating are directly related. The oil in your motor ensures proper lubrication, friction management, and heat dissipation.

When you run on inadequate oil, your engine can overheat as there is insufficient lubricant to manage the friction and dissipate the heat effectively. Less oil would mean less heat absorption.

Overheating typically turns on the check engine light, accompanied by a high-temperature gauge reading. What you want to do when this happens while driving is to immediately pull over to avoid further damage or potential harm to your engine.

Effects of Ignoring Low Oil Warning

Sometimes you may be tempted to disregard your illuminated warning light when the low oil check engine light is on but car runs fine. Well, such a warning light isn’t there for no reason.

Ignoring low oil warnings can have a detrimental effect on your engine. As we know, oil affects everything within the engine, so not tending to your inadequate oil levels can have the following engine hazards:

  1. Overheating
  2. Low oil pressure
  3. Increased wear and tear
  4. Increased fuel consumption
  5. Engine rust and corrosion
  6. Poor engine health and performance
  7. Engine failure

Other Common Reasons for the Check Engine Light to Come On

The indicator lights on your dash warn you whenever there is a problem with various car components. As for the engine light, it indicates a few more common issues.

1. Emission systems problems


The emission system is a critical part of your vehicle as it manages and processes the byproducts from the combustion engine. Any malfunction within the system can interfere with your car’s performance and safety, which can turn on your engine light.

A faulty catalytic converter can be the specific issue within the emissions systems, which, thankfully, can be avoided through regular and proper maintenance.

2. Gas cap problem


A broken or loose gas cap will allow your gas to evaporate, thereby decreasing fuel economy and increasing emissions. This problem can be detected by your engine light.

Fortunately, you can just tighten it well if it’s loose, although gas cap replacement is relatively inexpensive, so it’s not that big of a problem.

3. Spark plug and ignition coil issues


Spark plugs and ignition coils are vital for the engine to start smoothly. Bad spark plugs and ignition coils can cause the engine to misfire, which can set off your engine light. Such ignition issues can further cause strange jumps when accelerating.

4. Faulty sensors


The car’s ECU, or engine control unit, employs several sensors, like oxygen and mass airflow sensors. The oxygen sensor is critical for accurate air-fuel ratio adjustment, allowing for efficient fuel economy.

Any irregularity with these components can turn your check engine light on. Replacing faulty sensors with new ones helps prevent further expensive damage like catalytic converter problems.

5. Malfunctioning indicator light system


While indicator lights point out several problems in your car, they can also be susceptible to malfunctions; after all, they are electrical components of their own.

Sometimes your indicator light can register inaccurate readings, which leads to a flashing engine light despite no issues at all. It is best to bring your vehicle to the mechanic to diagnose and resolve any problems with your check engine mechanism.

How to Tell if Your Check Engine Light is Caused by Low Oil?

One way of telling is to look for symptoms like when check engine light and oil light on at same time. Usually, the oil light and engine light on the dash flash simultaneously when low oil pressure is the culprit.

You can also look for signs and symptoms of low oil levels to see if it has something to do with your engine light. Here are they:


  • Illuminated oil light
  • Burnt oil smell
  • Engine noise
  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Overheating engine

However, it remains advisable for you to let professional mechanics diagnose and resolve what your check engine light is all about. Some car problems can be DIYed, and a flashing check engine light is not particularly one of them.

Troubleshooting means working with codes that correspond to certain component problems, and it requires a specific tool that you may not even be aware of or know how to operate.

Unless you have the tools, experience, and expertise do not attempt to do it on your own.

1. Steps to Take When the Check Engine Light Comes On

When you find your check engine light switched on while driving, the best thing to do is remain calm while feeling your car. Then gradually reduce your speed and find a safe place to stop, or drive into the nearest service center if possible.

Once you’ve stopped, you can follow these steps:

  1. Look for issues that need immediate care and attention
  2. Try checking and tightening the car’s gas cap
  3. Do diagnostic tests (or let professionals do it for you)
  4. Avoid emission tests until all issues are resolved
  5. Schedule your repair

2. Tips for Preventing the Check Engine Light from Coming On

The check engine light is avoidable; you just have to follow a good maintenance measure or our expert tips below.

  1. Avoid overdue oil changes and replace the oil filter
  2. Promptly address warning lights
  3. Maintain correct tire pressure
  4. Replace worn-out engine components
  5. Do routine tune-ups
  6. Maintain healthy fluid levels: engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid


Warning lights on your dashboard are important reminders and indicators of possible troubles with your car. It is best to promptly address them to avoid more serious and irreversible damage.

Can low oil cause check engine light to come on? No, but it can still contribute to some problems that can prompt the check engine oil to flash. Take your warning lights seriously to make the most of their purpose.

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