How Long Can You Drive With Oil Light On? Is There Any Risk?

Written by

Charles Bolte

FACT-CHECKED BY

Vernon Hoppe 

how long can you drive with oil light on

You may be used to seeing the oil light come on after switching on the engine, and it goes off shortly after. But what if it doesn’t go off? How long can you drive with oil light on?

For some cars, you can drive 50 miles, while for others, more than 100 miles, depending on the make and why the light is on.

Let’s look deeper into what an illuminating oil light means and how far you can drive after seeing one.

Safe Duration of Driving with the Oil Light On

drive-with-oil-change-light-on-how-many-miles

Most vehicle owners’ manuals state that the check oil light turns on every 3,000 miles after an oil change. The oil change signal alerts you when it’s almost time to replace the engine oil as it has started losing its friction–reducing properties.

Generally, if the issue is a low oil level, the car can still go for another 500 miles or two weeks with the oil light on. However, the distance might vary from car to car. For example, the BMW owner’s manual specifies that you can continue driving for 50 miles after the low oil level light comes on.

On the other hand, Audi users claim they can drive upto around 100 miles with an oil light on when keeping low RPMs.

The first thing to establish is what the oil light on means. Is it an oil maintenance light or a warning light?

In some vehicle dashboards, there are two different symbols for oil pressure and oil level, while some use the same symbol. Mostly, a yellow oil icon indicates a low oil level, while a red one means low oil pressure.

If the illuminating symbol is red, you should stop the car and switch off the engine as soon as possible because if the issue is low pressure, adequate oil is not being pumped to the engine parts. This means there is no adequate cooling, lubrication, and protection of the parts, which can lead to engine damage.

For some vehicles, like the VW Jetta, a yellow flashing oil lamp indicates that the oil pressure sensor is faulty. So, consider replacing the sensor when you see the oil light blinking on and off.

In addition to the oil icon, Subarus also have the ‘AT oil temp’ light, which turns on when the vehicle is experiencing issues related to the automatic transmission fluid. Mostly it indicates rising temperatures in the transmission fluid due to low transmission fluid or the use of bad transmission fluid.

Risks of Driving with the Oil Light On

Risks-of-Driving-With-the-Oil-Light-On

Driving with the oil light on means exposing your car engine to inadequate protection. Here are the risks and why you should not drive with low oil

  • The moving parts will be exposed to friction as they will not have an adequate fluid barrier.
  • Friction will lead to grinding of the parts, which will cause wear and tear and breaking down.
  • Engine oil cools down the engine, which is exposed to high temperatures due to air-fuel combustion, movement of pistons, and other activities. Low oil levels will cause the engine to overheat. Besides, the friction between metal parts will also lead to overheating.
  • Your engine might damage, leading to high costs of repair or replacement.

But is it too late when the oil light comes on?

Tips for Dealing with the Oil Light

Tips-for-Dealing-With-the-Oil-Light

When the car displays the oil light after driving a while, pull over to the roadside or the safest place to park the car and shut the engine. Then

  • Confirm the oil level using a dipstick. If it is low, it needs a top-up for the oil light to go off. After topping up, run the engine and see if the oil light will go off.
  • If the oil was enough earlier but is now suspiciously low, you might be dealing with an oil leak.
  • Check for signs of an oil leak, such as oil droplets under your vehicle. In case of oil leakage, you’ll need to address it as soon as possible or take the car to a professional mechanic so that the engine parts continue to have adequate lubrication.
  • If you observe that the oil level is ok and there aren’t any leakages, but the oil light still stays on, you might be dealing with low oil pressure. Your best option will be to call a mechanic or have the car towed to a repair shop for a check-up.
  • The problem might also be the oil pressure sensor. If, after your maintenance, the oil light stays on, the oil pressure sensor is faulty.
  • Other signs of a bad oil pressure sensor include the ‘check engine’ light being on and inaccurate readings from the oil pressure gauge. If the sensor is the issue, replace it, as it plays a critical role in monitoring your car’s lubrication system.

Frequently Asked Questions

How bad is it to drive with low oil?

Driving on minimum engine oil exposes your car’s engine to excessive wear of the parts due to inadequate lubrication, high temperature, high fuel consumption, and eventual engine damage.

Conclusion

So, how far can you drive with oil light on?

It is good to clarify how many miles you can from the owner’s manual. And it also boils down to making the right choice for your car.

Topping up with a quart of engine oil when the engine oil is low is much cheaper than dealing with engine damage and replacing expensive parts. Rather than drive with the oil change light on for long durations, schedule an appointment to change your engine oil so that you enjoy the best engine protection.

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