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Symptoms of a car low on oil

Updated February 21, 2017

Oil is used by your car as a lubricant for the engine. Over time, the oil level may drop due to a leak, or it may be burnt off in the operation of the engine. Replacing the oil, and bringing the oil level back up, is part of regular vehicle maintenance. But if you neglect to change the oil in your car, or the oil level drops due to a leak in your engine, you will begin to experience the symptoms of a car low on oil.

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Low Oil Level

If you smell what you think may be burning oil as you are driving, then one of the things you can do to check is monitor the oil level in your car, according to online auto resource AA1 Car. Sometimes people can forget the simplest diagnostic processes when trying to determine what is wrong with a car, and that includes checking the oil level. Wait until your car has cooled off, remove the dipstick from the engine, wipe the dipstick down with a clean cloth and then replace it in the engine. Remove the dipstick again and read the oil level. There is a shaded area on your dipstick that the oil level needs to be between in order to be normal. Too much oil is a problem, and so it too little. Check your oil level daily if you suspect a problem with your oil level. A drop in the oil level on the dipstick is a symptom of low oil in the car.

Flickering Oil Light

To an untrained auto mechanic, a flickering warning light that intermittently goes on and off may not be a need for concern. According to Auto Haus AZ, the flickering oil light is an indication that your oil levels may be too low. The oil light is normally a red outline of an old-fashioned oil lamp or it could be something more straightforward such as a "Check Oil" light. Oil circulates throughout your engine, but if the oil level starts to drop, then the sensor associated with the oil light will start to activate. The flickering means that the oil is circulating past the sensor, but there is a problem that causes the light to flicker. Once the oil light starts to flicker, get your car to a mechanic immediately. Your car is losing oil and needs to be examined.


If you ignore all of the other symptoms of low oil in your car, then you could be headed for the final symptom of low oil which is a knocking sound. According to Auto Haus AZ, the friction that oil is supposed to prevent will eventually cause the rods inside your engine to come loose if the oil level has dropped significantly. The rods hold your car's pistons into place. Without oil, the rods will begin to wear down and break. This is called throwing a rod. The sound you will hear right before you throw a rod is a banging or knocking noise from under the hood. This symptom of low oil may only last a few hundred yards before your rods are gone and your engine seizes up.

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About the Author

George N. Root III

George N. Root III began writing professionally in 1985. His publishing credits include a weekly column in the "Lockport Union Sun and Journal" along with the "Spectrum," the "Niagara Falls Gazette," "Tonawanda News," "Watertown Daily News" and the "Buffalo News." Root has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the State University of New York, Buffalo.

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