When your check engine light flashes, it can be a stressful experience. Various issues can trigger the light, but is low engine oil one of them? In this article, we will explore how low oil, on rare occasions, can cause the engine light to flash and what to do in this situation.
Can low oil cause the check engine light to flash?
Low oil can cause the check engine light to come on, but it’s rare to cause a flashing engine management light. When the engine light flashes, the engine is not running correctly because an electric sensor in/on the engine has triggered the warning.
For the low oil to cause the light to flash, it would have to be almost empty. Because oil provides lubrication and keeps the engine internals cool, the engine temperatures could rise if it is low enough. If the engine is overheating caused by oil, the heat will trigger one of the engine sensors, and the check engine light will flash. But as already mentioned, this is rare because the engine would be on the verge of destruction, so you would have noticed the excessive noise and loss of performance, amongst other problems, before it got to this point.
Another reason for an oil-related problem causing the engine management light to flash is if there is a sudden drop in oil pressure. But, this will likely be related to a severe sudden leak. Again the engine could be damaged without warning, and the car would be undrivable.
What should you do if the check engine is flashing?
When the check engine light is flashing, you should pull over immediately. Usually, the engine is in limp home mode, so it won’t be possible to rev past approximately 3000rpm, and you will be forced to very low speeds. Car dependant the engine will shut off at its earliest opportunity to protect itself and may not restart without rectifying the problem and clearing the stored fault code from the ECU.
What to do if low oil is causing the check engine light to flash
If you suspect the fault to be driving low on oil, top it back up and see if the car runs correctly after correcting the oil level. This depends on you having the oil to hand, but avoid driving the vehicle if possible.
Unfortunately, cars don’t get low on oil for no reason, especially as we know that there will virtually be no oil in the engine if it’s causing overheating. You need to be aware the car may have an oil leak or is burning away. In this case, just topping up the oil will be the first thing to do, but a problem will need investigating.
It is possible that regardless of the problem, the fault will need to be cleared from ECU memory to stop the engine light from flashing, even if the oil level was corrected. In this case, you would need a code reader or a mechanic with a diagnostic machine. If you have to take the car to the mechanic, you are in the best place to discover if the fault was the oil level or something else entirely.
Is it safe to drive with the check engine light blinking?
When the check engine light blinks, your car’s engine control unit has detected a problem that could cause significant damage to the engine. This could be due to issues such as a misfiring engine, a catalytic converter fault, low oil, or other serious problems. Therefore, it is unsafe to continue driving with the check engine light blinking.
What can causes the engine light to flash?
A check engine light flashing is most commonly caused by an engine misfire or the car has entered limp home mode. A misfire means the engine is not running on all of its cylinders, i.e., a four-cylinder engine is running on three cylinders. This means the engine is not performing, and the further you drive, the more damage you can do.
The reason for an engine misfire is usually an electrical fault somewhere, either an engine sensor failing, or the coil-pack/ignition leads not providing a spark to ignite the fuel. Either way, with the check engine light flashing, the car must be plugged into a diagnostic machine to read the exact fault so it can be corrected.
If the car has entered limp home mode, driving will be restricted, meaning it will not accelerate or drive at speeds to protect itself from more damage.
Can an oil change cause the engine light to come on?
An oil change should not cause the check engine light to come on. However, there are some situations where an oil change can be related to the check engine light coming on:
- Oil pressure – If the oil pressure is low due to a lack of oil, a clogged oil filter, or a faulty oil pressure sensor, this can trigger the check engine light or the low oil pressure light to come on. In this case, the oil change may not have been carried out properly. It can be entirely coincidental!
- Electrical sensors – During an oil filter change, it’s possible that a sensor could become damaged by accident. This would trigger the check engine light.
- Failed reset – If the oil change was part of a scheduled service and the service light wasn’t reset, warning indicators would illuminate the dashboard if this was overdue. Cars and manufacturers do not like you ignoring service schedules, and the car doesn’t know if the light isn’t reset. It may not be the check engine light but something to be aware of.
Low oil can cause the engine light to flash, but it is rare. The engine light flashing usually means the car has a grave fault and is undrivable. Unless there were no oil in the engine, the machine would have severe damage, so it would likely be an engine sensor causing the flashing check engine light. The car must be plugged into a diagnostic device to determine the exact cause. Even if you suspect low oil is causing the problem, it would be wrong to assume!