If you notice any of the following signs, it’s possible your vehicle is suffering from low oil.
If you catch the issue quickly, there shouldn’t be any long-lasting damage to your vehicle's components.
Symptoms oil is low in your car
Low oil light
Your vehicle's Low Oil light will appear if oil levels have dropped significantly. You shouldn't ignore it. This is one of the more obvious signs of low oil in a car - and hopefully the first and only one you experience.
Dipstick level low
Ideally you should check your oil dipstick level every two weeks or so. By doing this you'll be better able to identify a low oil problem.
This article explains how to check your dipstick levels in more detail.
Smell of burning oil
The smell of burning oil suggests that oil is leaking onto a hot engine component. In turn this means your engine is losing oil much more quickly than it otherwise would.
It’s worth pulling over somewhere safe and opening the bonnet to check for any sizzling or steam (be sure not to touch any part of the engine, or could get burned).
Knocking sounds from the engine
Does a car make noises when oil is low?
There are several reasons why you might hear a knocking sound from your engine - but one of the more likely ones is low oil.
As the key lubricant of your engine’s moving parts, oil is essential. Without it, components knock together, producing a worrying sound.
Aim to fix the problem as soon as possible; ideally you should not drive a vehicle producing engine knocking sounds. Pull over somewhere safe and contact your vehicle recovery provider.
Reduced engine performance
You may notice your engine performance improves after an oil change, and then gets gradually worse over time.
If you've experienced poorer performance recently, it may be due to low oil levels.
Can a car overheat with low oil?
Without sufficient oil, the components of your engine will rub together and lead to overheating.
Pistons, sensors, belts and wiring can all be permanently damaged by overheating.
Do note there are other reasons why your engine might overheat, not just low oil. However it is a sign to be aware of.
Complete engine failure
There are many reasons why your engine may putter to a stop – but one of them is low oil.
As above with overheating, too much friction without lubrication can permanently damage engine components; for example, a piston may become warped or even weld itself to other engine parts due to the extreme temperatures.
Ignoring signs of low oil in car: costs
It's critical you investigate any possible signs of low oil to avoid a hefty repair bill.
In some cases, engine damage can be so extreme you may be looking at scrapping the car altogether - since the repair costs would be so high.
Can I add oil to my car if it's low?
If you notice signs of low oil, it's essential you top it up as soon as possible. Don’t wait and continue driving.
Can I drive my car with low oil?
As mentioned, any signs of low oil means you should top up as soon as possible. However, if you’ve seen the low oil light come on but there are no other mechanical signs or burning smells, you should have time to drive a little further until you can pull over, get some oil, and top up.