Imagine you're headed to work or the grocery store when the "check oil" light suddenly appears on your dashboard. The prudent thing to do is to pull over and check your oil level immediately, but you might not feel like you have time or the skills to do just that. 

Driving with a low oil level, however, could potentially harm your vehicle in a multitude of ways.

 

What Oil Does for Your Vehicle

Think of engine oil as the life blood of your vehicle. It's one of several fluids your vehicle simply can't do without, plus it serves multiple roles within your vehicle:

  • Engine oil keeps your engine's various moving parts lubricated, thereby preventing metal-on-metal contact and the resulting wear and tear.
  • Engine oil provides a small measure of cooling by absorbing and transferring engine heat to the vehicle's oil cooler.
  • Engine oil picks up microscopic debris as it passes over the various engine components. This debris usually ends up in the oil filter.

Needless to say, it's important to keep the right amount of oil in your engine. Allowing engine oil levels to fall below recommended levels could prove disastrous not just for your engine, but for your vehicle overall.

Excessive Wear and Tear

One of the dangers of driving with a low oil level involves excessive wear and tear on internal engine components. Oil gives these components a thin film layer that prevents them from grinding on one another, instead allowing them to glide over each other without causing severe damage. 

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A low oil level robs these components of that film layer, making metal-on-metal contact more likely. The end result is parts that grind on each other, potentially shaving and grinding chunks of metal from components that come into contact. These shavings can end up throughout the engine, including the oil pan and filter.

This excessive wear and tear can destroy engine tolerances, making it harder for the engine to perform to spec. That comes with a resultant loss in overall engine performance, fuel economy and emissions performance. Whatever remaining oil is left in the engine is also contaminated with metal shavings and various other bits.

 

Damage from Overheating

Heat can be a killer for engines, especially for those with low oil levels. When your engine runs low on oil, it also loses the ability to transfer excess engine heat via the engine oil. Without an ample amount of oil to carry away excess engine heat, the engine itself becomes more vulnerable to heat-related damage.

Overheating can cause multiple engine components to warp out of spec, which could cause various performance and efficiency issues. For example, excess heat can cause an engine's cylinder head to warp out of shape, meaning it no longer fits flush against the engine block. Without a flat, flush mating surface, the engine's cylinder head can leak oil and coolant into places neither belong. Not only does fluid cross-contamination become a problem, but the engine may also lose cylinder compression and suffer further overheating via coolant loss.

In short, low oil levels can potentially lead to overheating, which in turn causes further damage to internal engine components.

 

Eventual Engine Failure

Run your engine with a low oil level long enough and you'll eventually run into catastrophic engine failure. As the cumulative wear and overheating effects pile up, you'll see overall engine performance suffer more and more.

You may hear your engine begin to "knock" as the cylinders and other internal components start experiencing more wear and tear. Your engine may not be able to "pull" or accelerate as hard as it used to. You'll start using more fuel than usual and even start seeing more smoke from your tail pipe.

Eventually, your engine may simply stop working altogether. That's what happens when you ignore what your vehicle tells you and continue driving with a low oil level.

 

How to Check Your Car's Oil Level

Fortunately, checking your engine oil level is the easiest thing you can do to keep your vehicle in excellent shape. Here's a quick primer on how to check your car's oil level:

  • Make sure your vehicle is parked on a flat, level surface.
  • Open the hood and locate the engine oil dipstick.
  • Pull the dipstick from its tube and wipe the oil off the end of the dipstick with a clean cloth.
  • Push the dipstick back into the tube, wait a few seconds, and then pull it back out.
  • Read the oil level on the dipstick. If the oil line is within the hash-marked area on the dipstick or between the low and high markings, then you won't need any more oil. If the line falls below the low mark, then add at least one quart of oil.

A growing number of cars are doing away with the dipstick. These cars instead require you to check your oil level on the vehicle's dashboard or infotainment screen. If you're not sure about the amount of oil currently in your vehicle, then don't hesitate to bring it to our service center.