Oil light flashes in the car: Causes, meaning & diagnosis

Each warning light and indicator light on the car’s instrument panel has its own specific task. It informs the driver about current events and statuses. Here you can learn a little about the meaning and diagnosis of the oil light flashes in the car.

oil light flashes in the car

The oil lamp occupies a special position because it can display different information by lighting up, flashing, and going out in different colors.

What does oil light flashes in the car mean?

In principle, the lights in the cockpit mostly have the same symbols, regardless of the manufacturer. The oil lamp usually shows a small oil can with a handle and a drop. But the oil light can also look different: There is another oil can symbol with a jagged line and the note “MIN.” The oil light informs the driver about the current oil pressure in the car’s lubrication circuit.

That’s why the warning light is officially called the oil pressure indicator light or oil pressure warning light. When the engine is started, the lamp usually goes out after a few seconds.

The oil light flashes red or yellow

The color is important if the oil lamp does not go out or if it lights up while driving. There is always a warning behind a yellow or orange indicator light, and an orange or yellow oil lamp is also a warning. It gets really serious when the warning light lights up red continuously. A red oil lamp always means danger and should not be underestimated when it lights up or flashes.

Oil light flashes yellow or orange

The yellow oil lamp with a small oil can, on some vehicles also with a jagged line and the note “MIN” means there is a lack of oil. If the light is yellow, you should check the oil level if possible. If the oil level is too low, you should top up the oil or continue to monitor the oil display. This can still help if the oil circuit does not have a leak.

You can quickly check this yourself: if there is an oil stain under the car, you should go to a workshop and have the vehicle checked. Even if the warning light does not go out after topping up the oil, the car should also be checked by a specialist.

The situation is different if the yellow oil lamp flashes but does not light up continuously. The light is then an indication that there is a fault in the engine oil system. Here an engine check in a car workshop is unavoidable to find the problem in the engine oil system.

Oil warning light flashes red

The red oil lamp with the small oil can, without a jagged line or without the word “MIN,” indicates the low oil pressure in the car. This means that there is not enough oil to lubricate the plain bearings in the engine and the pistons.

The reasons for this are clearly defects in the oil circuit. Most of the time, refilling doesn’t help. The car should be parked immediately and towed or transported to the garage to limit possible damage.

The cause the oil light comes on or flashes

The most common reason for a permanently lit oil lamp in the car is simply that the oil level is too low. However, there can also be other causes for a lit or flashing oil lamp.

You must distinguish the following cases here:

  • The oil light flashes red continuously.
  • Oil lamp flashes or lights up continuously at low engine speeds.
  • Oil light flashes or flashes when cornering, accelerating, or braking.
  • The oil light flashes even though there is enough oil. 

The fact that the oil light flashes red continuously is often due to the following reasons:

  • Oil level in the engine is far too low.
  • The oil pump is defective.
  • The oil line is leaking.
  • Oil switch is defective.
  • The cable to the oil switch is broken. 

The oil lamp flashes red or lights up at low speed: this can be due to the following:

  • The engine temperature is too high, and the engine overheats.
  • There was wrong engine oil used, or the oil has an incorrect (too thin) oil viscosity.
  • If the oil pressure switch was recently replaced, the wrong version with a different switching pressure threshold might be the reason.
  • A defective contact in the supply line or the speedometer field/dashboard 

If the oil light flashes or lights up when cornering, accelerating, or braking, a low oil level is most likely the cause. 

Lights up even though there is enough oil

If the oil lamp lights up or flashes despite enough oil, you can also consider other “culprits.” For example, the wrong oil could be in the car. A professional oil change in the workshop is recommended here.

A clogged oil filter can also cause the oil light flashes up permanently, even though there is enough oil. The regular oil filter change is part of the maintenance routine, but depending on the driving style, it may also be necessary to change it before the appointment.

Electrical problems are a defective oil pressure switch or a defective oil lamp. These can also be the causes when the ignition is switched on, or the engine is not running. You can rectify such errors relatively easily by replacing the parts.

Also, previous engine overheating could have damaged the oil pressure switch, causing the light to stay on or blink.

Check the oil level yourself – how does it work?

Of course, every motorist can also do something to ensure that he sees the oil light as little as possible. In addition to regular maintenance and compliance with all inspection dates, this includes checking the current oil level, so there is always enough engine oil.

To do this, the car should be as level as possible, and the engine should be warm but switched off for a few minutes. The oil dipstick is then pulled out, cleaned, and reinserted. After pulling it out again, you can read the current oil level from the markings on the stick.

Possible consequences of ignoring the lit oil light

Neglecting the oil level and ignoring the lit oil light can result in financial damage. There is a risk of breakdowns, and major engine damage is not uncommon. Therefore, please take the lighting up of the oil warning light seriously and act accordingly.

Have your vehicle checked at a workshop or call roadside assistance if you are unsure. Continuing to drive with far too little oil or too little oil pressure can significantly reduce the service life of your engine.

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