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Your Check Engine Oil Light is On - Don't Panic!

Even though many people lack the knowledge and skills auto mechanics possess, we all understand that our cars need fluids like fuel to run and oil to keep the moving parts lubricated. That said, you might not know exactly what it means when your check engine oil light pops up on the instrument panel.

First, you should know what this warning light looks like. It may vary from one car to the next, but it generally looks like the outline of a tiny oil can (something like a genie bottle) with a drip coming out of the spout. It may be accompanied by the word or phrases like "check," "check engine," or "check engine oil," just for example.

What does it mean when this indicator light comes on? How should you respond? Do you need to rush to your mechanic or is it merely a minor inconvenience that you can toggle off and forget about?

What Does the Check Engine Oil Light Mean?

The first thing you need to know is that the oil light indicates a problem, so you never want to ignore it, even if it comes on right after an oil change or it turns on and off sporadically. In most cases, cars are set to activate the check engine oil light when you are due for an oil change, so you don't have to track mileage on your own.

There are also, however, sensors monitoring your car's vital systems, including the oil circuit. The check engine oil light could come on if the system is experiencing low pressure, for example. This could mean that oil supplies are depleted or that the system isn't circulating adequate oil to keep the engine lubricated. Either way, your engine could seize and experience massive damage if you continue driving.

What Should You Do when Your Check Engine Oil Light Comes On?

If your car is due for an oil change, you might not be too concerned about the check engine oil light coming on. What about when it comes on unexpectedly, or it's still on after an oil change? There are a few steps you should probably take any time your check engine oil light comes on.

First, get yourself to the nearest gas station or simply pull over to check oil levels, keeping in mind the engine needs to cool a bit first to get an accurate reading on the dipstick. If oil is low, you may need to add some, and this could cancel out the oil light, at least temporarily.

You'll also want to look under the vehicle or check your driveway when you get home to see if your car is leaking oil. If this is the case, topping off won't be enough to correct the problem. You'll need to see your mechanic to locate and repair the leak. Even if there's no leak, you'll want to see your mechanic for recurring instances of the oil light coming on, as you could be experiencing pressure issues that need to be addressed to ensure proper engine function.

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