So you’re a new car owner who wants to ensure that their car is running optimally. Aside from keeping up with routine maintenance, like changing your car’s engine oil and scheduling transmission flushes, you should also be paying attention to oil pressure. In this article, we are going to review what oil pressure is, what is considered normal, and also what would cause engine oil pressure to be too low or too high.
Let’s get started.
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What is Normal Oil Pressure?
Engine oil pressure is due to the flow and resistance of the lubricant—engine oil— when moving through the car engine. Most cars have an oil pressure gauge on the dashboard, so you can check the PSI of the oil at any time.
So what is the normal engine oil pressure?
Normal oil pressure depends on a couple of things, including the make and model of the vehicle. Generally, normal oil pressure is between 20 and 65 pounds per square inch (PSI). Idling, the normal oil pressure is around 20-30 PSI for trucks and 25-35 PSI for cars. You can find the specific PSI for your vehicle in the owner’s manual.
Initially, the oil pressure will be high upon starting up. However, if your vehicle falls outside of the normal range after warming up to operating temperature, that is not a good sign.
Check out this informational video on oil pressure, including how much is normal:
Factors Affecting Normal Oil Pressure
Now that you know what normal engine oil pressure is around 20-65 PSI, let’s discuss the factors that may alter this range. Again, oil pressure shows resistance as the oil passes through the engine. The oil pressure will decrease and increase, depending on certain conditions, but it should neither be too low nor too high. If you notice that your engine oil pressure is tanking or skyrocketing at idle or in motion, something is surely wrong.
Here are some factors that can affect oil pressure:
Oil Filter Problems
The oil filter is crucial in keeping contaminants from mucking up performance. That is why you need to change the oil filter every single time you do an oil change. Otherwise, the dust, dirt, soot, and grime that the filter clears from the old oil is going to get into the new stuff, ruining it much faster. If your filter does not get changed, it is going to be clogged eventually, the oil filter will be so blocked the pressure relief valve will kick in.
If you suspect your oil filter is to blame, don’t wait to change it. You should change your oil as well, though, so be prepared.
Wrong Oil Viscosity
You want to make sure you are choosing the correct engine oil viscosity for your vehicle. If the viscosity is too thick or too thin for your engine, it can cause issues with the oil pressure. Unsure of the correct viscosity for your vehicle? Consult the owner’s manual or visit an automotive technician.
Worn Out Engine
Over time, your vehicle’s engine is going to get worn down. Many pieces of the engine, such as the bearings, become brittle and can break. When that happens, your engine oil’s pressure will drop dramatically. Unfortunately, engine damage is hard to predict and even harder to repair.
Oil Pump Issues
When the oil pump begins to fail, you can be certain that there will be issues with oil pressure. Usually, a failing oil pump results in below-average PSI. Should the oil pump fail completely, your engine could stall or fail to run.
Thinking your oil pump has gone bad? This video details the symptoms of a bad oil pump:
Old Engine Oil
A grimy oil engine does a horrible job of passing through the engine and lubricating things. It’s a little like plaque in the heart, building up before a major heart attack. In other words, you want to keep your engine oil as clean as possible, so all those moving parts within the engine can operate optimally.
Make sure you are changing your engine every 5,000-7,500 miles or whenever the manufacturer recommends it. Your car should never go beyond 10,000 miles between oil changes.
Bad Relief Valve
Your engine is equipped with a relief valve that opens whenever there is a lot of pressure within the engine. Should the relief valve go bad, the oil will have nowhere to let off the pressure. This could cause the PSI to spike.
Does Oil Pressure Increase as You Drive?
Upon accelerating, you may notice that the PSI increases, too. You don’t have to worry. This is normal and to be expected. Since the engine is working harder during acceleration, the pressure exerted increases. That said, the oil pressure should never go beyond the normal range of 20-65 PSI, even when the engine is being worked hard.
What Happens If The Oil Pressure is Too Low?
For starters, when the oil pressure drops, the engine oil will be unable to reach parts of the engine. Should any of the pistons, valves, camshafts, or bearings fail to be lubricated, it will not take long before damage is done to those components.
You will first notice that your oil pressure is too low by the sharp decline in performance. Your car may stall. Fuel economy goes out the window. When oil pressure is too low, your vehicle cannot function for too long. You will have to get it to a service center as soon as possible.
Some signs of low oil pressure include:
- Engine noise, including clacking, ticking, and clinking. Engine knocking should not be ignored. Pull over if you are driving and get yourself a tow truck to the nearest auto body shop.
- Burning oil. When your engine oil drops, there is less of it available to the engine, which will cause friction in the engine, leading to a burning smell.
- Oil pressure warning light turns on. If this comes on, stop driving immediately.
- Increased engine temperature. Without engine oil to dissipate the heat, your engine’s temperature will increase quickly.
What Happens If The Oil Pressure is Too High?
Driving around when the engine oil pressure is too high is never a smart move. Exceeding the ideal oil pressure is going to put your vehicle under a lot of undue stress. The first thing you are going to notice is that the engine’s temperature is increasing above the normal amount. Whether you have high or low oil pressure, it keeps the oil from moving through the engine correctly.
Another problem that is common with high oil pressure is oil leaks. Your car is tuned to work under certain conditions. When those conditions are not met or exceeded, it causes problems. In the event the oil pressure becomes extreme, your engine is not built to contain it. The oil will begin seeking a way out, which is often through seals and gaskets, resulting in catastrophic leaks.
Lastly, if you let your engine operate with too high a PSI for too long, you can expect major engine damage. The high oil pressure will cause greater amounts of friction between parts, which will end up generating heat and potential metal filings. As the metal circulates through the system, it can damage other parts, leading to damages that cannot be repaired. In other words, you may cause complete engine failure—something no one wants.
Final Thoughts on Normal Engine Oil Pressure
The normal parameters for engine oil pressure depends on the make and model of your vehicle, but it usually sits between 20 and 65 PSI. If you go above 70 PSI, it’s dangerous in most cases. The same is when engine oil pressure sits below 20 PSI. Should you notice that your engine oil pressure is either too low or too high, it is important to seek out assistance at a local body shop. Otherwise, your vehicle could sustain permanent damage to the engine.
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