Can Low Oil Cause a Car To Shut Off?

Car engines comprise the necessary components to make a car work. Engine oil (also called motor oil) is used in many pieces of machinery to lubricate metal moving parts. It also helps reduce heat produced by the moving components. When the oil runs low, it can cause a vehicle to shut off.

But first, what happens to a car engine when oil is running low?

Can Low Oil Cause a Car To Shut Off

Effects Of Low Oil Levels on Car Engine

An adequate amount of oil in your car engine optimizes your car’s performance. Therefore, low oil levels will adversely affect your car’s performance. Remember, the oil in your car’s engine is responsible for lubricating all of your engine’s parts. Thus, when your vehicle is low on oil, the components of your engine rub against each other, which causes unpleasant clunking noises from the car engine. These noisy engine sounds signify low oil levels or dirty oil. In both cases, you’d need to change your oil.

Effects Of Low Oil Levels on Car Engine

When the motor oil has been used for a while, it starts to change color. New oil is amber in color, but after working for a time in the engine, it gathers dirt and impurities and thus begins to have a darker color. At this point, the oil has become vicious and, therefore, less effective for lubrication. That causes the engine parts to rub against each other and produce unpleasant sounds.

When oil pressure gets critically low, your car can stall. In some newer car models, when the car detects low oil pressure, a sensor in the car might signal the engine to stop running to prevent further damage. However, in older models, the engine might keep on running until it gets damaged. To avoid this, you must monitor your car’s oil levels frequently to ensure it is adequate for optimized performance.

How To Know When Oil is Low

As a car owner, it is vital to know the state of your car’s oil at all times. There are a few tell-tale signs to let you know when your oil is getting low.

How To Know When Oil is Low

Smell of burning oil

If you perceive the smell of burning oil while driving, it may be due to an oil leak. When oil leaks and comes in contact with the hot engine, it will “fry” and thus cause a smell of burning oil. Stop your car engine as soon as you notice this. Then, manually check your oil levels to know if a leak has caused an oil shortage in your car. If your oil is running low, do not start the engine again. Instead, contact a local car mechanic.

Knocking sound from the engine

This is usually the first sign of dwindling oil levels. As we established earlier, oil lubricates your car’s engine component. Therefore, if the car’s oil is no longer sufficient, the metal parts begin to rub against each other, and this causes an uncomfortable sound coming from under your hood. When you notice this friction in your engine parts, you might want to check your oil levels.

Exhaust smoke

Sometimes, the emission from your car’s exhaust system can tell what’s going on with your car. The exhaust systems would usually emit a colorless gas for cars with gasoline engines. However, if you notice your car exhaust emitting a bluish, it might signify that your engine is low on oil due to a leak.

Oil Pressure Check Light

When oil levels are low in many modern cars, the driver gets a signal on the dashboard warning of low oil pressure. That is the easiest way to know when your oil levels are low. However, this feature is not available in older cars.

Subpar performance

If your car’s oil level is low, your car’s efficiency reduces drastically. The engine’s components have to work harder due to reduced lubrication. Thus, the fuel economy will dip. When your engine is lubricated, your car rides are more efficient, and you’d cover more ground on lesser fuel.


As we established earlier, one of the functions of oil besides lubrication is that it acts as a coolant to your car engine. Thus, if your car’s oil level is low, the engine’s components produce more heat due to friction, and this causes the car engine to overheat.

Overheating can lead to severe damage to your vehicle and could even start a fire in your car’s engine. If you notice that your car engine is overheating.

How Often Should I Change My Car Oil?

There are majorly two kinds of car engine oil-mineral oil and synthetic oil. How frequently you should change your car’s oil depends on several factors, including the oil type.

How Often Should I Change My Car Oil

Mineral Oil

As a general rule of thumb, many car owners using mineral oil change their oil every three months or after the car has been driven for 3000 miles. Manufacturers of most modern cars now say that our car engine oil is only due for a change every six months or after 6000 miles.

However, the frequency of oil change still depends on driving habits and vehicle use factors. For example, if your car is mostly in “stop and go” traffic, you probably need to change your oil more frequently than if your car is usually on a steady speed (like on a highway). Also, if you use your car more regularly on shorter trips, you may need to change your oil more often. That is because most of the friction between engine components happens when you start your car. Therefore, you might need to get an oil change after every 1000 miles for cars that take shorter trips.

You might want to stick with the old 3000/3 months recommendation for older cars. However, for newer cars, it’s best for car owners to stick with the interval that the user manual recommends. That is usually about 5000-7500 miles or every six months.

All-in-all, car owners must check their car’s oil level at least once a month.

Synthetic Oil

For cars using synthetic oil, the interval between oil changes can be 10,000 to 15,000 miles or once a year. That is one advantage of synthetic oil over mineral oil.

Synthetic oil is significantly more expensive than mineral oil, and its benefits are many. If you have a car that is prone to get clogged with residue (sludge) or one that tows heavy loads, synthetic oil might be the most efficient oil for your car.

If you use a modern car, however, you would not need to worry about figuring out when to change your oil. That is because most modern vehicles come with an oil pressure gauge indicator that alerts the driver when oil is running low. If your car does not have this feature, please refer to the car’s manual. Following through with the manufacturer’s recommendations will increase your engine’s lifespan. You also run the risk of voiding your car’s warranty if you don’t change the oil as at when due.

However, what if, after your car stops, you find that the oil is in good shape? What are other likely causes of a car engine shutting off while driving?

See Also: How Much Oil Is Too Much?

What Would Cause an Engine To Shut Off While Driving?

If your car engine shuts off while driving and the oil level is not the cause, there are many other possibilities as to why that happened. We’ll cover six of the most likely reasons your car’s engine shuts off while driving.

What Would Cause an Engine To Shut Off While Driving

Empty fuel tank

One of the more obvious and likely reasons your engine shuts off while you’re driving might be an empty fuel tank. Your car depends primarily on fuel supply to function and runs its engine. Thus, your engine cannot function without fuel and will shut off when you’re driving empty.

If your car’s fuel gauge is not on empty, but you cannot figure out why your engine shut off, your fuel gauge might be faulty. A faulty fuel gauge will give the driver a false fuel level reading. That can cause the driver to continue to drive a car without realizing they are running low on fuel. To figure out if your fuel gauge is faulty, fill your tank with a few liters of fuel and try starting the car. If it starts, then perhaps, your fuel gauge is defective.

Alternator issues

Your vehicle’s alternator is the backbone of its charging system. The alternator produces most of the electricity used in various car parts. If your car engine suddenly stops while driving, there could be a problem with the alternator. Due to some fault, your alternator might have cut the power supply to essential components of your car’s engine. That can cause your engine to lose steam quickly.

If you use a modern car, you will get a battery light icon on your dashboard. This light might be indicating that your alternator is not supplying enough power to your battery or is otherwise not producing enough electricity. If you do not fix the issue promptly, your car engine might shut off when you’re driving. However, if your starter motor still works after the engine goes off, the issue is certainly not with the alternator.

Faulty Fuel System Component

As we know, your car’s fuel supply is what keeps it going. Thus, if your car engine is not receiving adequate fuel, your engine will shut off. The fuel pump is a component of your car’s fuel system that feeds your engine with the right amount of petrol. Therefore, if your fuel pump is faulty, your engine will not be receiving the right amount of fuel it needs to function.

Also, if your fuel filter is clogged, it will disrupt the flow of fuel into the system. That can cause your car engine to shut down abruptly while driving. If you also experience your engine stopping and starting when you’re driving, it’s most likely a fault with the fuel filter.

A defective crankshaft position sensor

The crankshaft is an essential part of your car’s motor engine that converts linear movement to rotational. If the crankshaft position sensor is faulty, it will likely send the wrong signals to cylinders. That can cause a misfire and the vehicle to have trouble remaining on.

Bad ignition switch

The ignition switch is what your car key activates when you turn it to start your car. If the internal components of the ignition switch are rusty or corroding, one of its metal plates might disconnect and switch off the car’s ignition. At that moment, the car’s engine will shut down completely.

Faulty sensors

Modern vehicles come with many sensors to aid the car’s efficiency. These sensors help to upgrade the car’s fuel economy and generally increase the engine’s efficiency. If a sensor is faulty, it might send the wrong signals to the car and cause the engine to shut off.

Related Questions

1. Will adding oil make my car start?

If your car’s engine shuts off due to a critically low oil level, it’s unlikely to start again without proper refilling. When a car runs out of oil and the engine stops, simply refilling the oil and starting the car again will not cut it. The car will probably not function because it has been functioning without proper lubrication. Thus, some work needs to be done to put it back in working order. At this point, it is best to let a car mechanic examine your car.

Also, if you notice that the car’s oil is dark and dirty, it is best to take out the old oil before refilling. Mixing old and new oil will hamper the new oil’s effectiveness, and thus it would lubricate as well as it should.

It is better to let a professional take a look at your car’s engine if it stopped due to low oil while driving.

2. What’s the difference between synthetic and mineral oil?

Mineral oil is refined from natural crude oil. This oil is ideal for older car models and is a cheaper alternative to synthetic oil. Synthetic oil is artificial and contains additives that cause it to be superior to mineral oil.

While these two oil types have roughly the same shelf life, they differ in many ways.

Synthetic oil maintains a stable viscosity regardless of temperatures. It also flows better in low temperatures compared to mineral oil. Mineral oil also needs to be changed more frequently than synthetic oil.


This article answered whether a low oil level could cause your car engine to shut off. We established that not checking and changing your oil regularly can cause severe damage to your car’s engine. In some cases, the damage might be irreparable.

We also explored several other reasons your car engine might shut off while you’re driving.

In conclusion, if your car engine always shuts off while driving, it’s best to let a professional diagnose the problem.