Home Diagnosis and TroubleshootingEngine Oil and Lubrication Oil Change Sign – How To Tell It Apart From The Oil Light?

Oil Change Sign – How To Tell It Apart From The Oil Light?

by Jordan Harris
Oil Change Sign

Have you seen the oil light on the cluster and you are asking yourself if this is an oil change sign? If that is the case, then you are at the right place because there will be a lot to cover on this topic when it comes to this specific light.

Noticing different lights should be your top priority. These lights are basically telling you that you have some issues with your car. Especially this oil light can mean a ton of different things. This is why you need to be prepared to understand what it represents and the reasons behind it.

This light could indicate a serious problem with your car, not only a sign that you need to change the oil. You need to learn all the possibilities of why this light turns on and you need to be prepared to tackle these problems. But you shouldn’t worry because we are going to help you out when it comes to this light and explain everything you need to know.

First, we are going to learn what is an oil change sign and if should you ignore this sign in the first place. Then we are going to learn the possible reasons why you are seeing the oil change sign on your cluster and the different problems that could pop up. After that, we are going to discuss the signs that indicate a need for an oil change. So, if you want to learn more, follow along.

What Is An Oil Change Sign

Now before we dive into more complex topics, let’s take a look first at what is an oil change sign and how to differentiate an oil light from an oil change sign.

A ton of people are making this mistake and they see how the light turns on and instantly think that they need to flush their motor oil. Which is not the case. Why so?

Well, this is the case because this light indicates different problems with your engine. It doesn’t mean that you need to flush. More on the reasons, we are going to cover later in the article.

Oil Change Sign

What is important for you to know is that whenever your motor oil is due to be flushed, you will get another notification.

This oil change sign will say something like “Service Due Soon” or “Change Oil Soon”. You need to take these things into concern.

This is why you differentiate between a need for an oil flush and a problem with the engine. The light indicates a problem. While the “Service Due Soon” indicates a need for service and change of the fluids inside of the engine.

Either way, you shouldn’t ignore both of these warnings. There could be problems with delayed service as well as problems with the engine if the oil light flashing appears to happen. And these problems can be really serious issues that could literally destroy the engine. And in the following chapters, we are going to explain all the reasons why this light could turn on and ruin your day. So, follow along.

Oil Change Sign On Dashboard

So, we learned more about the oil change sign and when it appears to indicate to us a need to do the service on the engine.

But why the oil light is turning on the car? We are listing the reasons mainly because people think that this light is there to remind them to change their oil. Which is actually not the case. The reasons behind this light are much deeper and more concerning. This is why we are going to cover them in detail in the following chapters, so you get a better perspective.

1. Low Engine Oil

The first thing that the oil light could indicate is low engine oil. The fluid in your engine is probably running low and this triggers the oil pressure switch to activate and turn on the alarm.

So, the first thing that you want to check is the level of the oil and make sure that the level is good. If the level is low, then this is the cause for the appearance of this light on the cluster.

Oil Change Sign

Go to your nearest parts store and grab fresh oil and top it off. This way you will make sure that there will be no problems with the engine and the engine will not get irreversible damage by running without lubrication.

2. Low Oil Pressure

The next cause for the oil light on the cluster is the low oil pressure. This light can also indicate low pressure. In this case, you will also get the message on the pressure gauge. The needle will record low readings below the recommended threshold. This is not an oil change sign. This is a sign of a serious issue

And when this pressure is low, something will go down pretty soon. The cause of low oil pressure often is a problem with the oil pump. The pump could be weak and not pump enough oil inside of the engine and causing this problem.

Another problem can be the low level of oil as we discussed previously and the last reason for low pressure could be internal wear and tear in the engine.

The motor oil needs to face some resistance while flowing. And if there is no resistance. It means that the internals of the engine is pretty much worn out. The bearings are worn and the engine can’t build up enough pressure to keep the engine working properly. In these situations, you need to do a compression test and confirm that this is the case and if indeed the engine is bad. If this is the case, the engine has to be replaced with a new unit.

So, don’t be surprised if you get a message of oil pressure low stop engine but oil is full. It could be because of a worn-out engine.

3. High Oil Pressure

The next thing that we would like to discuss when it comes to the reasons behind the oil light is the high pressure.

High oil pressure can happen often. This situation mostly occurs because you accidentally overfilled your oil and there is too much. So, bigger pressure than normal is created which puts a lot of strain on the oil pump.

Another cause behind this problem which is fairly common is sludge development. There could be sludge developed in the oil passageways. And if there is sludge, the oil faces a ton of difficulties to pass through. Thus, high pressure is created. This is why you shouldn’t confuse the oil change sign with an oil light because they are not the same.

4. Bad Oil Pressure Switch/Sensor

And the last reason behind the oil light is because of a bad oil pressure switch. This component is also known as an oil pressure sensor.

This component basically serves the role to measure the oil pressure inside of the engine. So, if this component notices that there is low pressure it will trigger the oil light. The same thing when you have high pressure.

Sometimes this component can fail and start to leak oil. So, when this does, you could have the oil change sign on the dash and this could confuse you. So, if you have done your change recently and everything is in good working order, you need to check this component and replace it if necessary.

Once we cleared the misunderstandings and learned that the oil light is not an oil change sign but is triggered by different things. Now we can move on and discuss something different.

Signs You Need An Oil Change

Now we can start discussing the oil change sign. More precisely the signs indicate a need for this oil flush.

After reading this, you will be able to tell right away that your oil is worn out and that you need to perform a flush. So, you don’t want to miss that. Now let’s get into it.

1. Engine Oil Is Black

The first oil change sign is the situation when the oil is black. Let’s say that you removed the dipstick from the engine in order to get a reading and the oil is all black. Is this good or not?

Well, this is a clear sign that you need to change the oil. When the oil is black, it really means that this oil has seen better days.

Engine oil in good condition is brownish in color. If the oil is clear and has a shade of brown, then this means that your engine oil is good.

Oil Change Sign

But if the oil is black, then this is a clear sign that you need to do a flush as soon as possible. When you notice something like this, it is important for you not to wait and make sure that you do a flush as soon as possible. At least nowadays you can get a flush on the cheap.

There are places that are doing this service for $30 or less. So, make sure that you change the oil. Now let’s move on to the next sign.

2. Oil Is Sludgy

Now let’s cover the next oil change sign. And this is the situation when you remove the dipstick and you check the oil, then you notice how the oil is all black and sludgy.

The overall consistency of the oil is really thick. Much thicker than your average viscosity of 5w30 for example.

This is a clear sign that your vehicle has a lot of miles on this oil change and that you need to do a flush as soon as possible.

This is basically the final stadium when the oil turns into a big sludgy mess. And when this occurs, the flow is restricted and the engine is basically struggling to run properly.

In these situations, you can get high or low pressure and a ton of other conditions like poor engine work. So, if you notice something like this, you better act quickly if you want to avoid problems with the engine in the long run. Because the more you delay it, the worse it will get and the engine will get damaged on the inside. Now let’s move on to the next sign.

3. Oil Smells Burnt

The next oil change sign that we would like to cover is the situation when you remove the dipstick from the engine and you smell something that’s burnt.

Oil as you probably know tends to burn since it is exposed to a ton of heat inside of the engine. All these heat cycles will cause the oil to burn.

So, if you remove the dipstick and the oil is black and smells like something burnt, then this is a clear sign that you need to do a flush. Don’t ignore this smell and delay the flush, a good oil should not smell burnt.

Whenever you notice something like this, take your car to the nearest workshop to do a flush and call it a day. Because if you wait, there could be damage to the internals of the engine. Now let’s move on to the next sign.

4. Engine Overheating

Another oil change sign that is fairly common is the situation when the engine is constantly running hot. So, why is this the case? Why the engine is running hot?

Well, this is actually the case because the engine is simply not lubricated with this old oil (similar to when a car overheat when AC is on). The oil did its job and it is not performing as it should. So, there is more friction created inside of the engine.

This friction will create hot spots inside the engine. More precisely, the cylinder walls, as well as the rod bearings, will get really hot.

And this heat will do a lot of damage to the rings and the bearings. Eventually, the car will start to drink oil and you will have to replace your engine or do a major overhaul to return it back to normal condition.

So, if you notice that the temperatures climb for no particular reason. Then you better investigate the matter and check the oil and coolant first. If the oil is all black and sludgy, then do a flush and hopefully, the engine will continue working as it should. Now let’s move on to the last oil change sign.

5. Oil Change Sign On The Cluster

And the last oil change sign in our list is the situation when you have a warning on the cluster. Remember, as we explained previously, this is not the same as the oil light.

The sign that you need to perform an oil change is different. When it comes to this type of notification, you will get a message on the board computer screen that will say “Oil Change Due” or “Service Due Soon”.

This message is there to remind you that you need to take your car to the oil change center and then do the service. After the flush is completed, the technician will reset the light and everything should return to normal.

You can learn how to reset the maintenance light on a Toyota Camry for more insight on this. Then this light will remind you again that you need to do a flush when the next interval comes. So, that’s all when it comes to the oil change sign. Now let’s cover another topic.

Overdue Oil Change Symptoms

As we covered the oil change sign, let’s now cover more about the overdue oil change symptoms. How you can tell that your oil service is overdue? Let’s elaborate.

The first symptom when it comes to this service overdue is the sign when you experience the oil change sign. Remember, this is the sign that informs you that your service interval has passed.

The next symptom when you are dealing with overdue service is the situation when your fuel economy has dropped. The engine will not like this type of work and the economy will drop and ticking noises from the engine will start to develop. Especially if the service is due for more than a few thousand miles.

In addition to this, visible symptoms are also a tell-tell sign that you need to do an oil change. These are the symptoms that we mentioned previously. For example, you remove the dipstick and you notice how the oil is all black and thick in consistency. A lot thicker than usual. This is a clear sign that you need to do this service.

Also, not to forget the burning smell that is really common. So always do a sniff test on the oil. If it smells burnt, then this oil probably needs to be flushed so you avoid possible engine damage to be done.

Also, other symptoms that are associated with an engine that burns oil are the dark smoke from the exhaust, and low oil level. So, be aware of these symptoms as well. Now let’s cover another topic.

Do Change At Home Or At A Shop

As we learned more about the oil change sign, let’s now take a look at another topic. And that is whether you should you do your own oil changes or you should let this job at the guys in the shop?

Well, the answer to this question really depends on whether you are not into cars or not. If you are already familiar with the mechanics and how this procedure is done, you can give it a try.

But remember first to watch a ton of videos on how this procedure is performed. In addition to this, you will also need tools like a wrench, a lift, or plastic ramps. Not to mention that you will also need a new filter as well as some fresh oil.

So, if you want to learn more about cars, this could be one of the first DIY jobs that you can perform on the car. Or if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can do this change at a shop. And in the next chapter, we are going to learn what are the cheapest places for this work.

Cheapest Places For Oil Change

We learned more about the oil change sing, and now let’s learn more about the cheapest places to do an oil service. Which places offer the best prices?

Fluid flush maintenance service

Well, the best places to do an oil change are definitely Walmart and Costco. At Walmart, the prices start at $32. While at Costco, the prices are even cheaper. The service cost starts at only $29. So, if you want to do this service at a discount, then visiting one of these places might be your best bet. Now let’s conclude this article.

Oil Change Light Facts:

  1. The oil change light is a dashboard warning that reminds the driver of a timely maintenance for the oil change and can also indicate low oil levels.
  2. Newer cars have separate lights to indicate oil change and low oil, while older cars have a single oil light.
  3. It is important to pay attention to these lights as ignoring them can lead to damage to the engine.
  4. If the oil light is red, the vehicle is in danger of engine damage, and the driver should immediately stop the vehicle and assess the situation.
  5. If the oil light is flashing, there may be a sensor issue, and the vehicle should be checked by a mechanic.
  6. Turning off the change oil light is easy by complying with the light’s direction and getting an oil change, but sometimes there may be underlying issues.
  7. A mechanic can determine if there are any underlying issues that need attention or if only a sensor or fuse needs replacement.
  8. Some vehicles can be reset at home, depending on the model, by following specific instructions.
  9. Troubleshooting check engine lights after an oil change is necessary, and the top five common reasons for the check engine light after an oil change include oxygen sensor replacement, catalytic converter issues, loose gas cap, spark plug problems, and airflow sensors.
  10. Knowing how to change oil on your own vehicle can save you money, but it is essential to learn how to troubleshoot check engine lights as well.


In this article, we have covered quite a bit when it comes to the oil change sign. First, we learned what this sign is and how you can differentiate an oil change sign and an oil light. These are two completely different things.

Then we have explained the oil change signs and how you can detect that you need to do this service on your car. Lastly, we discussed the symptoms of overdue changes as well as whether or not you should do this service at home and which are the cheapest places to do this service if you don’t want to make your hands dirty.


Now let’s answer some frequently asked questions.

What Oil Does My Car Take

For the correct information, you will need to consult yourself with the owner’s manual. Or check the oil cap, usually on some cars, the type of viscosity is written on the cap itself. If not, just consult online forums.

How Long Do Oil Changes Take

Usually, these changes do not take more than 15 minutes. Changing the oil is rather a simple thing to do. If you are a beginner and you are doing this at home, then you probably will need an hour or two to do this change.

What Happens If You Don’t Change Your Oil

If you don’t flush the oil, you will get engine damage. The engine will simply create a ton of friction and components like the rod bearings and piston rings will fail and the engine will start drinking oil.

What Does Low Oil Pressure Mean

This means that there is a problem with the engine. This is a dangerous situation and in this situation, the first thing you need to do is to inspect the oil level and the oil condition. It is crucial for this to be done quickly and should not be delayed. If the oil is low just top it off.

What Causes Low Oil Pressure

One of the most common causes is low oil level. Also, oil viscosity can affect the pressure and if you add the wrong oil, you could have a problem like this. Other causes can be a clogged filter, engine wear, bad pressure gauge, or bad oil pump.

How To Put Oil In Car

Just find the oil cap that is located on top of the engine. Then remove the cap and add oil. Make sure that you check the level on the dipstick in order not to overfill.

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