Why a Car With Low Oil Won't Start

by Shannon MillerUpdated August 08, 2023
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Engine oil levels play an important part in a properly running car. The wrong amount of oil, or improper automotive care and maintenance, can adversely impact your car's performance.

1. Lubrication

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Car engines, when running, generate heat. With the friction created by so many moving pieces, the aluminum and cast iron of your engine can melt. Oil is an important component in lubricating your engine to protect it from the intense heat. You can check your oil levels at home with a dipstick. If the oil level falls below the fill level, the engine won't be able to take it up.

If you have low oil levels, your oil viscosity is most likely off as well. Oil flows through the engine, but if it’s not dense enough, the moving parts of the engine will rub together with too much friction. If you notice more noise or vibration when you accelerate, take your car to the shop and get new oil with more viscosity.

2. Seized Engine

engine oil dipstick

Low oil levels can cause the engine component to seize, or not turn over. An engine seizing because of lack of oil often results in it being taken apart. Not only can low oil levels cause a car to not start, but it can also damage engine parts. In extreme cases, you may have to buy a new engine. If there’s a burning smell coming from the engine or if you hear a clunking sound, take your car into the shop immediately. While it could be a simple fix like replacing your oil filter, you might have blown a head gasket or an engine rod, both of which require a professional mechanic to fix. Do not try to jumpstart the car, or you could risk your engine overheating.

3. Low Pressure

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Most cars have a warning light on the dashboard indicating if a car has enough oil. If the low oil pressure warning light is on while the engine is running, stop it immediately. A running engine with low engine oil can damage it. Low oil pressure, under any circumstances, is often an indicator of a more serious problem. Your engine oil pressure sensor could be faulty if you’re having other electrical issues, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your car could have an oil leak, a faulty oil pump or buildup in the oil pan.


f your oil light goes off, it might be time to change your car’s oil. You should get an oil change every 3,000 miles to keep your car running smoothly. If the motor oil smells like rotten cheese or is black with road contaminants, it’s time for an oil change. Most auto repair shops will be able to do it for a fair price, but you can do it at home to save money.

Supplemental List of Reasons a Car Low on Oil Will not Start

  • Not enough oil pressure‌ - The oil pump relies on having enough oil in the system to generate pressure and circulate oil throughout the engine. If the oil level is too low, the pump can't create enough pressure to properly lubricate and protect the engine components. This lack of oil pressure will prevent the engine from turning over and starting.
  • Engine damage‌ - Driving with low oil can cause the moving parts in the engine to wear down and even seize up from lack of lubrication. If the engine bearings, pistons, or other components become excessively worn or damaged, the engine may not be able to crank and start due to the buildup of friction and resistance.
  • Oil starvation‌ - When oil levels are very low, the pickup tube which brings oil into the pump can become exposed. This starves the oil system and pump of the oil it needs to develop pressure. Without adequate oil flow, the engine won't be able to start.
  • Sensor issues‌ - Many modern cars have an oil pressure sensor that will prevent the engine from starting if it doesn't detect normal oil pressure. Low oil levels could trigger this sensor and disable the starter as a protective measure.

Expert Video: Car Stalling From an Oil Change : Car Repair Tips

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