Driving With Bad Oil Pressure Sensor – Is It Safe?

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The oil pressure sensor is as important to the proper functioning of your vehicle as to the oil. As the oil lubricates the engine for smooth running, the oil pressure sensor monitors the oil level in the system.

However, once the sensor gets damaged, you won’t be able to gauge the oil level in your vehicle. There is danger associated with low or high oil levels as well as bad oil pressure sensors.

This article answers the questions about driving with a bad oil pressure sensor.

It details the reasons why you should not drive when you suspect that the component is faulty. I’ll also talk about other related issues about the oil pressure sending unit.

Can you Drive with a Bad Oil Sensor?

The direct answer to your question is no. You shouldn’t move an inch once you notice that the oil sending unit of your car isn’t working well and as it should.

If you do, you’ll be causing serious damage to your engine and other important components of the car.

A bad oil pressure sensor won’t send any signal to the oil pressure gauge on your dashboard and the consequence can be catastrophic.

Knowing the signs is pretty simple and we’ll discuss this shortly. But suffice it to say that driving with a faulty oil pressure sensor is dangerous and unsafe.

What must you do if you detect that the engine oil pressure sensor isn’t working well?

Ok, that’s the natural question I expect to follow. I will recommend three things.

But just before then, let me advise that you shouldn’t panic when the signals come up on your dash. Don’t suddenly step on the brake pedal, either.

Pull Over

Sometimes you’re on a highway and you suddenly notice that the check engine light is on. The first thing to do is to pull over to a safe portion on the road.

Open the car bonnet and remove the engine oil dipstick. Check the oil level, and if it’s low, there is a chance of an oil leak. You can top the oil.

Drive safely

As the oil leaks away, the engine will fail to run properly. What you should do is to drive safely for a few minutes, maybe 30 minutes until you can park the car and have a technician inspect it.

As much as possible, don’t rev the engine because the more revolutions it gets, the more oil it will consume. Also, avoid driving at high speeds.   

Replace the sensor

Now that the car is at rest, allow the engine to cool for some minutes. Buy a new oil pressure sensor and install it in your car.

The good news is that buying and replacing the component won’t cause you to break the bank. You can even go a DIY way to replace the sensor. I’ll take you through the process, shortly.

Engine Oil Pressure Sensor and How it Works

As the name suggests, an oil pressure sensor is an auto electrical component that is responsible for monitoring the level of oil in your car engine.

When in good health, and an oil pressure sensor will display a warning signal, telling that the oil pressure has fallen outside the normal range. When the oil in your car is low or high, the sensor quickly reacts.

By implication, your car oil level must always be within the set range.

The sensor features two important and interconnected components, the diaphragm pressure gauge and the spring-loaded switch.

The spring-loaded switch or simply called the oil pressure switch helps to activate the warning light. It links with the diaphragm and can either be on or off.

The diaphragm, on the other side of the coin, measures the fluid pressure in the car and so establishes contact with the switch for a signal.

Beyond monitoring, the sensor sends signals to your vehicle computer, telling how high or low the oil in the car is.

It observes the oil pressure level and communicates the result to the oil pressure monitor on your car dash. Once there’s a problem, the sensor triggers some parts of your vehicle immediately.

The idea is that once the engine oil pressure sensor gets bad, it can cause the check engine light to illuminate. At this level, your engine won’t run smoothly. You may also feel a burning smell.

How to Test if Oil Pressure Sensor is Bad

There are ways to test if your oil pressure sensor is failing. First off, once this engine part is getting bad, it’ll normally push out some signs that you feel or notice, either immediately or remotely.

However, if you’re not certain about the symptoms, you should carry out the following simple tests:

  1. Stick the car key into the ignition.
  2. Turn it as though you want to turn up the dashboard accessories –like radio and clock. Don’t make the engine run yet.
  3. Dislodge the cable connecting the oil sending unit and check the level of the oil gauge.
  4. At level zero, the oil gauge will rise to three. This means the pressure sensor is faulty.
  5. Place the end of the unplugged cable to the negative terminal of your car battery. If the oil gauge shows and stays at zero, then the sensor is in good condition.

Here are signs to look out for when you suspect that the oil pressure sensor is failing and may need replacement.

Signs of a bad oil pressure sensor

Low oil Level

A low level of your car oil is an indication of a bad oil pressure sensor. There’s a minimum level the oil in your car reach and with a dipstick, you can check that.

Once it goes below the threshold, suspecting the sending unit will be a legitimate thing to do.

Oil Pressure light repeatedly fluctuates

A bad oil pressure sensor can cause the oil pressure light on your car’s dash to blink repeatedly. If the oil level is at a normal level and the pressure oil light flashes, then the oil pressure sensor might be the culprit.

Engine overheating

Another potential symptom of a faulty oil pressure sensor is overheating the engine.

Engine overheating is not a direct sign of this component but that of a low oil level. An oil or coolant leak can cause the engine to overheat.

Burning smell

When you perceive a bad smell coming from the car, there’s the likelihood that the oil pressure sensor has gone bad.

The smell is usually due to burns in the electrical part of the engine. This often starts with overheating.

Replacing Faulty Oil Pressure Sensor

Here are the simple steps to do a DIY technique to replace your failed oil pressure sensor.

Materials needed:

  • Oil pressure sensor
  • Towels or rags
  • Wrench kit
  • Thread Sealant

8 Steps to replace the bad oil pressure sensor

  1. Pullover and allow your car engine to cool
  2. Remove the oil dipstick to check the oil level
  3. Inspect the car for oil leaks
  4. Locate the oil pressure sensor
  5. Disconnect the electrical connector of the oil pressure sensor
  6. Dislodge the oil pressure sensor
  7. Replace the sensor with a new one. Make the replacement is compatible with the bad sensor
  8. Test run the and check if the check engine light still comes on

Why you should not drive with bad oil pressure

There are risks associated with driving for a long time with a bad oil pressure sensor. You shouldn’t let yourself or your car into these before you fix the issues.

  • The sensor will give inaccurate fluid readings
  • The engine won’t run smoothly
  • Inaccurate reading causes the engine to damage gradually
  • Damage to car and engine components, including valve-train, hydraulic lifters
  • High cost of repair

Cost of Oil Pressure Sensor

The bad news may be that the oil pressure sensor cannot be repaired. What is more cheering is that the cost of buying the component is not on the high end.

Buying an oil pressure sensor is affordable. Fixing it either by a DIYer or hiring a technician is quite cheap. On average, the replacement cost of an oil pressure sensor is anywhere in the range of $150 and $200.

The parts can cost between $50 and $80. If you’re hiring a mechanic, labor can be around $100. Overall, you’re looking at an average of $300.

Final Thoughts

The next time someone asks you if it’s safe to drive with a failing oil pressure sensor, I’m sure your response will be as straightforward as ABC.

The same rule applies to driving on grinding brake. Sometimes, you tend to want to easily boycott the procedure and drive a few distances with a bad oil pressure sensor. It’s worth restating that it’s not safe.

If your car runs on an oil-free engine, you can drive for about 20 to 30 minutes with a bad oil pressure sensor. But as reasonable and short as that may be, safety should come first.

Avoiding the risk of damaging your engine components due to driving with a bad oil pressure sensor may be the best bet.

After all, the cost of buying an oil pressure sensor is lower than what you might eventually spend replacing affected components. Don’t dare the risk!