I just discovered that my mom has ben driving her minivan with the oil light coming on intermittently, she doesn't seem to understand its importance, how can I effectively explain its importance?, I just discovered this after noticing the engine running a bit louder than usual, it's been topped off already (sounds normal now) but I'm worried my mom doesn't understand the significance/importance of the light(not taking it seriously). (As a teenager things I say are taken ANYTHING BUT seriously) Perhaps I should call the dealership and have a mechanic explain, I'm not sure my explanation is very effective (at least on her)?

also, I'm sure someone is gonna say I need to teardown the engine but I don't have time for that, it sounds normal so I'm not gonna worry( well more like I'm not gonna do anything and worry a lot but you get the idea) Thanks

  • I couldn't find anything on ELI5 that addresses this, good question
    – Zaid
    Oct 29, 2018 at 8:24
  • It can work the same with daughters; Mine destroyed an little Audi 4 cyl years ago with no oil. They tend not to learn as she recently nearly did the same thing to an Infinity . Oct 29, 2018 at 19:14
  • I had a friend that forgot to change his oil in his new car, the cars head cracked and cost him quite a bit, my mother forgot to check the oil and the lawn mower and it got so hot that the side blew out and it busted the piston, piston + air + gas + spark = run, so no piston then no go lol
    – user38183
    Oct 30, 2018 at 4:50
  • Why is oil used in the first place: oil is used to lubricate the parts and keep everything running smooth, oil helps to dissipate the heat, so with less oil, equals more pressure and more pressure causes damage, oil is used in capacitors to dissipate the heat also
    – user38183
    Oct 30, 2018 at 5:02

5 Answers 5


The easiest way to explain things like this to anyone is by attaching dollar signs to everything. If you tell your Mom by ignoring the oil pressure light it could end up costing her several thousand dollars in repair bills, she will tend to listen. If she has enough money not to listen to you, then she has enough money to hire a mechanic to take care of the vast fleet of cars which are in the garage. (Yes, sorry, being a bit flippant there.) Seriously, the universal sign of repair bills being flagged in front of someone's face is usually enough to get their attention ... even if they are your parents.


It's easy for parents to ignore their children (I've been there too), the best thing you can do is give proof.

  1. There's a dashboard light because it is important
  2. Get out the owners manual and show her the page on what to do when the oil light comes on. She can discount what you say but it's hard to argue with the manufacturer
  3. You wouldn't ignore a leak in your house because it could be causing damage and it could get worse. The longer you leave it the more costly it's likely to be to fix, it's the same with car engines
  4. Find the leak. The best tool you have right now is a good flashlight; poke around the engine and see if you can find the source of the leak. You may have to clean the engine up a lot to spot the leak - once it's clean you can then see where the drip is coming from. Once you know take some pics of it or simply show her the drip

Oil leaks can be simple or they can be very hard to fix, depending on the cause. It could just be an oil pan seal, in which case you could fix it at home using basic hand tools and an afternoon. It could also be an oil seal buried deep in the guts of the thing requiring the entire engine to be dropped out and a show worth of specialist tools and parts. I wouldn't suggest try to fix anything complicated on your mom's car, if it goes wrong you're the kid who screwed up his parent's ride and they'll never let you touch it again. If it was a simple to reach oil seal like the pan, or a simple parts replacement like a cracked oil pan then you could try it, but make absolutely sure you have every possible tool and part you might need before you start, and a plan B if something goes wrong.


I would offer to check the oil, water, screenwash, tires etc once a week for her.

This you could consider as “helping” at home as the list of tasks is long : cooking food, washing clothes etc etc

I did that when I was growing up, also at 11 I was repairing the washing machine - the start of a long career fixing stuff....

You have to remember that some can "see" mechanical things and have mechanical sympathy - but others can "see" different things : ever tried to read a knitting pattern? So, if you can do the mechanical things for your Mum, then do them, even for your sisters : they will appreciate it...


ive been in your shoes, ive wasted lots of breathe trying to explain things to moms hahaha. i suppose she will listen to the parts counter guy if you say "hey oil light came on engine sounded funny, we added oil", he will probably say the cars oil is like the humans blood if it runs low the engine stops... forever.

now in reality, YOU must make sure its full, you've learned the sound it makes when its low, you only learn from experience so your ahead of most. i warn you dont open the radiator though it will burn you badly unless the cars been sitting overnight. just check it once a week.


An engine without enough oil in it is like an arthritic knee.

Just as knee joints need cartilage in between to facilitate movement, the moving metal parts in an engine need oil as a lubricant.

When enough knee cartilage wears away the joints will start to painfully rub against each other. Similarly, a lack of engine oil can result in accelerated wear of engine parts, shortening its useful life.

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