Check engine light on can be alarming; there’s literally never a good time for a breakdown. But don’t panic; I’m a mechanic, and you are in the correct place; in a few moments, you’ll be well on your way to fixing this minor issue.
A check engine light after an oil change is commonly caused by fitting the oil filler cap backways or oil dipstick not fully seated. Removing and fitting the cap correctly or seating the dipstick will fix the issue. The engine light may not go out immediately but likely will within three engine start cycles.
In this post, we’ll cover the top causes of the engine light and how to fix them in a little more detail. In addition, you’ll learn other possible causes of an engine light after an oil change and how to diagnose and fix them.
Oil Cap Fitted Backways
Sounds almost too simple, right? How could fitting an oil cap backways cause a check engine light?
The reason becomes clear once you understand what’s going on. Stay with me here; this will be the light version; I’m guessing you want to fix the problem and be on your way.
That said, the short answer is:
Your car’s engine requires a precise ratio of air (oxygen) to gas in order to run at its optimum. It’s known as the Air Fuel Ratio (AFR). It’s 14.7 parts air to 1 part gas.
Your car’s onboard computer (Engine Control Module or ECM) is set the task of managing this ratio. It does so by measuring the volume of air entering the engine through a sensor located in the air intake system. It’s known as a Mass Airflow Sensor or MAF.
As the ECM knows how much air has entered the engine, it can make a simple calculation of how much gas it needs to add, easy work for a computer.
Problems arise, however, if extra oxygen sneaks into the engine without being accounted for by the ECU. And that’s exactly what happens when some oil caps are fitted backways. This content is owned by moc.sotuaytsur. The cap doesn’t seal completely and creates what’s known as a vacuum leak, which causes the engine to run lean.
Lean simply means the AFR has too much air in the mix.
A lean condition won’t fool an ECU, it’s always on the lookout for problems. It uses a probe in the exhaust to measure how well the fuel it’s adding is being used. It’s checking its own calculations if you like. The exhaust sensor it employs is known as an oxygen sensor.
The ECU has a range of readings it will accept from the oxygen sensor, given the ratio of fuel it’s added. If the oxygen sensor readings are outside this window, the ECU sets a warning by illuminating the check engine light.
The fix – remove the cap and fit it correctly. Correctly, by the way, it likely means the cap writing faces you; I know that sounds stupid, but for some vehicles, it’s the solution.
You might well ask, why would the manufacturers design an oil cap that can be fitted backways?
Dipstick Not Fully Seated
The dipstick is, as you know, used to check the engine oil level. At an oil change, the dipstick will be removed, cleaned, and reseated several times to check the oil level.
The dipstick fits into the dipstick tube, and an O-ring creates a seal when the dipstick is pushed home. Leaving the dipstick off its seat will allow unmetered air to sneak into the engine, and you know the outcome of that.
I’m not making excuses here; merely offering insight. Many mechanics are paid by the job and performing oil changes really doesn’t pay very much. Indeed most shops don’t make a ton on oil changes either; they are seen as a loss leader. This often results in rushed oil change jobs; they are pushed through the workshop quickly, so the shop can get onto the higher-paying brake jobs, etc.
The fix – pop the hood, locate the dipstick, and seat it fully.
Oil Level Overfull
Too much oil inside the engine may set a check engine light; it may even cause the engine to feel sluggish, misfiring, smoke from the tailpipe, oil leaks, or worse, not start at all. Yep, too much oil is bad; it’s not as bad as too little of course. As oil problems go, you definitely want too much oil one.
How to check engine oil level
Check the oil level as follows:
- Park on level ground
- Allow engine rest a few minutes before checking
- Pop hood
- Locate dipstick
- Remove and clean dipstick with clean cloth
- Refit and remove to read
Your dipstick will have an upper mark, likely marked “Full”, “F”, “Max,” or a notch; it marks the optimum oil level.
Towards the bottom of the stick, it will likely be marked “Low,” “L,” “Min,” or a simple notch; this marks the oil’s critically low level.
An area between your dipstick’s upper and lower marks may be hatched. An oil level in the hatched area is acceptable; it’s neither critical nor optimal.
How to remove excess oil?
If you find you have too much oil, you’ll need to remove the excess. Obviously, taking it back to the garage to the garage that performed the lube is the way to go. Failing that, I’d siphon oil from the engine through the dipstick tube. You will require an oil siphon; they’re not expensive and are a mess-free way to solve the problem.
You can check out the siphon I use here on the “Mechanics tools page.”
Other Possible Causes Of Engine Light
We are at a point where we are simply guessing what the problem might be. A code reader would be an invaluable tool in this instance; it would remove a ton of guesswork.
Code readers aren’t expensive; they’re simple to use, and as many problems can be fixed by even the novices, a code reader can save you a ton of money. If you need a code reader, check out my review of the Topdon code reader.
Without the code reader, we’ll push on with the guesswork. I’m basing this list on things that could cause a check engine light after an oil change rather than are likely to have happened. Make sense?
Here’s a list:
- Oil cap left off
- Oil spill on sensors
- Sensor wiring disconnected
- EVAP wiring loose
- Loose gas cap
- Faulty gas cap
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.