Oil Pressure Gauge Bouncing – What Are the Causes and Fixes?

Oil pressure gauge bouncing is normal, but when it happens too often, then there’s cause for alarm. Regardless of the issues behind the bouncy gauge, you need to solve them as soon as you can to avoid aggravating the situation.

Oil Pressure Gauge Bouncing

We’ll discuss the common reasons why the oil pressure meter bounces erratically and how to fix the problem. Finally, we’ll look at other reasons why 5.3 oil pressure bouncing at idle.

What Causes Oil Pressure Gauge Bouncing?

Oil pressure gauge bouncing is caused by a clogged oil filter, a slack wire connection, low oil levels, a faulty sending unit and oil leakage. Problems like low oil, clogged oil filter and oil leakage are easy to solve, but fixing a faulty sending unit is quite complicated.

A Clogged Oil Filter Causes Pressure Loss in Oil

An oil filter eliminates contaminants that can hamper the function of the engine and other parts of the vehicle. Over time it can accumulate a lot of debris and would need replacement. Failure to replace the filter can make the oil lose pressure or even damage the engine. Oil filters feature pressure relief valves that allow the oil to pass through to the engine when the filter is clogged.

However, the relief valves can get damaged, too, and when this happens, the oil loses pressure, causing the needle to move randomly. It is important to change the oil filter every time you change the oil to prevent it from clogging. We’ll discuss how to change an oil filter after an oil change later on in this article.

A Slack Wire Connection to the Gauge

A loose wire connection can transmit irregular signals to the oil pressure meter, leading to an erratic behavior of the needle. The oil pressure sensor determines the pressure and sends the signals through wires to the gauge. The gauge then tells the driver the exact pressure of the oil. Now, if the wire is faulty, it’ll impede the signals from the sensor; thus, the oil pressure gauge goes from 40 to 80 within the blink of an eye.

Causes Oil Pressure Gauge Bouncing

Sometimes too, a frail and weak wire won’t be able to supply enough current to the gauge for accurate signals. Wires usually last about 20 years, but this figure can be less, depending on several factors. Solving this problem can be quite tricky, as you need to test the wires to see if they are the source of the issue. We recommend you change the wires when you determine that they are the root cause.

Low Oil Volume in the Engine

Low oil volume can make the oil pressure gauge goes up and down while driving. This is simply because there’s not enough oil in the tank for the sensor to send accurate readings. You can check the oil volume with the dipstick placed on the engine, which has a round orange top. Just pull it out and look at the level of the oil as indicated on the long metal of the dipstick.

Using inferior engine oils can also cause the needle in the pressure gauge to bounce. It happens when the oil doesn’t have enough viscosity, making the sensor feel the oil isn’t enough. This lack of viscosity will cause the need to move erratically as it interprets the signals from the sensor. This gives the impression of a 5.3 oil pressure fluctuating between 0 and 160.

A Faulty Sending Unit Giving Wrong Signals

One common reason an oil pressure gauge fluctuates from 0 to 80 is the sending unit. The sending unit consists of the switch, diaphragm, and a small tube connected to the gauge. If the level of oil is normal, the diaphragm is pushed against the switch, keeping it from turning on. However, if the oil goes low, the diaphragm releases pressure against the switch, forcing the low oil light to illuminate.

The sending unit is connected to the engine block and sends signals to the gauge. It is connected to the gauge via a small tube, which becomes clogged over time. When the tube gets clogged, the gauge can’t receive accurate signals from the sending unit, causing it to bounce. The only way to fix this problem is by replacing the old sending unit with a new one.

Oil Leakage in the Engine

Oil leaking in the engine can affect the pressure of the oil and cause the needle to bounce. As the level of oil decreases in the engine, so does the needle move down. The faster the leakage, the quicker the needle drops, giving you the impression of an unstable needle. Unfortunately, there are myriad places where the oil can leak, making it difficult to solve this problem.

However, you can check places like the oil filter, drain plug, gasket, oil pan, and main seals for leakages because they are the most common leaky areas. Once you determine where the leak is, you can fix it to get the gauge working again.

How To Fix a Bouncing Oil Pressure Meter

To fix a bouncing oil pressure meter, first determine the cause of the problem. If it is a faulty sending unit, bad wires, or a clogged filter, you’ll have to replace them. However, if it is a result of a low engine oil volume, then just top it up.

Fixing a Clogged Oil Filter

There’s no better way to fix a blocked oil filter than to replace it with a new one. Ensure your engine is switched off, and if it’s still hot, wait for it to cool down. Next, drain the oil from the engine by loosening the oil fill cap located at the top of the engine. Now, place a large pan underneath the drain plug, remove the plug to allow oil to pour into the pan, and then replace the plug.

Locate the oil filter attached to the engine block (it is usually a metallic cylinder) and place the oil pan under it. Remove the oil filter with your hand and place it face down in the oil pan for about 24 hours before you dispose of it. Next, apply some fresh engine oil to the gasket and new filter to lubricate them. Place the new filter in the position of the old one and screw it into place with your hand.

Put a funnel on the hole that was covered by the oil fill cap and pour fresh motor oil into the engine. Ensure you use the specified oil for your engine because using the wrong well could spell doom for your vehicle. Pour the recommended volume of motor oil and replace the oil fill cap. This will stop the oil pressure fluctuating after oil change.

Repairing an Oil Pressure Sending Unit

Before repairing the oil-sending unit, you need to be sure it is damaged because it would be a waste of resources to fix a well-functioning device. Thus, you’ll need to test it with a testing gauge, which you can buy at any auto store. First, check whether the oil is at the right level before unscrewing the sending unit, which is near the oil filter.

Fix a Bouncing Oil Pressure Meter

Replace the sending unit with the testing gauge, switch on the engine and monitor the values on the testing gauge. The number should be between 40 to 60 psi; thus, if the number is within the normal range, but the sending unit indicates low oil pressure, then it is faulty. To replace the sending unit, ensure the battery is disconnected and unscrew the entire unit.

Install the new sending unit and add some sealants to keep it airtight. Next, connect the wire to the new sending unit and reconnect the battery. Note that changing the sending unit also helps to eliminate bad wiring problems. You can test the new unit to ensure it’s working properly.

Fixing Low Engine Oil

Topping up the engine oil is the easiest method to fix a bouncy gauge. However, this method only works when the engine oil isn’t old or hasn’t lost its viscosity. If you’ve been using your engine oil for 3,000 miles or 3 months, then it needs replacement. To change the engine oil, first, jack up the car to make room for you to get under.

Next, remove the undertray underneath the vehicle by unscrewing the bolts and nuts that hold it in place. Then place the drain pan under the drain plug and unscrew it slowly. Let the oil flow into the pan until it begins to trickle before screwing the plug back. Remember to remove the old oil filter and replace it with a new one.

Screw the undertray back into place and remove the jack stands to lower the car. Once the vehicle is lowered, remove the oil cap and place a funnel there. Pour the oil into the pan according to the required quantity. Remove the funnel, return the oil cap, and your work will be done.

Low Oil Volume in the Engine

What Could Cause the Oil Pressure Gauge to Bounce?

There are several causes of full oil light leading to the oil pressure gauge bouncing. These can include a faulty oil pressure sensor, low oil levels, clogged oil filters, worn-out oil pump, or engine wear. Promptly addressing these issues is crucial to prevent potential damage to the engine.


We’ve discussed the reasons why the oil gauge goes up and down while driving and have discovered practical ways to solve these problems.

Here’s a recap of all that you’ve read:

  • Some of the reasons the gauge fluctuates while driving are a clogged oil filter, low engine oil levels, a loose wire connection, and a faulty sending unit.
  • However, if the oil pressure gauge fluctuates while accelerating, the reason could be an oil leakage in the engine.
  • To fix a clogged oil filter, you’ll have to replace it with a new one which involves removing the old filter from the engine block, lubricating the new filter, and fixing it in place of the old one.
  • Fixing a low motor oil includes jacking up the car, removing the drain plug, draining the oil, changing the oil filter, replacing it with a new one and pouring fresh oil into the oil pan.
  • To fix a faulty oil pressure gauge sending unit, first, ensure the oil is at the right level before removing the unit, replacing it with the new one, and applying some sealants to avoid leakages.

If the issue is from bad wires, simply remove the faulty ones and replace them with new ones and the problem is solved. If all else fails and the oil pressure gauge goes up and down while idling, consult a mechanic to help you out.

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