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How to Stop your Oil Light from Flickering at idle

August 6, 2014 3 Comments Ask Ken, Engine, Wiring Ken Wilford

How to stop that Flickering oil light.

You just bought your Vanagon after test driving it and being pleased with how it drove and everything seems great. Then you take the first trip over 30 mins and come to a stop sign. The red light next to the “oil can” picture starts to flicker while you are at idle. After the ambulance arrives and EMTs revive you, the next thing you have to figure out is why that oil light is flickering. Here are some common causes of oil light flicker:

1. Wrong oil filter

The Vanagon is picky about which oil filters it likes and which ones it doesn’t. Actually there are only two that I would recommend (which I also sell) and these are either Mahle, or Mann. Both of these are made to the spec of the VW dealer filters (Mann actually makes the dealer filters) and will actually help your van in two ways.

One, these filters have an anti-drain back valve that helps prevent the oil from draining out of the motor after the engine is shut off. This helps the oil pressure to come up quicker on start up and prevents lifter clatter. Less wear on the engine at start up (this is a good thing).

Two, these filters have smaller holes in the filter material than cheaper filters. This gives you a higher, indicated oil pressure and helps keep that oil light off.

Bad filter list includes: Fram, Bosch (don’t hurt me they aren’t good), anything white, or yellow. Think Black when you think oil filter.

2. Wrong Oil

If your van has some mileage on it, it is possible that your oil pressure is a little low (nothing to really worry about yet) and I suggest using a slightly higher viscosity oil in the engine. 20w-50 oil Castrol GTX or something similar (I wouldn’t use Pennsoil or any oil that says it comes from Pennsylvania stock as this oil has a sludging problem).

If these first two don’t work.

3. Sticky Valve

You could have a sticky oil pressure relief valve. This valve is located in the bottom of the engine. You have to remove a large slotted screw from the bottom of the motor (all of the oil will come out of the engine when you do this). Also a spring and a valve will drop out of the engine. Clean up the valve with some scotchbrite and brake cleaner and clean up the hole that the valve rides in as well. Some folks have had good luck with stretching the spring a little or buying a new one from the dealer but I can only say “Try this at your own risk”.

4. Bare Wire

The wiring going to the oil pressure sender could have a bare spot on it and be touching the engine somewhere. Inspect the wire going from the sender to the firewall and if you see any spots on it that look suspect, replace the wire with a new one.


You could actually have a low oil pressure condition! I would buy a cheap oil pressure gauge at your local parts store and install it in the bottom of the motor in place of the stock the oil pressure sender. Check the oil pressure with the engine idling and let it warm up to hot (the only down side to this setup is that you can’t check the oil pressure going down the road). The pressure should be above 19 psi at 2000 rpms and above 3 psi at idle. If the pressure is lower then you do have a low oil pressure condition and your engine is in need of a rebuild.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Note: This page applies to any Vanagon from 83.5-91 with the flickering oil light. If you are having the flashing oil light along with the buzzer this is a different problem which I will address on another page.


Ken Wilford February 17, 2017

Floyd, that is a strange one since oil pressure is actually really high at start up. If the van is parked on an extreme angle maybe it is letting the oil drain to a part of the engine case that is allowing the oil pump to lose prime. This would have to be parking on a large angle like a steep hill with the nose of the van facing down. Does that sound familiar? I would temporarily install an oil pressure gauge to see what is happening for real instead of relying on the oil light. It could be a defective sender or a bad spot on a wire that is also causing it. It would be nice to actually see what is going on as far as pressure is concerned. If the engine is being starved for oil on start up this is damaging the engine each time it happens and will lead to a thrown rod at some point so it is better to do some investigation now than have to replace the engine later. Let me know what you find. Ken

Floyd February 11, 2017

sorry to bring up an old post, but this info is helpful, I have a 1.9l engine, and the oil light takes some time to turn off, sometimes up to a few minutes, the bus is parked on a slight incline, if that makes any difference. What would be causing it to flash at startup and idle, then be fine for the rest of the day?

david delaware June 4, 2015

thank you for being there!

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