Consumer Reports says it best: the check engine light is the most misunderstood (and maybe the most frustrating) indicator on your dashboard, as the light can mean many different things, from a loose gas cap to a misfiring engine.
The check engine light is part of your vehicle’s onboard diagnostics system, according to Motorist. This system monitors your vehicle’s performance; it regulates variables such as engine speed, fuel mixture, and ignition timing. When the electronic-control system finds a problem it cannot adjust, the computer turns on a yellow warning indicator—your check engine light.
When your check engine light comes on, which category of people do you fit into?
- You notice the light come on. Instead of having your mechanic look at it, you ignore the warning. You’ll wait until the car starts making funky noises or stops working altogether before you take it in.
- You notice the light come on. You don’t smell anything and the car seems to be acting normal, so you continue to drive with it on until you can get it into the shop.
- You stop your car and have it towed to your mechanic ASAP. You don’t take any chances.
Hopefully, you don’t fall into category one. If your check engine light comes on, it will either blink or remain constant as an indicator of what the problem is. If the light is steady, the problem generally isn’t an emergency, but you should still schedule an appointment to have your car looked at. A blinking light usually indicates a severe engine misfire. If so, continuing to drive it will more than likely require an expensive repair.
Autozone compiled a list of the top five reasons your check engine light comes on. Let’s take a look:
- Oxygen sensor needs replacing. The oxygen sensor measures the amount of unburned oxygen in your vehicle’s exhaust system.
- Gas cap is loose, missing, or damaged. The gas cap has two major purposes: it seals the fuel system and helps maintain pressure within the fuel tank.
- Catalytic Converter needs replacing. The catalytic converter converts harmful carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.
- Mass Airflow Sensor needs replacing. The mass airflow sensor measures the amount of air entering the engine. It then determines how much fuel is needed to run your engine.
- Spark Plugs or Plug Wires need replacing. Spark plugs ignite the air and fuel mixture in the combustion chamber of your vehicle. Plug wires deliver the spark from the ignition coil to the spark plugs.
Bottom line: when in doubt, have your vehicle checked out by your mechanic. You don’t want to continue driving in hopes that the light will disappear on its own because chances are, it won’t. Have your car looked at right away so that you don’t damage any other (expensive) components.
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