Your check engine light came on, now what? These tips can help you determine whether your vehicle has major engine problems or just a loose gas cap.
We’ve all been there before. You’re driving along when you notice a yellow light out of the corner of your eye. A quick glance at the dash confirms your fear. It’s the check engine light. If you’re like most car owners, you’re not sure if you should continue to panic or not, and you have little idea what that light is trying to tell you or how you should react.
The often misunderstood check engine light or “service engine soon” message can mean many different things. It could be a misfiring engine, a broken oxygen sensor or simply a loose gas cap.
When you see the check engine light it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pull the car over to the side of the road and call a tow truck. It does mean you should get the car checked out as soon as possible. If you ignore the warning, you could end up causing further damage. It could also be a sign that you’re getting poor fuel economy and emitting high levels of pollutants.
In any case, if the check engine light is on in your car, it’s time to schedule a service appointment. At our service center, we have factory-trained technicians who can easily check and diagnose what’s behind your check engine light message, at a cost that is nearly always lower than a private garage.
What to do when your check engine light comes on…
- While it’s true that extreme problems like low oil pressure or an overheating engine will trigger your check engine light to come on, your dashboard has other lights and gauges to warn you of serious problems, and probably soon.
- A good rule of thumb is to always read your owner’s manual and learn about the different reasons that would trigger the check engine light to come on. It should also give you a tour of the other gauge and warning indicators on your dashboard.
- If your check engine light is on, the first thing to do is look for a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Check your dashboard gauges and lights for indications of low oil pressure or overheating. These conditions mean you should pull over and shut off the engine as soon as you can find a safe place to do so. On some cars, a yellow “check engine” means investigate the problem, while a red “check engine” means stop right now.
- Next, try tightening your gas cap. This often solves the problem. Keep in mind that it may take several trips before the light resets. Some vehicles have a separate indicator that warns of a loose gas cap before the condition sets off the “check engine” light.
- Reduce your speed and, if possible, the weight you’re carrying. If the “check engine” light is blinking or you notice any serious performance problems, such as a loss of power, reduce your speed and try to reduce the load on the engine. For example, it would be a good idea to stop towing a trailer. Have the car checked as soon as possible to prevent expensive damage.
- Even if you don’t notice an extreme problem, you should definitely still have the check engine code read and the problem fixed. If you want to diagnose the malfunction yourself, you can buy a scan tool at most auto parts stores. Prices range from about $40 to several hundred, depending on the model and the features. These tools will give you instructions on how to decipher the engine codes. If you don’t have to mechanical skills already to diagnose and fix the problem, it’s a more cost-effective decision to go directly to a service center..