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Check Engine Light

At some time or another many of us will have our check engine light (CEL) illuminate on the dash board. This indication is a somewhat common occurrence with many vehicles and more commonly than not, it is not a serious problem. This light is, however, part of a built in computerized diagnostic system, so it would never be a good idea to just ignore the light. In most cases, though, it does not necessarily mean that you have to pull over to the side of the road and immediately shut off your vehicle.

It is important to not confuse the check engine light with the maintenance required light or the service required light as these two lights have different meanings than the check engine light. The maintenance required or service required light typically will illuminate at a given mileage to let you know that a vehicle service is needed. These lights are referring to a non-imperative service requirement like a tune up.

Common reasons the Check Engine Light comes on:

There are several reasons your check engine light might come on, but to have a better understanding of what may have caused the light to come on, it is significant to know what year your vehicle was built. If your vehicle was built before 1996 and your check engine light comes on it might mean that there was a failure somewhere in the vehicle’s Electronic Engine Control System. If there are any actuators, solenoids, or electronic sensors not functioning properly, you’re going to see the check engine light.

Starting in 1996, the U.S. government required all vehicles to have more strict exhaust emissions guidelines. This is when the Check engine light began not only monitoring the electronic sensors, solenoids and actuators, but also vehicles’ emissions. This system is known as the emissions control system. The check engine light is now required to monitor a number of different emissions factors, including the exhaust that comes out of the engine. Newer cars abide by very strict guidelines and monitor the exhaust again as it’s exiting the catalytic converter. These newer On Board Diagnostic systems are so intense the Check Engine light may come on if the motorist does not fasten the gas cap tight enough. Be aware that for some vehicles it is required to tighten the gas cap until 3 clicks are heard. If not tightened enough, the light could come on and might not turn back off just from tightening the cap, it may take some time for the light to reset. Also, in newer vehicles the system is so particular that the light will come on if there is a leak anywhere in the fuel system.

What to do:

The best idea, obviously, is to go to a mechanic and get the vehicle looked at by a professional. Looking for an honest, reliable mechanic? Click here. But I want to give you some advice so that you have a heads-up as to what is going on and what the check engine light means when it’s one color verses another and when it’s solid verses blinking. The fact of the matter is that the Check engine light may very well result in a necessary visit to the local mechanic. None-the-less here are a few helpful hints to keep you informed:

  1. Try looking for the more obvious warning signs, as it is possible that the check engine light is on for a serious reason, and is telling you this. Two very serious visible warnings to look for are whether or not the light is red versus yellow (where a red check engine light means you should not be driving the vehicle at all) and if the light is blinking versus staying solid. If the light is blinking this is also a serious problem and means the vehicle in theory should no longer be driven at this point. It is recommended that a tow truck transport the vehicle to a mechanic’s shop. The main reason the light comes on in one of these fashions is because there was a malfunction in the vehicles emission control system and it is causing the car to misfire so badly that it is causing damage to the catalytic converter, which could lead to a vehicle fire. Need a shop?
  2. If the Check Engine Light comes on and stays on, but is not blinking or red, then take the obvious steps. Listen to the engine, both while it’s idling and also when you accelerate. Does it make any weird noises or have any performance issues? Either way, this means there is a failure somewhere in the emissions control system. As long as the vehicle doesn’t have any performance issues, it is recommended the vehicle be taken in and serviced as soon as possible. Please note that if the vehicle does have performance issues or is not idling properly it should not be driven at all. If the vehicle is your only means of transportation and must be driven, it is recommended that it be driven as little as possible.
  3. Finally, check your gas cap. If it’s not tightened, (until the cap clicks 3 times) then tighten it and try turning the car off and back on again, as this may help reset the light. In some cases, it may even take a couple of short rides to get the light to reset.

If you find yourself visiting a mechanic, the best tip I can give you is to be aware that more times than not it is only one malfunction causing the Check Engine Light to come on. If the mechanic tells you they found more than one problem, ask him/her what each specific issue is and how it relates to the Check Engine Light. Occasionally, a mechanic will notice another repair that they feel is necessary, but one that doesn’t have anything to do with the check engine light. If you ask them, they should tell you whether or not the repair is pertinent to the check engine light, and you can decide whether or not you want to pay the extra money for the other recommended repairs. Good luck and good traveling from us at autorepairkey!!

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