We’ve all been there… You’re driving along minding your own business and all of a sudden the Check Engine light pops on. Immediately you start to worry – how much will this repair cost me? Is this going to be a major problem with my vehicle or a simple fix? Can I keep driving my vehicle?
That check engine light is part of your vehicle’s diagnostic system, telling you something’s not right with your vehicle. This light typically indicates a malfunction has occurred in one or more of the vehicle’s emission, drive train or engine control systems.
Unlike a Temperature or Oil Pressure light, a Check Engine light is usually not an urgent, “Stop right now or you may cause permanent damage!” type of situation, unless it is flashing. If the check engine light is flashing, a more severe problem has occurred. You should immediately reduce your speed and the load on your engine (if you are towing a trailer or boat for instance.) and schedule a service appointment with your local, qualified auto service center.
While the check engine light will alert you that your vehicle needs attention, that is really all the information you can glean (unless you own a diagnostic code reader), initially. The Check Engine light might be triggered by most anything affecting the monitored systems, from just a loose gas cap or bad spark plug, to a pricey computer control module or catalytic converter.
Check your gas cap first. Many vehicles have a loose gas cap indicator that will be triggered before your check engine light comes on. If your gas cap is loose or the seal is not tight, the vapor leakage can cause your fuel system to trigger the check engine light. If your vehicle’s gas cap was loose, it may require some driving and an overnight “parked” period before the light will reset itself. Check your vehicle owners’ manual or consult a certified technician for more information.
You may notice that other than the check engine light, your vehicle seems fully functional. Do not delay. Continuing to drive with the check engine light on can potentially cause serious damage and costlier repairs. Moreover, you will likely see diminished fuel efficiency and performance of your vehicle. You should bring your vehicle to a qualified service center as soon as possible.
Vehicles with Check Engine lights typically have a diagnostic port that a technician can hook equipment up to for retrieving trouble codes and other diagnostic information. With this information and in some cases, further testing and diagnostics, the technician will then determine what caused the light to come on and what is needed to fix it. Sometimes a failure of one component may lead to the failure of others, particularly if the vehicle has been driven at length with the Check Engine light on. Additionally, the failure of one component can cause the malfunction of multiple vehicle systems, generating numerous trouble codes. These situations can make repairs more complex, often involving performing one repair and then “retesting” to ensure further repairs are not required.
The cost of check engine light repairs can range from little or nothing (tightening a loose gas cap) into the thousands of dollars (new catalytic converter) range. The sooner you have your vehicle checked out, the less likelihood of additional damage occurring. Have your vehicle inspected by a certified technician soon.