Useful Car Tips

Check Engine Light On? Here’s What You Should Do

November 27, 2018
The check engine light … It’s a thing most of us dread seeing. Because—let’s face it—most of us have no idea what that little light means. Is your car in serious trouble? Should you pull over immediately? Or is it no big deal? The truth is, check engine lights can mean a lot of things. It can be a sign that serious repairs are needed, or be something very minor that has little effect on your car’s overall function. If you’ve ever wondered what a check engine light may mean or how to diagnose the problem, read on.

What Does a Check Engine Light Mean?

The check engine light is a part of your vehicle’s diagnostic system. For the past 30 years or so, cars have come to increasingly rely on onboard computer systems to perform many of their basic functions. And one of those functions is an increasingly sophisticated ability to detect and warn you about mechanical or electrical problems. Anytime that dreaded little light comes in, your car is letting you know that something has gone wrong. While your car’s computers (yes, there are probably more than one!) can correct many problems, the check engine light is a good indicator that nothing can be done by the computer system. So, if your check engine light is on, it’s a pretty good indication that some-thing does indeed need to be checked out.

Checking the Light

Every time your car turns on the check engine light, it also stores a code in the computer system. These codes can then be read by the appropriate diagnostic tools. Most repair shops can use their equipment to read the code, but an experienced hand is still needed to fully diagnose the problem. Most codes are fairly vague—indicating little more than a problem with the fuel delivery system, your vehicle’s ignition, or other system. Many auto parts stores such as Auto Zone can also read engine codes—often at no charge—and code readers can be purchased for home use as well.

Understanding Engine Codes

The real problem with check engine light codes is figuring out what is actually wrong with your car or truck. Check engine codes can often mean dozens of different things with just one is-sue being the real culprit. While an experienced home mechanic may be able to diagnose many simpler problems, a professional will likely be able to figure out the real cause of the issue more quickly.

What To Do When the Check Engine Light Comes On

If your check engine light has come on, it’s a good idea to get the problem checked right away. The computer systems in many modern vehicles will try to compensate and correct issues, often overcompensating and creating other problems if an issue is left untreated. By waiting to have a check engine light checked or treated, you may actually be costing yourself more money down the road. If a check engine light comes in your car, check for major problems right away and get the vehicle to a competent professional as soon as possible.
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