The Dreaded Check Engine Light

Car in Dessert

You’re driving down the road and the check engine light comes on. What does it mean? Should you pull over? Drive to the nearest repair shop? Call mom? Before you panic, there are some key things to consider.

When the check engine light comes on, it means the computer has detected a problem with your car. It could be something minor, but it could also be something very serious. You don’t need to pull over right away, but continuing to drive the vehicle for an extended period of time without getting the problem checked out is a really bad idea.

The first thing you should do when you notice the check engine light come on is to check your other gauges. Is the car getting overheating? Is the oil low? Even something as simple as a loose gas cap can throw the engine light, so check that too. If the problem isn’t something easy that you can find right away, you’ll need to get it checked out.

Common Causes
According to CarMD, the most common problems that cause the check engine light to come on are problems with the ignition coil, spark plugs, catalytic converter, loose gas cap, evaporative emissions purge control valve, mass airflow sensor, evaporative emissions purge solenoid, fuel injectors, or thermostat. Most of these problems are relatively inexpensive to fix.

Troubleshooting Yourself or Seeking the Help of a Professional
If you are a do-it-yourself type of person, you can probably get the local auto parts store to run a diagnostic test to see what the problem is. Most auto parts stores have the equipment to do this and many offer it as a free service, hoping that you will buy the parts you need to fix the problem at their store.

If you are not a do-it-yourselfer, your best bet is to take the car to your mechanic. Most shops have a diagnostic tool that can read the code from the car’s computer. This will give them an idea of what the problem is, although they may have to do some more testing to be sure.

Whether you fix the problem yourself or have it looked at by a professional, it’s best to get it taken care of as soon as possible. Continuing to drive a vehicle with the check engine light on can cause damage to the vehicle’s systems, especially if the light is flashing, which usually indicates a more severe problem.

Time for a New Car?
If your car is really old, you may find that the estimate from your mechanic is higher than what you feel is worthwhile to put into the car to keep it running smoothly. In that case, it may be time for a new used car. Check out Drive Now AZs vast inventory of used cars.