The Check Engine Light Demystified

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There’s one little yellow light that strikes fear in the heart of every driver. It casts a shadow of doubt over your whole vehicle. Will this be something straightforward or will the repair bill put you in debt?

The Check Engine Light has long puzzled drivers with its vague warning. When it illuminates, it's unclear if you should continue driving or get your car towed. Here’s everything you’ve wanted to know about the Check Engine Light:

What the Check Engine Light Does

The Check Engine Light has one purpose: to tell you when you have a problem. That’s all. It doesn’t tell you what the problem is; a technician will have to perform a diagnostic scan to check the affected system. It only indicates that something isn’t working properly.

The Check Engine Light is also known as a malfunction indicator light. It’s shaped like a motor and is yellow in color. Most vehicle systems run self tests under certain operating conditions, and the results are reported to their respective control modules. If a self test fails under certain parameters, your car’s Check Engine Light will come on. It could be an engine, transmission, or emissions system that didn’t pass the test.

What Does the Check Engine Light Mean?

There are two different ways the Check Engine Light can come on: solid or flashing. They mean two different things.

If the engine light comes on and flashes, that indicates an immediate concern. You need to find a safe place to pull over and turn your vehicle off. You may want to consider getting it towed to the shop. A technician needs to diagnose the concern at the absolute earliest convenience to prevent damage to your car. A flashing Check Engine Light is serious business.

If the engine light comes on solid, it may still be a reason for concern, however it doesn’t immediately need to strike fear in your heart. A solid Check Engine Light can mean something like a loose gas cap, or it can indicate a more in-depth problem like a fuel, timing, or transmission issue. Get your car diagnosed, although the urgency isn’t the same as if the light was flashing at you.

Common Reasons the Check Engine Light Comes On

The reason for an engine light can be a risk of catastrophic failure or something requiring immediate attention, or it could be nothing at all. As the car’s systems run self-tests, it is possible that a test fails and the engine light comes on, and the next test passes. The Check Engine Light may not turn off as soon as it passes, and it may not even turn off until a technician clears the code even though there is no repair required at all. Common reasons for the Check Engine Light are:

  • The gas cap was left loose when refuelling
  • Emissions-related sensors, such as oxygen sensors, have failed
  • Engine timing problems, most commonly with variable valve timing
  • Transmission failure codes
  • Engine misfire codes
  • Catalytic converter problems

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other reasons for the Check Engine Light to come on. If it illuminates, have it checked out expediently. Don’t take unnecessary chances if it feels like the vehicle is not operating in a safe manner. Have your vehicle towed to the shop if you don’t feel safe driving it. If the Check Engine Light is flashing, it is in your best interest to cease driving until the light has been diagnosed and repaired.


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Recent Check Engine Light is on Inspection reviews

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Average Rating

4.8/5

Number of Reviews

4,912

Rating Summary
4,525
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4,525
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124

Travis

11 years of experience
333 reviews
Travis
11 years of experience
Buick LeSabre - Check Engine Light is on - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Travis was fantastic to work with, very prompt, professional and patient. He took the time to explain the diagnostic and my options for repair
Saturn Vue - Check Engine Light is on - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Travis is knowledgeable, professional and give me information about my engine that helps me maintain it.

Pardeep

19 years of experience
598 reviews
Pardeep
19 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala - Check Engine Light is on Inspection - San Jose, California
Pardeep showed up at the time scheduled. He called prior to arriving and informed me of his arrival. He trouble shot he check eengine light. Step by step he informed me of what he was.checking, and answered was all my questions. He wasted no time and got the vehicle to run long enough to determine next steps we will need to take. He never tried to bs me, or false promises (Like the dealership). He explained what he could do and what he could not, in regards to repairs ifneeded. i had a good 1st tike experience with "Your Mechanic" . Although the previous mechanic (Brock) they had assigned canceled the appoinent I scheduled; saying that they could not perform what clealy, Pardeep was able to do. Thank you Pardeep! 

Michael

36 years of experience
94 reviews
Michael
36 years of experience
Volkswagen Beetle - Check Engine Light is on - Brea, California
Michael is friendly and professional. He has lots of experience and tries his best to try and figure out what's wrong with your car.

Michael

10 years of experience
39 reviews
Michael
10 years of experience
Chevrolet Malibu - Check Engine Light is on - Atlanta, Georgia
I would highly recommend Michael. He was professional and helped me to better understand car trouble.

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