The Check Engine Light Demystified

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.


Next Step

Schedule Check Engine Light is on Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Check Engine Light is on Inspection. Once the problem has been diagnosed, you will be provided with an upfront quote for the recommended fix and receive $20.00 off as a credit towards the repair. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

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Recent Check Engine Light is on Inspection reviews

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JOHNNY

33 years of experience
96 reviews
JOHNNY
33 years of experience
BMW 325Ci - Check Engine Light is on - Sacramento, California
He was great explained everything to me and have now booked him for another appointment. Thanks johnny.
Acura RSX - Check Engine Light is on - Antelope, California
Excellent Personality Excellent Service!!! One Of TheBest Mechanic I’ve Met In A While. He Get’s  In My Book ❗️ My First Time Ever Trying A Mobile Mechanic, And I Must Say: Will Be Booking Service Again, With Johnny ❗️ Thanks Again, For Your Excellent Service 

Ronald

41 years of experience
93 reviews
Ronald
41 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz C300 - Check Engine Light is on - Spring, Texas
Mister Ron was very nice and took time out to explain any concerns I might have about my car. He also made sure he communicated with me when he was on his way, once he was outside, and when we was done working on my car. I appreciate that considering I have a newborn that I had to look after.
Ram 1500 - Check Engine Light is on - Spring, Texas
Extremely satisfied with the service, he was able to come out and diagnose almost immediately. We purchased the parts, he came back installed them and been running great since. Would definitely recommend him and will not hesitate to call again if needed.

Scott

36 years of experience
802 reviews
Scott
36 years of experience
Dodge Neon - Check Engine Light is on - Tempe, Arizona
I truly enjoy Scott as he has done work for me in the past. Scott is very friendly, knowledgeable, and a true professional! I highly recommend him.

Jeremy

20 years of experience
436 reviews
Jeremy
20 years of experience
Honda Pilot - Check Engine Light is on - West Palm Beach, Florida
Jeremy, did not waste anytime getting down to fixing my car. He knew exactly what he needed to do to in a short period of time. My husband and I were so grateful to see he was such a professional and experience in what was wrong with the car. We are so , so, very pleased with Jeremy.. We will recommend him to all our friends and family when they need servicing.

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