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Q: My Check Engine Light is on, and the code points to the thermostat. Is it safe to drive my car with this issue?

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My check engine light came on while my car was idling in the parking lot at work. A quick trip to autozone, and I've been told the light is coming on because of the engine thermostat, but they could not tell me what was exactly wrong with the car. I live 113 miles from my work and commute every day. Will I be safe to continue driving my car at least to get home? Can this problem wait until the weekend?

My car has 43000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

If you can write back in with the exact Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) that Autozone downloaded for you, we can give you a more precise answer. For want of that detail, if you are referring to the "engine cooling system thermostat", so long as the engine temperature gauge on the dashboard does NOT go outside of the "normal" engine temperature range, it is is OK to use the car for a while until you get this addressed.

You just have to watch the gauge closely. If, however, you are seeing that the engine temperature is outside of the normal range on the gauge, unfortunately the car cannot be driven because the excess heat and high temperature can potentially damage the engine (high temperatures outside of the "normal" range can actually warp metal parts of the engine, so much so that the engine could be rendered unusable). So, the key is: as long as the engine is not operating any hotter than usual, you are OK.

If you had the code, we could give you an educated guess, based on your model and year, as to some of the possibilities. Just keep in mind: just because a code mentions a "part", such as a thermostat, that doesn’t always mean that that specific part must be replaced. Codes have varying meanings and the reality is anything "identified" in the code, in the way of a "part", has to be SEPARATELY evaluated and tested. So, the code is the starting point, not the end point, in the diagnosis.

I recommend having a certified mechanic, such as one from YourMechanic, determine why the Check Engine Light is on and perform any needed repairs to make sure your car is in proper working order.

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