We’ve all been there before. You’re driving along when you notice a yellow light out of the corner of your eye. A quick glance at the dash confirms your fear: your check engine light is on. What is the light trying to tell you? Should you panic? Your check engine light, or Malfunction Indicator Lamp, could mean a number of things. It could be a misfiring engine, a broken oxygen sensor, or simply a loose gas cap.
When you see your check engine light blink on, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pull your car over to the side of the road and call a tow truck. It does, however, mean that you should get the car checked out as soon as possible. In other words, whatever you do, do not ignore your check engine light. You may be trying to avoid expensive repairs, but if you continue to prolong it, the repairs will become more expensive and you may be putting yourself in danger by continuing to drive your car. In any case, even if you’re sure it’s a false alarm, you should schedule a service appointment…just to be safe.
Until then, here are some tips to help you decide what to do in the event that your check engine light does come on:
The first thing you should do is look for a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Check your dashboard gauges and lights for indications of low oil pressure or overheating, either of which would require you to pull over and shut off the engine as soon as you find a safe place to do so. On some cars, a yellow check engine light means you should investigate the problem, while a red or blinking check engine light means you should stop immediately and seek assistance.
If your car doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger, try tightening your gas cap. A loose cap could be transmitting an error message to your car’s computer and reporting a problem with the emission system. If your only problem is a loose gas cap, it’s an easy fix. However, you should note that your check engine light will not immediately turn off after you tighten the cap.
In any case, if you’re not sure what the problem is, reduce your speed and, if possible, the weight you’re carrying. For example, if you’re towing a trailer, it would be a good idea to stop and assess the situation before you continue towing. If stopping is not an option, have your vehicle checked as soon as possible to prevent expensive damage.
After you’ve gotten yourself out of immediate and present danger, it’s time to make an appointment to have your engine checked by a professional. If you want to diagnose the malfunction yourself, you can purchase a scan tool at your local auto parts store for anywhere from forty to several hundred dollars, depending on the features you’re looking for. A scan tool will give you instructions on how to decipher the engine light codes, and while it may be a reasonable investment, you might feel more comfortable going directly to a service center. A service technician will be able to diagnose your problem and help you proceed if repairs are necessary.
Again, your check engine light could indicate something simple like a loose gas cap or something serious like a bad catalytic converter. However, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal, you should still diagnose the issue or get your engine checked by a professional. Repairs will only become more costly over time, and putting off repairs can lead to dangerous driving conditions. When it comes to driving, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Keep yourself and your vehicle safe; don’t ignore your check engine light.