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Here you are, driving to the store when the Check Engine light suddenly turns on. It’s almost as bad as seeing those flashing red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror, isn’t it? You turn down the radio, carefully listen, and check the other gauges or idiot lights. The car seems OK and it drives the same. So, what does this warning light mean?
You certainly aren’t alone. Nearly everyone has this same reaction when that amber or red light comes on. Everyone’s second thought behind, what does it mean, is “how much is this going to cost me?”
You might have heard that as long as the car is running the same, you can still drive it. However, is that really true? Is it safe to do so? Do you need to fix it immediately?
Here’s what you need to know about when the Check Engine light comes on, what it might mean, and the best ways to deal with it when you are short on cash.
What to Do When the Check Engine Light Comes on
First off, unless steam is pouring out from under the hood, there is probably no need to panic. In a nutshell, the Check Engine light is your car’s way of communicating with you. When this light comes on, it is telling you that one of your vehicle’s systems, such as the cooling or emission control system, is not working properly.
If you don’t notice any changes in how the vehicle is running, it usually means take your vehicle in to get checked as soon as possible.
If your Check Engine light is flashing, this is a sign that something is VERY wrong, and you can cause engine damage if you drive much further. Obviously, if your car has this feature, you should pull over ASAP and have the vehicle towed to your trusted mechanic.
Things NOT to Do or to Believe When Your Check Engine Light is On
Like all things in this world, the internet is loaded with super beneficial information, but it is also full of myths or half-truths.
There are some things you shouldn’t do, including putting a piece of electrical tape over the light on the dash so you can’t see it. Some other no-noes include:
1. I Can Just Disconnect the Battery and That Will Reset the Light
While it’s true that disconnecting the battery or pulling a fuse will reset the Check Engine light, this doesn’t mean that your problem is “fixed.” This will NOT allow you to pass an emissions test (contrary to popular belief) and the problem remains. Worse still, pulling the ECM or PCM fuse may cause the code to be removed from the car’s memory. This means that when you decide to take your car to your mechanic to find out what is wrong, the car will not give them a code. In the end, it will cost you more money because the mechanic will have to spend a considerable amount of time trying to diagnose each system.
2. Retrieving the Code Means I Can Fix the Car Myself!
If you are a mechanic then yes this may be true. If you aren’t, then this isn’t the time to try to learn how. Depending on the year and model of your car, it’s true that some codes will direct you to the exact part that has failed. However, many only tell you the system that has failed, and being a mechanic means you must trace down the correct part that is no longer working. This takes many years of experience and is best left to professionals.
3. The Check Engine Light Only Tells You When to Replace the O2 Sensor
This is a big myth that is not true. If you want to start spending money replacing part after part until you figure out the right one. Believing this type of myth is a sure-fire way to go through a wallet full of money very quickly. While oxygen sensors are often the cause, they aren’t the only reason. There are over 1000 reasons why the Check Engine light comes on.
If your car seems to be running fine, your best option is to take it to your mechanic as soon as you can. If the light is flashing regularly, or if the car has developed a problem, such as bucking, lack of power, or overheating, stop the car immediately and have it towed to your mechanic’s shop.
4. Just Drive the Car Until You are Forced to Fix It
This is not a good idea since driving the car when it has a problem can cause damage to other parts. Driving with a bad O2 sensor, for example, can ruin a catalytic converter over time. This can be a costly item to replace.
Don’t Mechanics Charge a Fortune to Tell You What the Code Means?
In general, the answer is no. Truth be told, many auto parts stores will read the codes for you at no charge. Once again, a code that tells you there is a vacuum leak won’t fix your vehicle.
Here are some things you can do to beat the Check Engine light blues:
1. Check the Gas Cap
No, we aren’t kidding. A loose, broken, or missing gas cap will make that Check Engine light come on faster than a rabbit can run. If you don’t hear a click sound when you turn the gas cap, it’s probably worn out.
2. Did You Recently Install a Car Alarm?
If the Check Engine light came on soon after you picked up your car from having an alarm installed, take it back right away. When alarms are not installed properly, they can drain the battery, prevent your car from starting and cause that Check Engine light to come on.
3. Don’t Stress Out
If the car is running as usual, then there is really no need to stress out. Take your vehicle to your trusted mechanic and have them inspect it. Chances are that the repair is going to be far less expensive than you imagine.
At the End of the Day
Everyone depends on their vehicle for everything, from taking the kids to school to getting to work. You don’t want to risk a big repair bill later because you were “too busy” to take your car to the mechanic.
You don’t have to drop everything to have the car thoroughly inspected. As soon as possible, which could be next payday or next week. The key is to make sure you have it looked at. That Check Engine light isn’t going to go away on its own. If it does, that’s another matter and your mechanic will need to inspect the car for that issue as well.
Don’t let that Check Engine light confuse and frustrate you. Bring your vehicle to My Mechanic. We will be more than happy to see what codes are hiding in your vehicle’s memory and explain the problem to you fully. You will feel much better knowing that your vehicle is in tip-top condition and with little risk of a break down at an inopportune moment.
Call us today for an appointment. We are open to serve YOU.