Heart in Hands

What the Check Engine Light Means

Almost everyone has experienced it: you're driving along, minding your own business, and the dreaded check engine light illuminates on the dashboard. For the more nervous among us, this strikes fear into the heart: is the car about to break down? Will auto repairs be expensive? For others, it's more a source of annoyance, and some choose to ignore the light altogether, waiting until a breakdown actually happens before they decide to do something about it.

But what does the check engine light really mean? And more importantly, how should you respond when it lights up?

Many possible issues

Simply put, this indicator is something of a catch-all sensor that can be triggered by many different issues--some serious, and some not so much. Here are just a few things that can trigger the light:

  • Faulty exhaust system
  • Bad spark plugs
  • Failing alternator
  • Failing catalytic converter
  • Bad oxygen sensor
  • Vacuum leak
  • Failing transmission
  • Loose gas cap

See what we mean? A loose gas cap is much less serious than a failing alternator or transmission, yet depending on your vehicle, either one could trigger the check engine light! This is probably the most frustrating thing about this indicator--it can point to so many different things, and the only way to find out the problem is to take it to an auto service for a diagnostic. When the indicator comes on, it generates a line of code that your mechanic can read to determine the source of the problem.

How to respond to the check engine light

Like we said, some people panic when the light comes on, and some people ignore it. The correct response is somewhere between these extremes. For some vehicles, this indicator reads "Service Engine Soon," and that's perhaps the best description. The good news is that in most cases, a breakdown is not imminent; it just means something in the engine isn't working as efficiently as it should, and you should take it to a trusted auto repair service at your earliest convenience. One exception to this rule is if the check engine indicator begins to flash on and off. Some manufacturers have built this feature into the car to let you know when something more serious is happening. If the check engine light flashes, don't panic, but stop driving the car as soon as possible and have it towed to a mechanic to minimize any damage.

For trustworthy automotive repairs and maintenance in Vancouver, WA, trust the professionals at David's Auto Repair. Their ASE-certified mechanics have been providing quality, affordable service for domestic and foreign makes and models for over 15 years, with online special offers that can save you even more. For a diagnostic on the check engine light and a free estimate on repairs, they can be reached.

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