You’re driving around, minding your own business, when out of nowhere a light appears on your dashboard. it looks like the outline of a car engine, and the words “check” or “check engine” may appear next to it. it’s the check engine light, one of the most feared sights known to mankind.
If you find yourself in this situation, we have good news and bad news. The good news is that the check engine light doesn’t always mean that something is terribly wrong with your car. The bad news is that the check engine light can mean that there is something terribly wrong with your car. don’t worry, we’ll explain it to you.
why is the check engine light on?
The check engine light can come on for many reasons. for example, something as simple as a loose gas cap can trigger the warning. and larger problems, such as internal engine component failure , can also turn on the light. To really know what’s wrong with your car, it’s best to have the problem diagnosed by a professional.
what could cause the check engine light to come on?
There are countless reasons why your check engine light may come on. This check engine light is an important part of your vehicle’s On-Board Diagnostic System. Your car’s computer will turn on the warning whenever it detects a problem with the powertrain (engine, transmission, and related components) that could increase tailpipe emissions.
For example, a faulty gas cap, which would allow fuel vapors to escape into the atmosphere, can activate the light. Likewise, an internal engine problem that causes a misfire, and therefore an increase in hydrocarbon emissions, can also turn on the light. And to further complicate matters, because every car is different, what triggers the light can vary by year, make, and model.
In other words: there is no way to know exactly why the check engine light is on without doing some diagnostic work.
what we can tell you is that the check engine light comes on due to problems related to the powertrain. problems with, for example, your anti-lock braking system will activate the abs light, instead of the check engine light.
Of course, today, because various parts of a vehicle are closely interrelated, in some rare cases, a problem within one subsystem (eg, anti-lock brakes) can trigger warnings in another subsystem ( e.g., the propulsion system). but for the most part, the check engine light means there is a problem somewhere in the drivetrain or related components.
meaning solid or flashing check engine light
The meaning of the check engine light can vary depending on whether it is solid or flashing.
A steady, flashing check engine light indicates a problem has been detected. however, a flashing check engine light indicates a serious problem that requires your immediate attention. If you see a flashing light, it’s best to contact a mechanic as soon as possible to avoid serious damage.
On some vehicles, the check engine light will not flash when the situation is urgent. instead, the light will appear red or orange instead of yellow when an urgent problem is detected.
The bottom line is that you should always have your vehicle diagnosed and serviced, regardless of whether the check engine light is on or flashing. a flashing light conveys an urgent problem that needs to be fixed immediately. To protect your vehicle and avoid costly repairs, seek help from a mechanic as soon as possible.
Common reasons your check engine light might be on
With that in mind, let’s explore some of the most common reasons why your check engine light might be on.
1. engine problems
It goes without saying that engine problems can trigger the check engine light. a control module monitors engine operation through a set of sensors. and when it detects a problem, it turns on the check engine light.
2. transmission problems
Your car’s transmission manipulates power from the engine and transfers it to the drive wheels. Because the two assemblies work so closely together, a problem with the transmission can also increase tailpipe emissions. therefore, if the control module detects a problem with the transmission, it will turn on the check engine light.
3. problems with the emissions equipment
Modern vehicles have a plethora of emissions equipment on board. there’s the exhaust gas recirculation system, the catalytic converter, the evaporative emission system… the list goes on and on. each piece of the puzzle is designed to minimize tailpipe emissions, thereby protecting the environment and making the world a safer place.
We won’t go into each of these components and systems individually because, frankly, there are too many to list. but trust us when we say that an emissions equipment failure can easily turn on the check engine light.
4. module and sensor problems (electronic powertrain controls)
A wide range of sensors and modules govern today’s propulsion systems. In addition, the modules communicate with each other through a vast data network. Problems with sensors, modules, networks, and wiring can trigger the check engine light.
5. air/fuel supply problems
Your car’s engine needs the right amount of air and fuel to run properly. when you get too much or too little of one or the other, the control module will probably notice. the device then turns on the check engine light.
6. problems with the ignition system
The ignition system includes the spark plugs, coil packs, and everything else needed to ignite the air-fuel mixture inside the engine. As you probably guessed, the control module monitors the operation of the ignition system. and will turn on the check engine light if it detects a problem.
Can a lack of oil cause the check engine light to come on?
Some people think that the check engine light indicates that their vehicle is running low on oil. The check engine light can come on for a number of different reasons, but a low oil level is usually not one of them.
Being low on oil is a serious problem, but it will not trigger the check engine light. however, it will cause the oil light on the dash to come on. this light looks like an oil can with a drop of oil dripping from its spout. If you see this light come on, this could indicate that your vehicle needs more oil.
Is it safe to drive with the check engine light on?
Pay close attention to your vehicle’s performance. do you hear any strange sounds? Does it continue to drive smoothly or does it stop and speed up?
If you don’t notice anything unusual, it’s probably safe for you to continue driving your vehicle to a safe location, even if the check engine light is on. however, proceed with caution and be sure to diagnose and repair it right away to prevent further damage.
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However, if there is a problem with your vehicle’s performance or if other dash lights also come on suddenly, it is best to stop driving as soon as possible. slow down and try to avoid accelerating or changing gears quickly. Stay at this slow and steady pace until you can safely stop and turn off your vehicle.
Check Engine Light Diagnostics: How a Mobile Mechanic Can Help
It can be difficult to figure out on your own what a check engine light means, but a mobile mechanic has the tools and equipment to find out.
When the check engine light comes on, your car’s computer, which is often called the control module, will store a corresponding diagnostic trouble code (DTC) in its memory. A professional mechanic can connect a scan tool or code reader to your vehicle’s obd port, usually located on the steering column, to retrieve this diagnostic code.
This code will not tell your mechanic the exact reason the check engine light came on. instead, your mechanic will use the code as a starting point for further troubleshooting and diagnostic testing to determine the problem.
As an example, diagnostic code p0300 is used to indicate that your engine is misfiring on more than one cylinder. it doesn’t tell your mechanic which cylinders are affected by the problem or what is causing the engine to misfire in the first place. This code will help your mechanic know where to start looking when investigating why your check engine light came on.
once the problem has been identified and repaired,the check engine light should turn off automatically. if it doesn’t turn off or reappears, it may need additional repairs.
what to do if the check engine light is on
You won’t know what the check engine light really means until you have your car diagnosed by a professional. the warning could indicate something simple and harmless, or something serious that could cause further damage to your vehicle.
If the check engine light comes on, you can try tightening the gas cap. Remember, a check engine light can come on as a result of a loose gas cap, so firmly tightening the cap might solve the problem. if the light goes out, there is no need to take your car in for service. If the light stays on, it could indicate a more serious problem with your vehicle.
You shouldn’t risk it. If the check engine light is on, get a professional diagnosis and fix the problem right away.