What Does It Mean If My Check Engine Light Goes on?

May 21,2014

check engine light

By: Mike Veenstra 


Most drivers, if they drive long enough, will experience that ping! of anxiety when the yellow light on their dashboard goes on with its ominous message, “Check Engine.” “Check engine,” they think. “What’s wrong with my engine? Is it going to break down?”

The Check Engine light isn’t like the other warning signals. You know what is wrong when the oil light goes on – your car is low on oil. Likewise, the seatbelt light isn’t terribly scary. But when the Check Engine light goes on, it could be one of a long list of problems, some of which are rather urgent. One thing is certain: the Check Engine light always seems to go on at the least opportune time, just when you don’t need to worry about one more thing.


What does it mean then, this light?


It could mean a number of things. Your car’s gas cap might be loose, or it might have blown a head gasket. It could have worn out spark plugs or faulty oxygen sensors, loose or cracked hoses or manifolds, a faulty fuel injector, or a bad mass airflow sensor. If the problem is a loose gas cap, the solution is simple: stop the car, tighten the gas cap with a few more clicks, and then check to see if the light is still on. If it has turned off, great! If not, you should drive over to your local garage and have them run a diagnostic test on your vehicle. Your engine may not be in danger of impending explosion, but a poorly functioning engine is also far less fuel efficient and emits more pollutants and fumes.

Another downside of ignoring a Check Engine light is that smaller problems like bad spark plugs are simple and cheap to fix, but can over time affect other more expensive parts. If you fail to replace those spark plugs or faulty oxygen sensors, your catalytic converter will eventually break down, and that’s a more expensive repair. Though it may seem a hassle, making the effort to get your car checked out is a smarter strategy in the long run and will never lead to stall out on the highway or a breakdown in the middle of nowhere (and an expensive towing bill).




So while the Check Engine light should not be enormously anxiety provoking, it is a sign that something is wrong, something that needs your attention. Veenstra’s would be more than happy to help you figure out – and fix – whatever that is and keep you driving safely to all of your destinations.