Check Engine Light:
Why does it come on, what to do, and what happens if you ignore it?
You’re driving to work, taking the kids to a ballgame, or running a routine errand… and then you see it – the Check Engine Light turns on. Ugh. For many people, the sight of a Check Engine Light triggers visions of a costly repair bill and a sense of worry, since most folks don’t really know what it means.
The Check Engine Light turns on when your vehicle’s computer (which monitors your vehicle’s performance) finds a problem in the electronic control system that it can’t correct. There are hundreds of sensors in your car, any of which can send a signal to your car’s computer telling it that something isn’t quite right.
In your owner’s manual, there will be a section with recommendations on what to do if the Check Engine Light comes on for your car that will give you a better idea of what to expect.
A common question I hear is: how long can I wait to take my car in when that Check Engine light comes on?
My standard answer is:
If there are no drivability problems then you can keep driving and bring it to your automotive service provider to get the computer scanned in the next couple of days.
But, if the check engine light starts flashing or your vehicle is having drivability problems (stalling, hard to start, slow to accelerate, black smoke coming out the back, etc.) you should immediately pull off the road, turn off the engine & have the vehicle towed in for repairs.
If you continue driving when the light is flashing or the vehicle is having drivability issues, you can do catastrophic damage which could require an expensive repair. The longer you drive, the more expensive it becomes.
If you do have your vehicle towed, be sure to take it to your dealer if you’re under warranty. Engine work done by a shop other than your dealer can void your warranty.
In short, don’t panic if the Check Engine Light comes on. The Check Engine Light is really your friend. The car’s computer is working hard monitoring your car’s engine and making adjustments so you can jump in your car and rush off to where ever you need to be without a thought to your car’s performance. So, if that light comes on to tell you there is a problem, don’t ignore it.