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Blog category: Driving

Why Is My Check Engine Light On? — Don't Ignore

5 min read

The lights on our dashboards are all useful, but none causes as much anguish as the check engine light. When it turns on, it’s often a harbinger of expensive repair work. Though it appears simple, the check engine light is actually quite sophisticated. It works like this: when something goes wrong in your vehicle, it works to repair itself in any way it can. When it can’t self-correct, the car turns on the warning indicator light to alert the driver that there’s a problem. It also stores a special code in its memory to highlight a problem more specifically. This code can be read by your mechanic using a diagnostic computer.

While the light is on, your car will try to compensate for the problem at hand. Because of this, you may not notice the vehicle running any different than usual. The reality is, though, that your fuel economy will likely suffer and your vehicle’s emissions increase if the issue triggering the light goes unchecked. In some cars, a flashing check engine light can indicate a serious problem that needs immediate attention. Regardless of whether the light is flashing, ignoring the check engine light is never a good idea.

Why Is My Check Engine Light On?

The warning lights on your dashboard are tell you that something needs your attention. The first thing you need to do is find out if it’s the check engine light or a maintenance or service light. A maintenance or service light simply means that it’s time for routine work, such as an oil change or tire rotation. Maintenance or service lights can look slightly different on every vehicle. The best place to find out which light is on and what it means is to consult your owner’s manual. It will show you a picture of your check engine light and other dashboard symbols.

Is the Check Engine Light Serious?

The next thing you may be wondering is if the check engine light is serious. Many cars have several flash sequences that can give you a clue as to what is wrong. Several common problems can trigger a check engine light. The first is… you guessed it, an issue with the engine. When the control module detects a problem with the engine, it will turn on the check engine light. However, transmission lights and emissions equipment problems can also trigger a check engine light. Another potential problem source is with the modules and sensors that control the powertrain. Issues with the air filter, or fuel delivery and ignition systems, can all trigger the light.

For example, a faulty oxygen sensor means that your engine can’t perform as well as it normally does. When your engine fails to get enough oxygen, it runs “rich,” since there’s fuel leftover process. This could cause long-term damage to your engine, which is why your check engine light turns on when the oxygen sensor is not working properly.

Another common check engine light problem is the vehicle’s spark plugs and wires. Worn out plugs will hinder the process of combustion, making misfires more likely. A misfire when you’re trying to accelerate on the highway could make for a deadly malfunction, so don’t wait until the spark plugs and wires are completely worn out to replace them.

All the problems that could trigger a check engine light are serious. If the check engine light comes on, it’s one dashboard light you should not ignore. Whether for a week, a month, or a year, if you ignore the check engine light, it puts your vehicle, and by extension, your personal safety at risk. Because your vehicle cannot alert you to new or worsening problems, small problems can quickly morph into large ones. Since the light is already on, there’s no way for your car to tell you about other problems that might crop up, either.

What To Do When the Check Engine Light Comes On

There’s no need to immediately pull over and assume the sky is falling when your check engine light comes on. Instead, make a point to see a mechanic as soon as is reasonably possible. Before you visit a garage, though, you may want to double check your gas cap. One of the most common reasons for the check engine light to come on is because of a loose or faulty gas cap. If it is indeed causing the problem, it’s a relatively cheap and easy fix that most drivers are capable of handling themselves.

Start by taking your gas cap off completely and placing it back on as you normally would. Take your car for a test drive to see if the light turns off. It may take several miles or several restarts of the car for the light to flicker off. If the light still does not budge, consider investing in a new gas cap. Purchase one made specifically for your car model and replace your old cap. If your light still does not turn off, bring your vehicle into a garage for a full diagnostic.

Your car is likely one of your bigger investments, so it makes sense to maintain it regularly. By taking the check engine light seriously, you can keep repair costs to a minimum. Staying proactive means you’ll avoid accidents, breakdowns, and over-the-top bills from your local mechanic.

Wawanesa Insurance wants you to stay safe, so we recommend taking care of a check engine light as soon as it comes on. Contact us for any of your car insurance needs or questions about coverage. While mechanical breakdowns and failures are not eligible for insurance coverage (unless they’re caused by a covered incident), Wawanesa can help with all kinds of other auto disasters. Prepare for what may lie ahead with a free quote for auto insurance. In fact, you can get one right now on our website. It’s quick, easy and less stressful than any check engine light, we promise!

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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