Your car’s check engine light is its only way of communicating with you. The method of communication is simple; the problem behind the light could be a lot more complicated. As part of your vehicle’s onboard diagnostics system or OBD, the check engine light indicates that something in your car isn’t working as it should. Ideally, you’d immediately take the vehicle to a mechanic to get it checked out, but if you’re like most drivers, you ignore the light, at least at first.
That’s a bad idea. Though some problems indicated by the check engine light may be minor, they’re often quite serious. Failing to have the problem checked out in a timely manner can lead to expensive repair bills or irreparable damage. Even if your vehicle appears to be running normally, the fuel injection, ignition or emission controls could be malfunctioning. While it might seem safe to drive with the check engine light on, it’s more dangerous than you’d think. Keep reading to learn more about your car’s check engine light and why ignoring it could be bad for your wallet and your personal safety.
Let There be Light
The lights on our dashboards are all useful, but none causes as much anguish as the check engine light. When it ticks 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 more specifically highlight a problem. 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 likely suffers and your vehicle’s emissions can climb sky high 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.
Ignorance Isn’t Bliss: Common Check Engine Light Problems
Whether for a week, a month, or a year, if you ignore the check engine light it puts your vehicle, and by extension, your own 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.
Your check engine light could indicate a whole host of problems. A faulty oxygen sensor, for example, 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 is fuel leftover from the combustion process. This could cause long-term damage to your engine, which is why your check engine light turns on when the oxygen sensor is working improperly.
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.
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 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 at the mechanic.
Of course, should you ever need to file an insurance claim, Wawanesa is here to help. While mechanical breakdowns and failures are eligible for insurance coverage, 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!