The “Check Engine” light on your dashboard is probably one of the most misunderstood warning lights in your car. Although the warning light may look ominous, it may be as simple as a loose gas cap or it could be as serious as a misfiring engine. If you are driving down the road and the light pops on, it does not mean you need to pull over and call a tow truck immediately, but it does mean you need to get the car checked as soon as possible. You do not want to ignore a check engine light, or you could face major repairs down the road.

What Is the Check Engine Light?

Since the 1980s, cars have more vehicle performance monitors that are part of thet onboard diagnostics system (OBD). The OBD regulates things like engine speed, ignition timing and fuel mixture. It may even tell your engine when to shift if your car is an automatic. When a problem occurs that cannot be corrected by the electronic controls system, a warning light is illuminated letting you know that you need to “check your engine.” The light may be the outline of a car engine, which is the International Check Engine Symbol, with the word “check.” When the light is illuminated, the engine stores a code that identifies the problem. Auto shops use a diagnostic computer to read the code and learn what the problem may be.

Emissions Systems

The OBD in cars manufactured after 1996 are also built-in emissions test systems. It constantly monitors and adjusts things like your exhaust system, your fuel system and other features that are related to your cars emissions. That’s why a check engine light could simply mean that your gas cap is loose as the computer thinks that your car is allowing gasoline vapors to escape into the atmosphere. Some states now check for stored trouble codes rather than using the tailpipe emissions testing system.

What to Do When the Check Engine Light Comes On

If your check engine light comes on, it may blink, or it may be a constant warning light on the dash. In some cars, a blinking light, or a check engine light that glows red instead of yellow, means the problem is serious and you should have it checked immediately. There are some models where a blinking light means a serious engine misfire. Check your owner’s manual and, if this is the case, reduce power and take the car to a mechanic as soon as possible. Look for other lights on the dash that may indicate a problem such as oil pressure or temperature. These lights indicate that you should pull over and turn the car off as soon as possible. Remove your gas cap and replace it tightly to see if the light goes out. Auto parts stores sell scan tools for around $40 so you can diagnose the problem yourself.

It is possible that your check engine light means a minor problem with your car. In some cars, the check engine light comes on when maintenance is necessary, like an oil change. If your check engine light is on, schedule an appointment today by filling out the easy form online so we can address your problem and get you back on the road.