Maintenance 101: Check Engine Light

How many times has this happened to you?  You are driving to work and the check engine light comes on.  You make a mental note to take it to get it checked out at lunch, but you get stuck in a meeting and miss lunch.  As the day wears on, your mental note gets lost amidst all the other information bouncing about in your mind.  You completely forget until you get in the car to leave, but it’s late in the evening and the shop is already closed.  You remind yourself to add it to your to do list when you get home and put it out of your mind.  When you get home, there are 20 other things to do and without the constant visual reminder, the check engine light problem fades from your memory...

Now, if it was the oil light, you probably would have taken care of it right away.  But because the Check Engine light is so ambiguous, because it can mean so many different things, it is easier to put off, even though it can have consequences that are just as serious as running an engine without oil.  We aren’t always sure what it means or how quickly we need to act which makes it easy to treat as optional when in reality it is anything but.  Here are some tips that will help you decide what to do when the light comes on. 

When the Light Comes On…
Don’t assume that it isn’t a big deal.  It might be as simple as a bad tank of gas, but since it can also be as serious as eminent engine failure, you have to go with the worst case scenario.  Being cautious and then finding out it’s just a bad tank of gas doesn’t cost anything.  Not being cautious and ruining your engine can cost more than your car is worth.  Don’t take a chance; if the light comes on and stays on, take it to your repair shop.

Pay Attention To…
You will need to make note of what is happening when the light comes on.  Did you just start the car?  Have you been driving for awhile? Were you slowing down or speeding up?  Did it come on after the transmission shifted to another gear?  It you can provide the auto repair technician with an idea of what is happening with the car when the light comes on, it will make it easier for him to identify the problem and the appropriate repair.

Then You Need To…
Call your repair shop and get an appointment to bring it in as soon as possible.  The best way to determine the severity of the problem is to have a professional check the car and determine the source of the problem.

The most important thing to remember about the Check Engine Light is that it is not an emergency and you don’t need to pull over immediately and call a tow truck. It doesn’t indicate a problem that can pose a safety risk for you or your passengers. It does however need to be taken seriously and handled as quickly as possible.


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