Is Your Car's Check Engine Light On? Here's What To Do

Decades ago, when the check engine light came on in a car, it meant there was a problem that needed immediate attention. Since cars became computerized, the light comes on any time the computer detects even the slightest malfunction. When the light comes on, you don't know if it's for something simple or something more serious. Since you don't know what's wrong, it isn't a good idea to ignore the light. Here are some suggestions on what to do when the check engine light comes on.

Note If The Light Is Flashing

When the check engine light comes on, it will either be a steady light or the light will flash. A flashing light indicates a serious problem that needs to be looked at right away. While you don't want to drive for a long time with a steady light shining, it usually doesn't indicate an immediate emergency. This allows you time to get to a mechanic at your convenience. However, if you wait too long, the trouble with your car may get worse and cause more damage, which would cause the light to start flashing.

Check The Gas Cap

One of the most common and annoying causes of the check engine light coming on is a loose gas cap. If the light comes on when you start your car after filling up at the pump, hop out and take off the gas cap and twist it back on tightly. This might fix the problem right away and save you from needless worry and the hassle of taking your car to a mechanic. If you tighten the gas cap and the light remains on, then the computer is picking up a different problem.

Use A DIY Device

If you're mechanically inclined, you can find out what's wrong with the car by using a code reading device. Modern cars use standardized codes and adapters, which makes it possible to translate the codes yourself. All you do is hook the reader to the port located under the dash. The device gives you a code that stands for a problem with the car. You'll need to look online or consult a reference book to find out what the code means. If you invest in a top-of-the-line device, the reader will also translate the code for you. However, since your check engine light shouldn't come on very often, it may not be worth the expense to buy your own reader. Plus, you may not understand what the problem indicates. If you don't know much about cars and don't know how to make repairs yourself, having your own code reader isn't much help other than to verify the information you get from a mechanic.

Take Your Car To The Shop

The best solution is to take your car to a shop to have the code read and analyzed. The cost for this service varies, but the expense is worth it for the peace of mind you're not causing damage to your car by continuing to drive it with the light on. You can stop at a garage when you're on the road to have the problem diagnosed to see if it's safe to finish driving your car on a trip. Once you know the problem, you can schedule the repairs when it's convenient as long as your car is safe to drive.

Don't assume you'll face expensive repairs when the check engine light comes on. The problem could be minor and easy to fix. No matter why it comes on, you want to know the cause so you stay safe while you're on the road.