The average driver knows very little about the purpose of the check engine light. In fact, many have become so accustomed to ignoring this little light that they hardly ever notice when it is on. Others choose to ignore it because they know it indicates that there is bad news. While it is true that each mechanic has their unique way of keeping our cars in shape, they all agree that ignoring the check engine light is a grave mistake. That is why it is imperative that you take the time to understand what it indicates and how you should respond if it appears on your dashboard.
The correct name for the check engine light is malfunction indicator lamp (MIL). That dreaded yellow light is one of the most critical features of your car’s onboard diagnostics system. Vehicles today are equipped with specialized computers which monitor and control a number of their functions. These include the speed of the car, shifting the automatic transmission, and even the engine rpm. The check engine light is triggered when the computer detects an error that it cannot correct.
When the MIL is activated, the car’s monitoring system tries to detect the cause of the problem. It automatically records all the possible error codes linked to the problem it has identified. This monitoring system initially did very little. In years gone by, they were designed merely to check whether the vehicle had sufficient fuel, was able to generate sufficient power, and whether the electronic sensors had malfunctioned.
Modern monitoring systems now access fuel mixture, ignition, emissions, and even the temperature of the coolant. The check engine light’s primary purpose is to notify the driver of issues which affect the vehicle’s emissions and help mechanics repair your vehicle by recording possible causes for these issues. By now, you should be thoroughly convinced that the check engine light is not one to be ignored. But, what should you do when your check engine light comes on?
Blinking vs. Steady Lights
If you have seen these lights before, you would have noticed that at times the check engine light appears steady. On other occasions, the light might flash continuously. A steady check engine light indicates that the problem is not a dangerous emergency that needs to be addressed immediately. A flashing light, on the other hand, means that your car is in serious trouble, and you need to find a qualified service technician right away. Sadly, this is also a clear indication that expensive repairs are required.
How to React While Driving
It can be quite unnerving for the check engine light to suddenly appear on your dashboard while you are driving. Above all else, remember to remain calm. Allowing yourself to panic can quickly escalate the situation and make it far more dangerous than it has to be. The next step is to check for problems that need immediate attention. This includes ensuring that your gas tank is closed securely.
If your check engine light suddenly starts blinking, you may also notice a significant decrease in your vehicle’s performance. Your car might abruptly begin losing momentum, or you may start experiencing jerks as the vehicle drives. Both occurrences could lead to an accident and are thus very dangerous. The best thing to do is to stop the car as quickly as possible without slamming down on the brakes. Slamming down on your brakes too quickly could cause the vehicle to flip over, or you could lose control of the car.
The final step is getting the vehicle to a trained mechanic. Choosing a mechanic that may be cheaper but has little experience is one of the worst mistakes you can ever make. It would be wise to read customer reviews before even driving to the repair shop. Do not be afraid to ask how much the repairs cost even before the mechanic gets started and periodically enquire if they are still within this budget as they progress. The mechanic reads the car’s monitoring system and uses it as a guide to conduct the necessary repairs.
How to Avoid Your Check Engine Light
Routinely maintaining your vehicle is one of the easiest ways to avoid having to deal with the responsibilities of an illuminated check engine light. Be sure to examine the vehicle’s battery and the cables attached since these directly affect the battery’s ability to retain a charge. Over time, corrosion might take place, or the wires may have shifted out of place. You should also ensure that the technician examines the type of battery that is installed. The battery might not meet the cranking amperage requirement. The alternator should also be examined to ensure that there are no visible signs of wear and tear.
Another reason for the check engine light to turn on is a broken oxygen sensor. If the oxygen sensor is damaged this results in a significant increase in emissions and the fuel not be burned efficiently. The oxygen sensor can easily become faulty as it comes into contact with oil and ash, which is why they are routinely examined when your vehicle is being serviced. Worn out spark plugs also trigger your check engine light. If your car was made after 1996, your spark plus would last for up 100,000 miles. Thankfully, these are pretty cheap to replace.
The check engine light also turns on if the mass air filter of your car becomes damaged. This is responsible for helping the car’s monitoring system determine how much fuel is needed to power the vehicle based on the amount of oxygen passing through the engine. Replacing your air filter annually is one of the best ways to keep your mass air filter in tip-top shape. Replacing your air filter costs less than $100, but replacing the mass air filter can cost up to $400.
It should be evident that your check engine light is a serious matter. You can never be sure which aspect of your car is being affected or is damaged when it is illuminated. The most important thing to do is have it examined by a professional. It should also be evident that routinely servicing your vehicle ensures that you are less likely to see your check engine light any time soon.