Education & Safety

What to Do If Your Check Engine Light Comes On


Warning – engine trouble ahead!


Few things can put a damper on your day like seeing the check engine light illuminated on your dashboard display. You wonder what is going on with your vehicle and how serious it may be.

Before you go into full-fledged panic mode, take a deep breath and try to relax. There are many reasons why your check engine light can come on – some are minor like a loose gas cap, while others are signs of serious engine issues.

While it is tempting to ignore your check engine light, resist the urge – it could cost you down the road. What is an easy issue to fix today could become an expensive repair if you neglect the warning signs. Read on to learn what steps you should take if your check engine light comes on.

Should I keep driving my car?


If your car seems to be running like it usually does with no strange noises or smoke coming from the engine, you are probably safe to continue on your journey. Be sure to monitor your vehicle’s performance in the coming days. If you begin to experience engine issues like poor performance or decreased gas mileage, get your car examined by your mechanic.

If you hear unusual noises, experience a loss of power or see smoke coming from your engine, these are all signs that there could be a serious problem with your vehicle’s engine. If possible, have your vehicle towed to your mechanic for a thorough inspection. You don’t want to risk doing further damage to your engine by continuing to drive.

Troubleshooting check engine light

If your check engine light comes on, there are some things you can do that may fix the issue. If your vehicle has a gas cap, start by making sure if it is on tight. You may be surprised to learn that a loose gas cap can cause your check engine light to come on.

Also make sure the oil dipstick is properly seated and that the oil fill cap (located on top of engine on the valve cover) is on tight. Both of these things can set off the check engine light. Be sure to check all of these before taking your vehicle to the shop or dealership for service.

The light is still on – what should I do?


At this point, it is time to get an appointment with your mechanic. In some cases, an illuminated check engine light is an indicator of more severe problems. There is potentially something serious going on with your vehicle’s engine and you don’t want to wait to get it checked out.

What does the check engine light mean?

There are a variety of things that can trigger your check engine light. Here are some of the more common engine issues:


Oxygen sensor – The oxygen sensor monitors the oxygen level in the exhaust as it leaves the engine and helps maintain an optimal air/fuel mix. A failing sensor can affect your gas mileage.


Catalytic converter – The catalytic converter keeps your car environmentally-friendly by changing carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Driving with a failing catalytic converter can cause your car to produce harmful emissions.


Spark plugs or plug wires – The spark plugs and plug wires play a key role in the combustion process. Failing spark plugs or wires can cause you to experience a loss of power, engine misfires and poor gas mileage.


Thermostat – Your thermostat helps regulate your car’s temperature. If it malfunctions, your car may overheat which can cause further damage to your engine.


Mass air flow sensor – The mass air flow sensor measures the amount of air coming into the engine. Your car’s computer uses the information to inject the correct amount of gas into each cylinder. Failing to get it fixed can result in rough idling and poor fuel efficiency.

What will my mechanic do?

Your mechanic will start by plugging a code reader or scanner into your vehicle’s OBD-II port. The scanner tool gathers diagnostic information from your vehicle and gives a numerical code or multiple codes that can help your mechanic diagnose your vehicle’s issue.

Armed with this important information, your mechanic can make the proper fixes and get you back on the road.

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The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.

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