What To Do If The Check Engine Light Goes On


As technology evolves it is applied to the modern-day cars we drive. Vehicles and light trucks employ onboard computer systems that monitor and control more and more functions, ranging from emission control-related systems to transmission systems. It would be pointless to delve into the belly of the beast with every system, but the following is what you really need to know.

If your check engine light (or MIL – malfunction indicator light) comes on and stays on, it is an indication that a sensor (for example, an emissions system sensor) has been triggered. Starting in 1996, all cars and light trucks sold in the USA were upgraded from OBD-I (onboard diagnostic generation one) to OBD-II (generation two). OBD-II can detect the deterioration of emission controls or powertrain components by running several test functions. These tests will detect, for instance, higher than normal exhaust emission levels and will trigger your check engine light, or MIL, to stay on.

Check Engine Light What To Do If The Check Engine Light Goes On

If this light comes on, don’t panic. It will need to be addressed but it does not require immediate attention, unlike an oil pressure, overheating, or alternator light, which does.

Take your vehicle to a shop that specializes in auto diagnostics. If the light starts flashing on and off, severe catalytic converter damage and power loss will occur soon. More immediate service is required. With the right equipment and personnel, your vehicle can be diagnosed and repaired properly, and not simply by the process of elimination. (Extended driving with the check engine light on could damage the catalytic converter.)

If the technician finds a DTC (diagnostic trouble code), ask him to guarantee that he can repair the problem, clear the code and the light on your dashboard, and stand behind the repair.

Sophisticated computer systems can be troublesome when they go on the blink, but the point of such systems is to keep your engine working at its optimum efficiency with minimal harmful emissions. The illuminated MIL is simply letting you know that something is not right. A technician’s job is to pinpoint the problem using a scanner and his training and to correct it.

Sometimes even as simple a thing as not tightening the gas cap after refueling or running the engine while refueling can trigger the check engine light. Disconnecting your battery for a brief period will sometimes clear the light, but be prepared to repro-gram your clock and radio. Some anti-theft radios need to be programmed with a code number, so make sure you have this number beforehand.

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