Check Engine Light

Ignore This and Perhaps It Will Cost Thousands...

 When your car's "Check Engine" light comes on, it's usually accompanied by a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The light could mean a costly problem, like a bad catalytic converter, or it could be something minor, like a loose gas cap.

Check Engine Light

Have you experienced that stressful moment when the Check Engine light on the vehicle’s dashboard comes on? In many cases, it means that something serious is wrong and that you should take your vehicle to your Pawlik Automotive centre right away so a certified technician can identify and fix the problem. Getting your vehicle checked by a professional as soon as possible is often the right call, although in some less urgent cases, parts can be ordered and replaced in the next few days.

Late model vehicles are equipped with an on-board computer that manages all components, mostly notably the power train—from the fuel supply to exhaust gases—but also peripheral systems like the brakes, electric system, air conditioning, and even tire pressure, through a network of sensors linked to the computer.

When the main computer detects a problem, a light on the dashboard turns on to notify the driver. Red lights indicate issues that require immediate attention. Your certified Pawlik Automotive technician will use a scan tool to get the diagnostic trouble code(s) of a defective part or component. Your vehicle’s owner manual will contain information on the various dashboard Check Engine lights and what they mean.

Mark: So, I guess the check engine light is kind of that yellow thing that’s on my dash that I really don’t know what the heck it’s all about; we’re going to talk about some of the myths and what that lamp really means. What happens when that thing stays lit on my dashboard all the time, or in my car, it seems to go on and off with regularity. What does it mean?

Bernie: Well, first of all you asked about what happens and sometimes you’ll notice the engine runs roughly or poorly, your gas mileage is compromised, but a lot of times you don’t notice anything - the car will run perfectly well and there’s this light that’s telling you to do something. What it means - the light comes on basically to warn you. The engine computer or power train computer picks up a defect somewhere in the engine, like there’s a sensor that’s not operating properly, it’s not giving the right readings or something is not right that the computer’s expecting to see so it turns that light on when things become reading beyond a certain point.

Mark: So, do I need to worry about it?

Bernie: Well, the answer is yes and no, first of all you should find out why the light is on. The light can come on for literally a hundred different reasons. There are at least thirty sensors that can give an erroneous reading to the computer, something could be wrong, it could be as simple as your gas cap could be loose - that’s the simple end of things to your engine’s misfiring - in that case - that’s when the check engine light is really important. If you check engine light is blinking you need to urgently have it repaired because what that indicates is the vehicle is having a catalyst damaging misfire. The catalytic converter can be damaged by the way the engines running and you’ll usually notice at that time that the engine will be running rough, it’ll be shaking, it won’t have enough power, so a blinking check engine light, get it fixed right away or you’ll spend literally thousands more dollars if you don’t. Otherwise, it needs to be looked at but it’s not as urgent.

Mark: Ok, I’ve heard it said that let’s cut right to the meat of the matter here, there’s people saying that the check engine light doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just a way for you crooked mechanics to sell a whole bunch of unneeded repairs - how true is that?

Bernie: Well, I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. There’s a lot of cynicism out there and it’s mostly based on ignorance in people who don’t really understand why it’s there and what it does. The check engine light is operated by the power train computer and it’’ pick up a defect so whether that defect is big or not - if the computer thinks it is or the car manufacturer says this is a defect - either an emissions related defect or a performance defect, it’ll cause the check engine light to come one. I mentioned earlier that the gas cap, I mean that’s a simple example. If you leave your gas cap off, for instance, and you drive your car the check engine light will come on. Of course the car is not going to run any different, there’s no urgency to repair it… what’s happening and the reason why that light comes on is because the manufacturer doesn’t want gas fumes from your gas tank escaping into the environment - that creates air pollution and it’s very toxic to the environment. It doesn’t seem like it, but it is. So the gas cap sealing is important. Now is it important to fix the car, it’s up to you - it’s your car, your choice. The only area where you’re forced to fix it is if you live in an area where there’s emission testing and at that point you have to fix the check engine light at certain intervals.

Mark: So, I guess it can be caused by just about anything from it needs a new spark plug to whatever, so what does it cost to repair my car when that light comes on?

Bernie: That’s a good question. It really varies, in the low end of things around the $50 range to do a scan and we find something extremely simple; we’ve had cars that have cost several thousand dollars where the catalytic converters are damaged and that causes the light to come on. So that’s kind of the range. It can also come on if the engines got a serious defect. The range is huge and the most important thing is to just have it checked out first off and see what’s going on and how urgent it is.

If you don’t consult a professional when the Check Engine light comes on, you could end up with serious damage or even compromise your vehicle’s safety.