When you hear your dashboard ding and you see your engine light come on, what do you do? Do you panic and take it to the closest auto repair shop or do you drive around like that for as long as the car will still roll? The best response is somewhere in the middle: You need to check it out, but there’s not usually the need to overreact. Your engine light could mean a variety of different things, so having a mechanic run a diagnostic scan can let you know rather quickly what sort of repair you’re dealing with.
Here are some common reasons your engine light may come on and what they mean.
- Your gas cap might be missing or not closed properly. Every time you fill the gas tank, there’s a chance something could happen to your gas cap. Because this is such a likely culprit, it’s a good idea to check that out. The good news is that this is a pretty easy and inexpensive fix.
- The oxygen (O2) sensor could be malfunctioning. This is part of your exhaust system and it measures your unburned oxygen. When it’s working as it should, it prevents the engine from burning more fuel than necessary. Not replacing it can cause damage to other parts of the car like the catalytic converter and spark plugs.
- Speaking of your catalytic converter, this could also cause the engine light to come on. This part converts carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. When it’s operating properly, it helps the environment. When it’s not, it won’t pass an emissions test and your car will not function as it should causing you to see reduced fuel economy or over heat.
- Spark plugs or wires could be your trouble. These are responsible for igniting the fuel in the combustion chamber and delivering the spark from the ignition coil to the spark plugs. When your spark plugs or wires need to be replaced, the engine could misfire or damage the other parts mentioned above.
- If other lights come on at the same time as your engine light, pay attention. Your oil light could indicate low oil pressure or your car could be overheating. These are major problems and you should pull over immediately.
- Something else could be happening. It’s hard to know for sure what’s happening unless you have the car checked out professionally. If the light is blinking, that’s usually the sign of a more severe problem. A steady light would more likely indicate a non-emergency but something that still requires your attention.
The bottom line is that you never want to ignore your car’s warning lights. They are warning lights after all!
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