Everything You Need to Know about the Check Engine Light
Is your Check Engine Light on? Don’t panic. Although you’re in no imminent danger, it is a signal that requires swift action.
How a Check Engine Light Works
Your car has an on-board diagnostics (OBD) system. Computers control and monitor many aspects of the vehicle’s functions. The OBD system regulates engine speed (RPM), ignition timing and fuel mixture, and sometimes signals for the automatic transmission to shift. When there’s a problem that the OBD system cannot correct that could affect emissions, the computer signals for the check engine light to turn on. In some cars, this indication appears as “check powertrain” or “service engine soon,” or it may display as a picture of an engine (also known as the International Check Engine Symbol). The computer remembers this occurrence as a “trouble code” that it stores in its memory. The code can be interpreted using a diagnostic computer or an electronic scan tool. This equipment is standard in auto repair shops, such as Levin Tire and Service Center.
Common Reasons a Check Light Engine Appears
- It’s time to get a new oxygen sensor. Your vehicle's O2 sensor keeps track of the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust. It sends a message to the computer if there’s too much or not enough fuel. It’s the number one most common reason that causes the check engine light indicator to turn on, and can result in as much as 40% reduction in gas mileage if you choose to ignore the problem.
- You need to fix the issue of a loose, damaged, or missing gas cap. If left unchecked, you could experience a 0.5% decrease in your gas mileage. It only costs a few dollars to replace and is free to tighten.
- Your catalytic converter needs to be replaced. The Check Engine light will come on only when a related part (for instance, a faulty spark plug) is ignored for too long. Replacing a damaged catalytic converter is costly, so it’s important to address any small problems early. Otherwise, you could end up spending lots of money for more serious repairs, like this one.
- The Mass Air Flow (MAF) Sensor is too old. The MAF is responsible for calculating the air that comes into your car and determining how much fuel to send into the engine. It’s very important to your vehicle's overall functioning. If it’s not working properly, the MAF can reduce your miles per gallon by 10-25%.
- You need to change your spark plugs. Spark plugs ignite your car's air/fuel ration, making them highly essential. Faulty spark plugs are the most common reason behind an engine misfire. They can reduce gas mileage and, if left ignored, will melt your catalytic converter.
What to do when you see the Check Engine Light
If your Check Engine Light comes on, be sure to have a diagnostic done as soon as possible. While it might be something very small, not addressing any problem immediately can lead to bigger and costlier repairs. You can stop in to any Levin Tire location and we’ll be happy to conduct a computerized engine analysis to determine the problem. Four of our locations are Emissions Certified so we can also perform emissions repairs on vehicles that fail the emissions test. The right diagnostic tools paired with quality experience allow us to find and fix the problem and get you back on the road quickly.