What Does the Check Engine Light Mean and What Should I Do About It?

April 30th, 2020 by


You’re driving along in your car, and everything seems fine until you suddenly see a light pop up on your dash. Oh no, it’s the check engine light.

At this point, you’re probably wondering, “what does the check engine light mean?”

This question is one that many people have when this notification pops up, but what is the answer to this question?

One thing is for sure; there is a reason the light is on. The reason for it coming on can vary, though. It may be on to indicate a minor problem with your engine, or it could be there to signify a major problem.

If you’re trying to determine what this could mean, here are some of the potential causes of the check engine light coming on.


Why the Light Is There

Before we discuss the issues that would trigger the check engine light to come on, let’s talk about why your car has this light.

Years ago, people called this light a malfunction indicator lamp, and it was not something that all vehicles came equipped with.

Since 1996, though, all cars come with some type of warning light indicator system that is there to alert drivers of engine problems.

When the indicator detects any issue with the engine – big or small – it triggers the light to illuminate. The purpose is to inform car owners of a problem right away. Car owners can then get their vehicles checked quickly to address the issues.

This light is one common indication that your car needs repairs. If you see it lit, it probably won’t go off on its own. You’ll need to have it checked and the problem repaired.


What Does This Light Mean?

Now, to answer your burning question — what does this light mean? Here are some of the most common reasons a check engine light comes on.


Bad Oxygen Sensor

Your vehicle has an oxygen sensor to control the amount of fuel your car uses. This sensor monitors the mixture of oxygen in the fuel.

If it is working properly, it helps you get better gas mileage. If it is bad, it may cause the engine to burn more fuel than necessary.

A bad oxygen sensor is a common cause of the check engine light coming on, and it is not an overly expensive part to fix.


Loose Gas Cap

You might be surprised to find out that a loose gas cap can trigger the check engine light to turn on, but this is true.

If your gas cap is not on correctly, your check engine light might tell you. Fixing this is simple in most cases, as it requires removing the cap and placing it back on securely and accurately.


Worn-Out Fuel Injector

Most cars today have fuel injectors, and your car will let you know if yours are bad.

A fuel injector also controls the amount of gas a car uses. The purpose of this part is to spray gas into the engine as needed. If these parts malfunction, your car may use more gas than it should.


Faulty Thermostat

There’s also a chance that the light is on due to a defective thermostat. The thermostat is a part inside your engine compartment that controls the flow of coolant.

When your engine is cold, there is no coolant flowing through it, as it doesn’t need any. When the engine warms up, it needs a way to cool down. The way it cools down is with the use of coolant.

Your thermostat tells the radiator when to disburse the coolant through the system. When this part is not working correctly, it could present the risk of your engine overheating. If it overheats, you’ll end up with more problems to address.


Bad Catalytic Converter

If the light is on due to a bad catalytic converter, you should expect expensive repairs. A catalytic converter is a vital component in your vehicle. Its purpose is to control the emissions from your car’s exhaust.

If this part is not working correctly, you might have trouble passing an emissions test. You might also use more gas in your car than necessary.


Worn-Out Spark Plugs

One other thing that can cause the light to turn on is worn-out spark plugs. The spark plugs in your vehicle are part of the electrical system. They also control the mixture of oxygen with the gas, and they are there to make your car run.


There Are Many Other Causes

In addition to these issues, a check engine light can illuminate for many other reasons. To find out why your light is on, you’ll need to visit an auto repair shop.


How Auto Repair Shops Identify the Problem

Understanding the common causes of the check engine light coming on is vital, but you might be wondering how auto repair shops identify the cause of the issue.

Mechanics use a tool for this purpose, and it’s called a code reader. A mechanic attaches the code reader to a port in your vehicle. The reader scans the computer and presents a reading. The reading tells the mechanic a code.

From there, the mechanic looks up the code. The code tells him or her what the problem is. The mechanic then knows what to check within the engine compartment.


“What Does the Check Engine Light Mean?” How to Get More Information

When your vehicle’s light comes on, you’ll probably instantly wonder, “what does the check engine light mean?” Now, you have at least a few potential answers, though.

If your car’s light is currently lit, you should schedule a time for it to get serviced. If you get the vehicle checked quickly, you may be able to save yourself some money on repairs.

To learn more about check engine lights, or to schedule an appointment, visit our website today.

Posted in Engine Light