What Does the "Check Engine" Light Mean, Anyways?

April 29, 2015
We’ve all had those moments when driving to a meeting and all of a sudden the check engine light comes on. How do you know if it’s not a big deal and to go along to your meeting or cancel it and take it to get fixed? Below are the five most common reasons for the check engine light to come on, and what happens if you don’t do something about it.   1. Your Gas Cap is Loose, Damaged, Or Missing The check engine light could be showing up simply because the pressure in the fuel tank has changed because your gas cap isn’t on all the way, or you left it at the gas station. The worst thing that will happen is that the fuel will evaporate and you’ll have to fill up more often. I would always check this first before having a panic attack and canceling your meeting. 2.Your Oxygen (O2) Sensor Needs to be Replaced This sensor measures the amount of unburned oxygen in your car’s exhaust system. If you don’t replace it right away, your fuel economy will go down since your car is burning more fuel than is needed. You do want to get it fixed before too long because faulty sensors can damage your spark plugs and your catalytic converter. 3. Your Catalytic Converter Needs to be Replaced This is probably not the case in newer vehicles, or vehicles you’re the first owner of, because it usually occurs in older vehicles or when you haven’t properly maintained your vehicle. The catalytic converter converts carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, so it’s protecting you and the environment. If you don’t replace it, you won’t pass emissions, your MPG will go down, and your car may run at a higher temperature and put other parts of the engine at risk. If this puppy goes out, the sooner you replace it, the better. 4. Your Mass Airflow Sensor Needs to be Replaced This sensor measures the amount of air entering the engine to determine how much fuel is needed for your engine to run efficiently. Without replacing it, obviously your fuel efficiency will go down, but it also can cause damage to spark plugs and the other parts mentioned so far, so it’s definitely a good idea to get it checked out as soon as you can. 4. Your Spark Plugs or Plug Wires Need to be Replaced Your spark plugs ignite the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber of your vehicle, and the wires deliver the spark from the ignition coil to the spark plugs. If you don’t fix it, you’re going to miss some of the power and performance of your vehicle as well as lower fuel economy. And true to the pattern, ignoring this can cause damage to the catalytic converter, O2 sensors, and the ignition coils. If you check engine light pops on, you can always punch Autozone into your GPS and head over to the nearest location to get a code run on the check engine light. Overall, you want to try and avoid driving as much as possible until you are able to repair whatever it is that went out. So, if your meeting is only a few miles away and the mechanic is on your way home, you’re probably safe to go along to the meeting and take care of it afterward. But if you’re about to head on a cross-country road trip, you should probably postpone it until a mechanic gives you an okay!        

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