Winning the Check Engine Light Fight

It's morning. You're running a little late for work and you finally make it to your car. You back out, turn down the road and think you just may get there on time. As you glance down to check your speed—there it is. It snuck up on you. Never saw this coming. Those tiny amber words don't feel so tiny—more like a ton of bricks. And even though we don't have trouble reacting to the short phrase, do we really understand exactly what "Check Engine" means?

Just because your check engine light is lit, doesn't mean your car is broken—or that you're going to have to shell out a fortune to fix it. It's simply an indicaton that something may not be functioning properly. The light is triggered by one of a number of sensors throughout your car. Don't look at the light as a bearer of bad news (don't shoot the messenger), view it as a way of knowing that something is wrong before it becomes a noticeable problem. In fact, it can help you prevent further damage and avoid higher-priced repairs. Here are some helpful pointers if your check engine light lights up.

Don't Panic
The check engine light fight may seem overwhelming at first, but oftentimes righting the problem doesn't require a costly repair. It may be something minor, such as a loose gas cap or low engine oil. In some models, there's a "Check Engine" light and a "Service Engine Soon" light—the first meaning something isn't functioning properly, and the second simply letting you know it's time for service (i.e., an oil change). Our next tip goes into more detail on how to deal with your car specifically.

Every Case Is Different
Meaning, the check engine light in your 2008 Ford Mustang most likely functions differently from your 2000 Honda Civic. Different vehicles are equipped with different systems. If you are attempting to diagnose the problem yourself, always be sure to consult your owner's manual first.

Seeing Your Specialist
If it's still lit after reading your manual and troubleshooting the problem, it's time to visit your mechanic. Mechanics have equipment that can diagnose the problem electronically and pinpoint which sensor is triggering the light.

5 Most Common Diagnoses
According to CarMD, the five most common check engine causes are:

  1. O2 Sensor — Monitors air-fuel mixture.
  2. Loose Gas Cap — A pretty easy fix!
  3. Catalytic Converter - Plays a key role in reducing emission toxicity.
  4. Mass Air Flow Sensor — Monitors air mixed in fuel injection.
  5. Spark Plug Wiring — You may have a wire that needs reconnecting.

Is your service engine light on? Seeing a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop will help you get the service you need—and in most cases, you'll receive a AAA member discount. Click here to find an AAR shop near you.

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