Why a Check Engine Light isn’t Always Serious

You just bought a nice used car and it looks good and runs great. You’re getting compliments on it left and right. Everything in the universe is right. And then suddenly…

The dreaded check engine light blinks on. And then goes away.

Phew. That was a close one.

The car still runs great so it was probably just a slight malfunction. Nothing to worry about, until…..

It blinks back on and this time it stays on.

But why?

You just bought it a few weeks ago and you guys had been hitting it off so well. Did you do something to upset it? What can you do to make up for it?

check engine light

Typical check engine light

The check engine light is one of the most annoying and confusing aspects of a car. The car doesn’t feel any different and nothing major has happened yet it stays on, glaring at you as you drive. The worst part is you can’t just turn it off and pretend it’s not there.

The most annoying part about it is that it doesn’t really tell you anything. Like a passive-aggressive girlfriend saying “I’m fine” when she clearly isn’t; The check engine light expects you to already know! It could be a number of different things, most of which are minor and fall under the basic maintenance category.

The problem is, as people we always assume the worst.

The good news is that when you’re check engine light comes on the world isn’t going to end. Here are the most common issues that cause the check engine light to come on. They’re all manageable and can be avoiding with basic maintenance. Remember, the warning signs to an angry girlfriend show themselves long before the “I’m fine” treatment. Same with the check engine light.

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Wires and spark plugs: You’ll know it’s the spark plugs if you feel a little jump in your car’s acceleration. Spark plugs seal the combustion chamber so the spark can jump across and initiate combustion in your engine. When the plugs are failing, they misfire. You’ll feel a little jolt in your car’s acceleration when this happens and of course the check engine light will pop on and laugh in your face. or maybe that’s a feature in newer cars only?

If you feel like it’s the plugs then get them replaced sooner rather than later. Your car will run much better and it’s cheap to do. It’s so easy you could probably do it yourself at a local AutoZone or other parts store. Newer spark plugs will last up to 100,000 miles but anything before 1996 should be changed every 25,000-30,000 miles.

girl angry over check engine light

Check-engine lights can be frustrating.

Catalytic Converter: Basically what this thing does is reduce exhaust gas by converting carbon monoxide into harmless compounds. Your gas mileage will go down when it starts to fail. It can fail do to faulty spark plugs or a bad oxygen sensor. The trick is to keep up with regular maintenance so it doesn’t break. If a catalytic converter goes bad then it’ll run you about $2,000. Keeping up with regular maintenance will prevent this from happening.

Gas cap: Would you believe the number 1 most common cause of a check engine light is a faulty gas cap? If it’s cracked then fuel vapors can leak out and mess up the reading on the whole fuel system. This hurts gas mileage and increases emissions. If your car still feels smooth while accelerating and you haven’t noticed anything off then it’s probably a gas cap. When your check engine light comes on the first thing to do is to change your gas cap. If it’s just that the check engine light should shut off.

Oxygen sensor: Monitors un-burned oxygen from the exhaust. It helps monitor how much fuel is burned. If it’s faulty then it will hurt your gas mileage because it’s getting incorrect data. If you have a broken oxygen sensor it can lead to a broken catalytic converter, which will cost about $2,000. Changing your O2 censor will only cost about $200 if you go to a mechanic. It’s also easy enough where you can do it yourself by going to an AutoZone. Most cars have detailed instructions and there’s always Google if you can’t find the manual.

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