Usually, when you see that light, your heart sinks into your stomach, you think your car will be seizing up and dying soon, but that might not be what is happening.
While it could be serious, it may just be something as simple as get an oil change, loose gas cap, or you are low on a liquid and just need to be aware so you do take care of the little problem it is alerting you to.
The good news is that there are some ways to figure out what the light means without paying a mechanic at a shop. Some local auto parts stores or service centers do offer free diagnostic testing, and there is also a website that can save you money by telling you what the light might mean or what you need to do before you bring it in.
The website is called Engine Light Help and does break down what each warning may mean to you, or whether you should get a new car. The site is run by a guy named Michael and he says he has been a professional technician in the automotive industry for many years.
Edmunds has some quick diagnosis things that your check engine light could mean. Here are a couple you could take care of on your own:
- Inspect for loose gas cap and tighten or replace as necessary. I was surprised to read that one, just a loose cap and your light comes on.
- Replace spark plugs - Easy, right?
Here are some additional things the light could mean you need to have done:
- Replace the oxygen sensor
- Replace catalytic converter
- Replace ignition coil
- Replace evaporative emissions purge control valve
- Replace mass airflow sensor
- Replace evaporative emissions purge solenoid
- Replace fuel injector
- Replace thermostat
All of those things are important but it doesn't necessarily mean the car is going to blow up or quit on you. You shouldn't ignore it but for most of those things you can drive it to your mechanic and they can deal with it. The other thing you can do and purchase a car code reader and it will say what's wrong. (It's the same one your mechanic uses, and the TV show 20/20 when they want to bust crooked mechanics.)
According to Consumer Reports, some cars have red for serious and yellow for something small, some cars blink if it's bad where the light just stays on to remind you to get it looked at.
Here's a good opinion for what to do.
Here are some guys from a car dealership with advice.