What does a check engine light mean?

Part of being a safe driver is understanding the different safety and maintenance indicators in your vehicle. This includes your check engine light. 

The check engine light is a dashboard warning light that indicates when your car may have an engine problem. The reasons for a check engine light warning range from minor to serious. In this article, we’ll help you understand why your check engine light may come on and what you should do if it does.

Some Reasons Why Your Check Engine Light Came On

There are many reasons why your check engine light may come on. Some common issues that trigger a check engine light include:

  • A loose gas cap
  • Emissions issues, like a malfunctioning catalytic converter or a faulty oxygen or mass airflow sensor
  • Misfiring spark plugs
  • Faulty wiring
  • An overheating engine

Next Steps After Your Check Engine Light Comes On

If your check engine light comes on, pay attention to how the car is operating and the status of the light. If the light is flashing or blinking, or the car isn’t driving properly, this indicates a serious problem and you should take your car in for service as soon as possible.

If the light is illuminated but not flashing and the car is operating normally, you can try these simple troubleshooting steps.

  • Tighten the gas cap. A loose gas cap can be enough to trigger the check engine light. If your light came on right after you filled your gas tank, give this a try.
  • Consult your user manual. The user manual that came with your car may offer guidance on how to address your check engine light.
  • Read the code with an at-home scanner. You can purchase an OBD-II scanner at most auto care retailers. This device reads the specific error code that caused the check engine light to come on, helping you determine whether the issue is minor or serious. This service is also offered for free at many auto parts stores.
  • Wait and see. The light may go off on its own. If it stays on for more than a few days, you should take the car to a mechanic, regardless of how the car is driving. 

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Check Engine Light

Whether the issue is minor or major, you should never ignore a check engine light. Avoiding car maintenance and repairs can cause problems to worsen and result in a more time-consuming and expensive repair down the road. You should also keep in mind that if you live in a state that requires emissions tests for vehicles, you won’t be able to pass one with an illuminated check engine light. Having a professional look at your car when your check engine light comes on is the best option to make sure you can keep driving safely.

Let SelectQuote Find the Right Car Insurance for Your Needs

Unexpected car problems can be stressful, but having the right auto insurance coverage can offer security and peace of mind. Our experienced licensed SelectQuote agents specialize in helping customers purchase or switch auto insurance, listening to your unique concerns and priorities to help you find the right fit for coverage.

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