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What Does My Check Engine Light Mean?

Chances are, if you’re reading this article it means that you or someone you know has seen the “Check Engine” light come on in the car.  No matter your current location or situation, seeing this light can be nerve-racking and cause a great deal of anxiety.   In this circumstance, the best way to react is to analyze the situation based on what your car is telling you.  Knowing how to interpret these signals is what is important.

Understanding Your Car’s Language

If you’re seeing a check engine light, it means that your car’s on-board diagnostic (OBD) is sending you a message. All cars built after 1996 are required to be equipped with an OBD, a built-in computer that detects any problems within the car’s emission control system. For smaller issues, your car can typically adjust on its own without needing to send out a signal.

 Think of it like a guard to a building.  If something happens that the guard can’t control alone, he signals for backup, much like your car flashes the check engine light.  Issues become resolved after help has arrived, and the building goes back to functioning properly, much like your check engine light will go off and your car will function properly once the problem has been fixed.

Appearance of the Check Engine Light

Depending on the behavior of your check engine light (and sometimes the color), you can diagnose the time sensitiveness of the issue.  See which of the following characteristics describes your situation:

  • Steady Light: A check engine light which goes on briefly or remains steadily on your dashboard typically indicates a less-serious issue.  This can be something as simple as your fuel cap not being tight enough or the result of bad fuel, so run some simple tests to try to get the light to go off.  If you can’t get the light to go off yourself, bring it to a professional to have it assessed.
  • Blinking Light (typically red): If your check engine light blinks on and off repeatedly, your issue could be quite serious and/or dangerous.  Typically the light will be in red to stress the seriousness of the problem.  In this situation, it is best to pull over to the closest safe area and turn your car off.  Get in touch with a car specialist who can help diagnose the issue without putting your car or yourself in danger.

Because all cars are different, the behaviors of your car may fluctuate, but these tips can serve as general guidelines.  To make sure that your check engine light hasn’t burnt out, simply turn your keys enough to turn the car on but not start the engine.  At this point, all of your warning lights will come on, so you can make sure this important light is functioning properly.

If you have questions about your check engine light and what it means for your car, give us a call at Turnpike Auto.  We’re happy to assess any issues and get your car functioning safely and properly as soon as possible.