Oh no! That pesky check engine light on your car has come on while you just started off on your much-anticipated family trip. You’re towing your camper and you don’t really have the time to take it into an expensive repair shop. What do you do? Well first, breathe everything will be alright. There are actually two ways to verify how serious that check engine light is; blinking or not blinking. Here are a few things you need to consider when that light flashes on.
Your check engine light appears solid. This is actually not an emergency. You should still have a diagnostic run on your engine, at your earliest possible convenience, to find out exactly why the light came on in the first place. More than likely, if you shut your car on and off it will disappear. However, an auto parts store can find the cause of the check engine light coming on for little or no money at all, and in a very brief time span. We all want to save time and money though right? So let’s take a look at some causes to solid check engine lights that are not so serious.
Causes of a Solid Check Engine Light
A loose or faulty gas cap: One of the most common and easily fixed problem. Sometimes when we are filling up we neglect to place the gas cap on the tank opening, and viola, the check engine light comes on. If it is not tight enough, or the cap becomes cracked or damaged in any way, this problem can occur. This results in fuel vapors being able to leak which can throw the fuel system off. When your check engine light comes on, the gas cap is the first thing you should check. Make sure it is tight and take a look to make sure there is no damage on the cap itself. If everything looks fine, continue driving and hopefully that light will turn off. Alternatively, you can simply purchase a new cap at an auto parts store.
An oxygen sensor needs to be replaced: This sensor monitors how much fuel is burned and a faulty sensor means that the right information is not sent to your car. Your car can have up to four of these sensors, so be sure to have your mechanic check each. Not replacing a faulty sensor can lead to damage on your catalytic converter, so be sure to replace as soon as possible. But you still have time to finish that road trip before calling it in.
You have faulty spark plugs: Most spark plugs produced before 1996 should be replaced every 30,000 miles. Newer ones can withstand up to 100,000 miles of usage. Failing spark plugs mean that the sparks that initiate the combustion in your engine misfires, which feels like a little jolt when you are driving. Your engine can fail to start, so make sure to replace them as the process is cheap and easy.
Your catalytic converter needs to be replaced: A failed catalytic converter basically means that the part stops converting carbon monoxide into harmless gas. The main reason a catalytic converter fails is, as mentioned before, a bad oxygen sensor, or you have a set of bad spark plugs. If you car is beginning to emit a foul odor, this is typically a sign. This can eventually be dangerous for you and the environment, even though it is a rare find, so make sure to get if fixed as soon as possible.
You need to replace your mass air flow sensor: This is basically the sensor that tells the car how much fuel you need. A faulty sensor can increase emissions and cause your car to stall. You should replace the air filter about once a year to ensure that the sensor does not fail. Typically, if you get your car inspected, or have a yearly tune up, this is checked and cleared.
If your light is still on and solid, here are some additional things to take into consideration I learned from my dad. Make sure to check your tire pressure, and check for condensation under your hood. I know it sounds a little silly, but each of these can cause the check engine light to activate, and they are very simple problems to resolve. Usually, a restart of your car will eliminate that check engine light.
Theoretically, you can drive with all of these conditions for a few weeks, possibly longer, but you will definitely notice a reduction in gas mileage. It is wise to take care of all these issues as soon as possible. Luckily most are not incredibly expensive!
Causes of a Blinking Check Engine Light
If your check engine light is flashing, it can be an indication of something more serious. If this occurs while you are driving, you should pull over immediately and request assistance. Be sure to check all of your dashboard indicators, including whether or not you have low oil pressure or your car is overheating. If these conditions are present, you need to turn off your car immediately, as they can be very dangerous. Let’s consider some reasons that you might see a blinking check engine light.
Engine misfire: When your engine misfires, unburned fuel can then be dumped into the exhaust system. This can cause the catalytic converter to overheat, which can lead to expensive repairs or the possible destruction of your car due to expanding gasses. As with all causes of a blinking check engine light, immediate care is required.
Too much engine strain: Remember that nice road trip with the RV? Too much engine strain often occurs when your vehicle is towing something. The check engine light will come on and you will feel less power coming from the engine. This is a situation that you need to approach cautiously, as too much engine strain can cause an explosion, but very unlikely. So as with other causes of a blinking check engine light, pull over immediately and seek assistance. Once assistance arrives and if there are no indications of an oil pressure failure or overheating, you can try removing the load and reducing your speed to see if the situation resolves itself.
All in all, any appearance of your check engine light can be confusing and stressful. The above tips are provided to help calm your nerves a little, but the easiest way to correctly identify the problem is to have the code read by a diagnostic professional. To avoid having the problem at all, make sure to take you car in for regular screenings and diagnostics.