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Why Your Check Engine Light is on

When the check engine light comes on, most vehicle owners have no idea what the light means or how they should react. The check engine light (formally referred to as malfunction indicator lamp) can mean many things, from oxygen sensor failure to spark plug issues.

According to some experts, the check engine light comes on occasionally when there’s nothing wrong with the car. This could be caused by humidity changes or other factors.

You do not have to call a tow truck whenever the check engine light comes on. The light just means that you have to get your car checked as ignoring the warning will lead to more damage to the components of your car.

Depending on the car manufacturer, the check engine lights come in different colors such as amber, orange, and yellow. In this article, we will discuss the meaning of the light, common reasons why it comes on, and steps to take to turn off the check engine light. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Meaning of the Check Engine Light

The check engine light is a part of the onboard diagnostic system of your car. On occasions when the diagnostic system cannot correct a problem in the system, it turns on the light indicating there is a problem.

The diagnostic system of the car also stores the trouble code which identifies the problem – this code can be read with a diagnostic computer of an electronic scan tool.

You can run the diagnostic yourself with a code reader but a professional is still needed to do full diagnostics and fix the issue. Depending on the issue, the light will remain on or constantly blink. A blinking light or a red light (in some cases) point to a problem that needs instant attention.

In some late model cars, this blinking light points to an engine misfire that can damage the vehicle and its components. Regardless of whether the light is blinking or not, you need to get your car checked by a professional.

Common Problems that Prompt a Check Engine Light

Oxygen Sensor Breakdown

The oxygen sensor is used to measure the amount of oxygen unburnt in the exhaust system of a vehicle. The data it sends to the car’s computer is used to regulate the air and fuel mixture that goes into the cylinders.

When the oxygen sensor fails, you can keep using your car but it will use up more fuel than usual. However, if you don’t replace the oxygen sensor in the long haul, it will damage different components of the car.

Failure of the Catalytic Converter

The catalytic converter which is a part of the exhaust system of the car turns the carbon monoxide generated during combustion into carbon dioxide. Its failure can be prevented sometimes with routine maintenance.

Defective Spark Plug Wires

Without the spark plug wires, the air and fuel mixture in the cylinders will not ignite because it is what is needed to transfer electricity from the coil to the spark plug. Some symptoms of defective spark plug wires are visible engine performance drop, lower gas mileage, and a rough idle.

Loose Gas Cap

One of the most prevalent reasons why the check engine lights come on is because of a loose gas cap. This cap is an important part of the fuel delivery system of the car as it stops gasoline fumes from leaving the fuel tank.

The cap also helps in keeping the entire system under the right pressure. When the light comes on, make sure your gas cap isn’t loose. On most times, the cap may need to be replaced but the good news is that it is not a costly car part.

Ignition Coil Issues

The ignition coil produces the electricity needed by the spark plugs needed to ignite the air and fuel mixture in the cylinders.

A failing coil will prompt the check engine light to come on. On the other hand, a worn spark plug and the worn coil will cause different problems such as engine misfire and car shut down.

Aftermarket Alarm Issues

If an aftermarket alarm is not installed properly, it can cause major problems to your car. It can prompt the check engine light to come on, drain the car battery, and stop the car from starting.

Issues with the aftermarket alarm can also cause the car to go off at unexpected times. You must get the alarm reinstalled, fixed or replaced properly by an experienced professional.

Mass Airflow Sensor Malfunction

The monitoring of the amount of air entering the engine is done by the mass airflow sensor. Without this sensor, your vehicle will not be able to adjust to altitude changes. S

ome symptoms of mass airflow sensor malfunction include trouble starting the car, throttle pedal change in position, decreased gas mileage, and a rough idle.

Vacuum Leak

The vacuum system in a car performs several functions in the car such as routing the fumes through the system to reduce harmful emissions and operating the brake booster. A common symptom of a vacuum leak is the surging of your car’s idle at an uncommon high rpm.

A regular cause of vacuum leaks is exposure to intense cold or heat. Other related vacuum p=issues are loose connections and cracked fittings which can be replaced and repaired by an experienced professional.

Dead Battery

Without the battery, your car will not start. You can charge the battery on your car easily but to avoid additional issues, you can employ the services of a professional.

Exhaust Gas Recirculation Valve Malfunction

This valve can fail or get clogged up and without it, your vehicle will not run efficiently and the emissions will increase. All that is needed is to remove, clean and re-install the valve if it is clogged up.

To Wrap It Up

Most modern vehicles come with remote diagnostic capabilities integrated which can report trouble codes. However, if your vehicle doesn’t have this feature, you have the check engine light to let you know when there’s an issue that needs your attention.

You must visit a professional as soon as possible to avoid additional car issues.

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