We’ve all been there before: You’re driving down the road, just trying to get where you’re going, when you hear a ding and look down: the dreaded check engine light has come on. You pull over to the shoulder, put on your flashers, and try to figure out what to do next. Can you make it where you’re going? Should you call for a tow, or is it safe to keep driving?
While a check engine light is definitely not a good sign and needs attention as soon as possible, it doesn’t always mean the car is undrivable until it’s fixed. Leale’s Transmission & Auto Service has the facts on what commonly causes the light to come on—and if it’s still safe to drive your car.
Common causes of check engine light
The check engine light coming on can be something as simple as a loose gas cap or something as serious as the engine misfiring. One of the most common causes of the check engine light coming on is simply that your gas tank cap isn’t tightened all the way, especially if you’ve just refueled recently and have a car model that doesn’t have a light specifically to let you know the cap isn’t on. The easiest way to check this, of course, is to get out and check the lid on your gas tank. If it’s loose, tighten it securely, then hop back in and see if the light has gone out.
If it’s still on, it could be a sensor going out. Oxygen sensors or mass airflow sensors can go out and cause the check engine light to come on. The oxygen sensors measure the amount of unburned O2 in your engine system, and the airflow sensor measures the airflow coming into your engine to gauge how much fuel is needed to run your car.
Another common reason for the check engine light to ding is if your catalytic converter goes out. This is usually accompanied by a smell, like sulfur or rotten eggs. Your catalytic converter transforms carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide, which is better for the environment.
The final common cause for your check engine light’s appearance is faulty spark plugs or plug wiring. Spark plugs are what ignite the air and fuel in your engine’s combustion chamber.
The only sure way to check for these issues, besides the gas cap, is to take your car to a qualified technician who can scan the codes and diagnose the problem.
So…Can I still drive it or not?
If your check engine light is steady and not flashing and your car is running smoothly without a noticeable change in performance, you should be able to drive it for a short time, but you still need to get it to the shop as soon as possible. Even if the issue is as minor as a sensor going out, leaving the problem unresolved will lead to further damages, more costly repairs, reduced fuel economy, and strain on your car’s engine system—or worse. If your check engine light is flashing, however, this indicates a more serious problem, and you shouldn’t risk driving the car if you don’t absolutely have to. A mechanic shop like Leale’s Transmission & Auto Service can diagnose the issue and get your car back in working order—and the sooner you take it in, the less expensive the repair is likely to be.
Let Leale’s scan your check engine light.
When you drive a lot, you can get used to small malfunctions with your car. Your check engine light can stay on constantly, your brakes might squeak a little, or your car might rumble a little. But if you have no issues with driving and nothing seems to be really wrong, it’s easy to ignore those issues. After all, why spend hundreds when nothing’s actually wrong? Today, Leale’s Transmission & Auto Services is going to explain just why it’s not a good idea to ignore your check engine light or squeaky brakes.
Is the Check Engine Light Really Important? Why?
If the check engine light comes on, but your car seems to be running fine, it may seem like a smart idea to just ignore it and save some money. However, that’s not really wise. When the light comes on, there’s an error code sent from the car’s computer, which can be checked with a code scanner or at an auto shop, allowing you to know exactly what’s wrong. However, it could be a wide variety of issues. Many times, it could simply be solved by checking the gas cap. It might be missing, loose, or cracked. Simply tighten it, and if it’s cracked, buy a new one for a few dollars.
If it’s not, it could be something minor but it could also be very serious. The more you wait, the worse the issue could become, making it possibly incredibly expensive to fix. Sometimes it might just be a spark plug or wire that needs to be replaced, or that an oxygen sensor is malfunctioning. If it’s the latter, while it’s a fairly quick repair, ignoring the engine light and letting the oxygen sensor stay damaged could lead to you having to pay expensive fees to fix the catalytic converter. Eventually, your car won’t run at all. Ignoring these issues can lead to an outrageous amount of money to be spent and no car to use.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Squeaky Brakes
It may seem okay to ignore some squeaking or whining from the brakes, but again, you really shouldn’t. If they’re wet and there’s moisture, it can be a one-off occurrence. But if it continues, your car needs attention. Your brakes may need servicing, or your brake pads could be worn out. If the squeaking progresses to a grinding sound, then it’s too late: you won’t need to just replace the brake pads, the rotors are probably damaged as well, which is a very costly repair. Also be on the lookout for other signs: the car pulling or dragging, vibrating brakes, and leaking fluid. While these can often easily be fixed, ignoring these is an unwise decision.
Getting Your Car Serviced
If you notice any of these warning signs and you’re unsure where to go, consider coming to Leale’s Transmission & Auto Services in San Jose, CA. Our 50+ years of experience as a family-owned and operated business means that not only are we extremely good at what we do, but that we’re also holding your best interests in mind. Give us a call at (408) 286-5353. We’d love to hear from you!
There’s a good chance you do a lot of driving around in your car, and when an issue pops up, you just drive it to a mechanic’s shop or have it towed. But sometimes you may not have to automatically go to a repair shop; there are times where if you understand what’s going on with your car, you’ll know what to do about it and potentially save time and money down the road. That’s why our team at Leale’s Transmission & Auto Services is here to let you know what to do when the dreaded engine light turns on!
What’s The Engine Light Mean?
The check engine light belongs to the onboard diagnostics system on your car. The computers on your vehicle control and monitor vehicle performance. If there’s a problem that it can’t fix, the computer will turn on an indicator (the “Check Engine” light) and store a trouble code to identify the problem. With a scan tool or a diagnostic computer, the code can be read and solved—which you can do if you’re a DIYer; otherwise, you’ll often have to go to a repair shop. Even with a code scanner, interpreting the code correctly can be difficult, so it’s recommended to take it to the experts. Most importantly, don’t ignore the light. But when the light comes on, here are a few of the problems it could mean.
Replace the Oxygen Sensor. It’s the part of the car that keeps track of the unburned oxygen from the exhaust and monitors the amount of fuel burned. If the sensor isn’t functioning properly, there could be a decrease in gas mileage. Your engine will burn too much fuel and there could be damage to the spark plug. Take your car to a shop, or unclip and replace the old sensor with a new one if you know where it is.
Replace the Catalytic Converter. This part of the car reduces exhaust gases and converts carbon monoxide into harmless compounds. If it’s not functioning properly, your car won’t run properly and your mileage will dramatically increase. Take your car to a mechanic ASAP for proper diagnosis.
You Have a Loose or Malfunctioning Gas Cap. While you may not think that the gas cap is pretty important, a loose gas cap means the fuel vapors will trickle out and can put the whole fuel system at risk. You’ll increase emissions and have poorer gas mileage, but there are some things you can do. If the light is on but there’s no shaking or jerking, tighten the gas cap and see if it’s cracked. You can also buy a gas cap at a store and get it replaced.
Where Do I Take My Car To?
When it’s time to take your car to an auto repair shop, choose Leale’s Transmission & Auto Services. With our superior diagnostic and repair services in the San Jose, CA area, we’re confident we can solve all your vehicle issues for you. For an appointment, call us at (408) 286-5353 today!