Modern cars have a dashboard full of warning lights. Some are informative; some means you are experiencing normal faults while others show extreme failures, and the driver needs to stop immediately. Drivers should always pay attention to the dashboard lamps since they give vital information about the car’s drive and status.
As a driver, you need to understand all warning lamps that appear on your car’s dashboard. Refer to the car’s user manual to get knowledge of the warning lamps that may appear on the dashboard and the right action to take.
One of the most important warning lamps is the check engine light. This will be our topic for this article. We will get to know what check engine lamp is and how to diagnose the fault when the check engine lamp is on. We shall also learn how long can you drive with check engine light on and what can prompt the check engine light to come on?
What Does It Mean When Check Engine Light On.
Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) or check engine light is a warning light that comes on when there is a problem detected by the Engine Control Module (ECU). Most of the modern car’s operation depends on sensors and actuators that observe and improve the engine operation. These sensors and controls are connected to the ECU. Car ECU is preprogrammed by the manufacturer on specific values. When the ECU detects an inaccurate (high/low) value, the ECU lets the check engine lamp on warning the driver that there is something abnormal is happening. These malfunctions are graded from simple, hard to dangerous ones. The check engine light always comes on when you start up the car. It stays for seconds and then goes off if the ECU detects no problems.
The first thing you do when the check engine light comes on is observing the car’s behavior. Check if it is cluttering, has reduced power, or having any unusual sound. If you notice nothing strange, you can drive your car until you get it checked by an expert. When the check engine light is on, the ECU stores a code that resembles the vehicle’s fault.
You can view this code via a diagnostic scanner. The Scanner is connected to the car in the On-Board Diagnostics (OBD2) port, usually located under the steering wheel. When the car gets scanned by a diagnostic tool, the mechanic is able to locate which sensor or actuator is making the vehicle faulty.
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There are several common causes that make the check engine light to come ON. Here are some of the reasons on what would make a check engine light go on and their causes:
Fault in Oxygen Sensor: The oxygen sensor in the car is responsible for observing the outcomes of the combustion process and measuring the percentage of oxygen in the exhaust coming from the engine. It then communicates with the ECU to adjust the air/fuel mixture. When there is a fault in the oxygen sensor, the car starts consuming more fuel and produce dangerous emissions.
Faulty Mass Airflow (MAF) Sensor: Mass airflow sensor is one of the most important sensors. It determines the performance of the car because it regulates the amount of air getting into the engine. Injectors use this info to inject the right amount of fuel inside the engine, keeping a constant ratio of air and fuel. The cause of mass airflow fault is a dirty air filter or poorly-installed one.
Bad Spark Plugs: Old spark plugs or low-quality ones could be why the check engine lamp is ON and may lead to a misfire error code. In this case, the car starts but Won’t Stay Running or Car goes off while driving.
Ignition Coil Error: The ignition coil is an important part of the car ignition system. The ignition coil mainly takes the low voltage coming from the battery and converts it to high voltage electricity. This is what triggers a spark in spark plugs. You will see an error code that shows when the ignition coil is bad.
How Long Can I Drive with Check Engine Light On:
How long can you drive with the engine oil light on? This is one of the most asked questions. The answer to this question is somehow confusing. It all depends on how severe the fault that makes the light comes on. However, you need to make some checks before you decide whether you can drive with the engine warning light on or not. Here is a guide on what to do when the check engine light comes on:
Observe if there any indication such as low oil pressure lamp, high-temperature warning lamp, or any other indicator lamp. Shut the engine OFF and check the behavior of the car. Check if the power has reduced, the car cluttering, or having strange vibrations.
When you note any performance problems accompanying the check engine lamp, reduce the speed of the car. If you have a high load on the car, unload it, to make it easy for the engine to survive. This helps to keep your engine and gearbox out of damage.
If the check engine lamp came ON right after refueling, the first thing to check is if the fuel cap is well tightened. Pullover and get the gas cap tightly in place and then restart the car. If the problem continues, it could be that the system detects leakage in the evaporative emissions system.
To sum it up, If the check engine lamp came on while driving the car without any change in the car behavior or any other strange sounds and vibrations, it is safe to drive your car until you get it fixed and checked an authorized expert.
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How to Fix the Check Engine Light On:
In this section, we shall discuss detecting and fixing the check engine light problem on your own. First, you need to have a diagnostic tool that will enable you to get the error code and then detect where the malfunction is. We suggest that you use ANCEL Universal OBD II Scanner for job success. You can find this product on Amazon or AutoZone.
Using this simple device to check error codes saved in the car’s ECU is easy and convenient. The device is easy to operate and offers many options, such as reading error codes saved on the memory of the ECU and clearing them. You can use it for most modern cars and supports many communication protocols. It can also read live sensors’ data to analyze these sensors’ performance and make sure it is working to standard.
After buying the OBD2 scan tool, connect it into the obd2 port of your car. You will find the port under the lower edge of your driver’s side dashboard. Locate the port and connect the scan tool into it. Be careful when connecting the device to avoid bending any of the device pins. After connecting the scanning tool into the OBD2 port, turn the key on but keep the engine off. The scanning tool might flash some LEDs and read the stored codes on the ECU memory.
From the menu, choose “read codes” and see the code that shows on the screen. The code should be like (P0496). Every code resembles the error. Write down the error code and Google it to know what part the code is related to.
After getting the code and knowing the defected part, clear error codes and check the engine light reset. Disconnect the scanning tool and restart the car to see if the error code has gone. Some error codes are historical, and they will not reappear after resetting the check engine light.
If the lamp is still lit after doing this, Find out the defective part, fix it, or replace it as soon as possible. This is because the error might low your engine power and cause strange sounds and vibration. It also increases the emissions that get out of the car. Some defected parts like the catalytic converter might get the head gasket blown in time if left unsolved.
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Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
Q. Is It Safe to Drive My Car With The Engine Light On?
This will depend on the defect and the behavior of the car. If you notice a change in the car’s performance or sound, see the warning light coming on, or check the engine light on and off, it means there is a serious problem in the car. You need to stop immediately to check the problem and fix it. However, if any other symptoms do not accompany the check engine lamp, you can continue driving and get it checked anytime.
Q. Can Check Engine Light Turn Itself Off?
Yes. If the cause of the check engine lamp on vanishes, the check engine lamp will go OFF again. This does not mean that the defect has gone. It means that the condition of the error is not there anymore. However, if this condition comes back, the lamp will come ON again.
Q. What Is the Most Common Reason for Check Engine Light?
The most typical reasons why the check engine light comes ON are related to injection, emissions, and combustion systems in the car. It could result from catalytic converter, oxygen sensor, bad spark plugs, and clogged and blocked injectors.
Q. Can Low Oil Cause a Check Engine Light to Go On?
Low oil pressure can cause the check engine light to turn on. Nearly all cars have a separate oil pressure warning lamp that may accompany the check engine lamp. In this case, stop the vehicle immediately and get it checked.
Q. What Do You Do When Your Engine Light Comes On?
When the engine light comes on, check other indicators such as low oil pressure lamp, high-temperature warning lamp, and other indicator lamps. Shut the engine OFF and check the behavior of the car. Is the power reduced? Is the car cluttering or having strange vibrations? If not, it is safe to continue your ride and have the car checked later.
The check engine light offers a good opportunity to get the driver’s attention to his car. It is considered as the car’s voice that calls for maintenance or attention. As a driver, you should give your car sufficient attention to keep it in good condition. In other words, don’t wait until the car let the check engine lamp on. It is advisable to make periodic checkups to make sure that everything is in place.