Most modern cars are controlled by the ECM (Electronic Control Module) linked to multiple vehicle sensors. These sensors control and monitor the performance of your vehicle’s myriad systems and components to optimal performance. The ECM sends you an alert via backlit symbols like the service engine soon light on your vehicle’s dashboard whenever there is a subpar performance.
So what does this light indicate? Should you be scared? Is it something that you can handle yourself? How long can you drive when you notice this particular light? Should you get a tune-up? All these questions are bound to arise, especially if you haven’t experienced such issues before.
This article will provide relevant answers to your questions about this particular alert from your car’s sensors. Read on to find them.
What Does the Service Engine Light Mean?
The “service engine soon” light appears when your car’s ECM has identified a potential problem with your vehicle’s engine. And as the name suggests, it is a soft reminder that you need to service your car’s engine soon.
The “service engine soon” light is quite easy to identify. Depending on your car’s model, it could be displayed as “service due” or “check engine soon” in either red or yellow colors. There are several reasons why your vehicle might display this symbol. Here are some of them:
Vehicle Service Alert
Your vehicle needs routine maintenance to keep it functioning optimally. It is often best to implement this maintenance after a given amount of time, mileage, or usage. You are bound to see the service engine soon light once your vehicle is due for its routine service check.
Fuel-filler Cap Issues
Your vehicle’s ECM will be quick to detect when the fuel cap has gone bad or is simply faulty. The fuel cap serves to keep the fuel tank airtight. When there are issues, the tank is no longer airtight; there could be a drop in mileage or increased emissions. The ECM detects these changes the indicator light is triggered.
Your vehicle needs engine oil for the lubrication of the engine’s components. The oil levels have to be at an optimal level for the engine to perform at its best. When the oil level is below the optimal level the oil pressure drops. The ECM detects the drop in oil pressure, and the indicator light goes on.
Spark Plug Issues
Your vehicle’s spark plugs are another reason why the service engine soon light on your dashboard might come up. The spark plugs are responsible for igniting the air/fuel mixture within the combustion chamber. Faulty spark plugs will cause issues like poor acceleration, misfiring, starting problems, and increased fuel consumption. In some severe cases, your car won’t start. Once any of these issues are detected by the car’s sensors, the service engine soon light is triggered.
Oxygen Sensor Issues
Your car’s oxygen sensors are responsible for keeping the air-fuel mixture at an optimal level. It keeps tabs on the amount of oxygen and relays this data to the ECM. A problem with the oxygen sensors often leads to an imbalance in the air-fuel ratio, leading to poor engine performance, increased emissions, and high fuel consumption. Any of these problems are enough to prompt the Infiniti service engine soon light (for example) to go on.
Mass Air Flow Sensor Problems
The mass air flow sensor monitors how much fuel should be pumped to the vehicle’s engine based on the amount of air that the engine receives. When this sensor goes bad, it no longer relays this information to the ECM, and the car starts to experience certain problems. Some of the problems that might trigger the service engine soon light include hard starts, stalling, rough idling, and acceleration issues.
Catalytic Converter Issues
Your car is fitted with a catalytic converter that detoxifies the harmful chemicals released into the environment when the engine burns petrol or diesel. Although this component is built to last, it can wear off after a while leading to a drop in engine performance and an increase in temperature. Any of these two issues are enough to make the service engine light indicator come on.
Now that you know the service engine soon meaning, let’s look at what you can do about it when you see it on your instrument cluster.
How Do You Check A Service Engine Light?
It is possible to check your service engine light when it comes on. The first step would be to go through the vehicle’s owner’s manual for some tips on some of the problems that could trigger the indicator light to come on. If you can’t lay your hands on the manual, here are some tips that should come in handy
Take A Look At Your Fuel Cap: A faulty or loose fuel cap can trigger the indicator light.
Use The Car’s On-Board Diagnostic: Most modern vehicles come with integrated remote diagnostic capabilities that enable them to provide trouble codes. All you need is to use an OBD scanner (the OBD II scanner is a great choice that works with your vehicle). You could also get a Bluetooth-enabled OBD scanner that lets you monitor error codes from your phone.
Once you have an OBDII scanner, plug it into your car. There is an interface located somewhere in your car where you plug the OBD scan tool. Depending on the model of your car, the interface could be located under the driver’s seat, on the left-hand side of your dashboard, or near the engine.
After connecting the tool, please switch it on, and the car’s ECM will provide the necessary error codes.
How Do I Fix My Service Engine Soon?
There are two options to go about fixing the service engine soon issue. You could take the DIY route or get professional help.
The DIY Route
You should only take this option if you are confident about your DIY skills, or else you run the risk of compounding issues. If you decide that you have the skill and time, then here are some suggestions on how to fix the service engine soon issue yourself:
Check Your Fuel Cap
Once you have detected the “service engine soon” light, turn off the engine and take off the fuel cap. Take a good look at it to ascertain that it is not faulty before tightening it back again. Once the fuel cap is tightly fixed, start the engine once more and check if the indicator light comes on.
Drive around for a bit, and if it is still on, then you might need to get a replacement. Thankfully, fuel caps are not one of the more expensive car parts, so you can get one without boring a hole in your pocket.
Ascertain the Oil Levels
To do this, you will have to turn off your vehicle’s engine before checking the engine bay to check the engine oil level. A good guide would be your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Check the level of the engine oil once you have located the dipstick.
If you look closely, you should find the marker for the minimum level of oil needed. If the level is below the recommended level, then you should top up the engine oil. Once you have done that, start the car to check if the indicator light is still on.
Use The Car’s On-Board Diagnostic
To use the car’s on-board diagnostic to fix the issue, follow the steps you followed in checking for the service light. Once you have gotten the codes, use the “erase” function on the scanner to remove the code. You then disconnect the OBD tool before starting the car to find out if the indicator light is still on.
If the indicator light still stays on after both steps, then you should track down the listed faults on the OBDII scan tool, or get professional assistance.
Getting Professional Help
This is the best option for someone who does not have the DIY skills to fix the issues themselves. Or perhaps you have tried to fix the issues yourself, but the situation does not change.
Many good, seasoned mechanics near you can fix the service engine soon, lights staying on. The downside is this option is going to cost you a bit more. However, if you can afford the extra costs, they are the better option because you will be getting quality services guaranteed to handle the underlying issues professionally.
Q: Is Service Engine Soon Bad?
Not exactly, the service engine soon light flashing is simply an indication that something is wrong. Noticing the indicator lights coming on does not necessarily mean that your car will be packing up in the next few seconds. A range of issues can trigger the indicator light, but none of them is a dire situation.
Q: How Urgent Is The Service Engine Soon Light?
The “service engine soon” light is designed to warn you that the car’s sensor system has detected an issue with your vehicle’s performance. It is not an indication of an emergency. You can take it as a soft reminder to service your engine soon. While the issues might be minor ones, it is in your best interest to fix them ASAP before they degenerate to worse conditions like engine sludge, for instance.
Q: What Is the Difference between A Check Engine Light And A Service Engine Soon Light?
Both of these symbols are used interchangeably because, in some cars, it is one or the other. However, there is a mild difference in what they do. The service engine soon light comes on there are mild issues with the way your engine is functioning.
On the flip side, when you see the check engine light, an immediate concern needs to be fixed ASAP. The check engine often comes on when your vehicle has any of the common engine problems.
Q: Can I Drive With The Service Engine Soon Light On?
Yes, you can. The service engine light lets you know that there are minor issues with the car and that you should service the engine as soon as you can. It is not an indication of an extreme situation so that you can drive with the light on.
However, you should not drive if you notice any of the other backlit symbols being on simultaneously with the “service engine soon” light being on. Say the “check oil” or “check engine” indicator. It would be best if you have the vehicle checked once you see any of these indicator lights.
Q: Can Low Oil Cause Service Engine Soon Light?
Yes, it can. Your vehicle needs engine oil for the lubrication of the engine’s components. The oil levels have to be at an optimal level for the engine to perform at its best. When the oil is below its optimal level the oil pressure drops. The ECM detects the drop in oil pressure, and the indicator light goes on.
Q: Can Spark Plugs Cause Service Engine Soon Light?
Your vehicle’s spark plugs are another reason why the service engine soon light on your dashboard might come up. The spark plugs are responsible for igniting the air/fuel mixture within the combustion chamber. Faulty spark plugs will cause issues like poor acceleration, misfiring, starting problems, and increased fuel consumption. In some cases, the engine might not even start. Once any of these issues are detected by the car’s sensors, the service engine soon light is triggered.
The presence of the “service engine soon light” is not the end of the world. It is simply an indication that you need to handle some minor issues that may have come up one way or the other. Although it is not a dire situation, you should get the issues fixed as soon as possible.
To do that, you could either go the DIY route using some of the tips we described in the article. You could also opt to get professional help. Whatever option you decide to take, resolve the issues before it degenerates into something worse.