What Does the "Check Engine" Light Really Mean?

 When your check engine light is on, what does it mean? Do you instantly panic, or is it something you can procrastinate on? How urgent is the problem and what can happen if you don't fix it?

Check Engine Doesn't Literally Mean "Check Engine"

One thing to remember is that your engine isn't actually damaged or broken if the light is on. Rather, it means that you need to check something that may affect your engine performance. Some of these include:

  1. Mass Airflow Sensor. This device measures the air which enters the engine. It also determines the level of fuel needed for your engine to run well. The sensor needs replacement every few years. Otherwise, other parts of your engine will malfunction and you will use up fuel faster than usual.
  2. Gas Cap. The gas cap isn't just something to cover up your fuel tank. It also ensures that the tank is vacuum sealed, keeping the pressure at optimal levels and preventing hydrocarbons from polluting the air. If your gas cap is missing or loose, your fuel may evaporate and reduce fuel efficiency.
  3. Spark Plugs. The spark plug is one of the most important parts of the car because it is responsible for igniting the air and fuel in the combustion chamber. Spark plugs are small and rather cheap, which is also why they may need regular replacement. If not, your engine will not be able to start up properly and you will consume more fuel when turning on your vehicle.
  4. Catalytic Converter. This device converts bad carbon gases into carbon dioxide. If the other parts of the vehicle are not maintained, the catalytic converter becomes damaged as well. A broken catalytic converter can cause extreme air pollution, engine overheating, and you will not be able to pass emission tests.
  5. Oxygen Sensor. The oxygen sensor measures how much air you have not burned inside your exhaust system. When it becomes damaged, your engine uses up more fuel and in turn, damages the other parts.

What to Do When the Light is On

The first thing that you should do if the check engine light is on is to visit a mechanic. If you already feel other symptoms such as excessive fuel usage, overheating, and dark-colored emissions, you should make this a priority. Don't use your car for long-distance travels because you might end up broken down in the middle of nowhere.

Your trusty mechanic should know what the problem is and how to fix it. If you're not sure about the diagnosis, you can bring your car to a different mechanic for a second opinion. What's important is that you figure out what's wrong and correct it as soon as possible.

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