One morning – out of the blue and on your way to work – your car’s check engine light comes on. You shrug it off and keep driving, hoping that it’s just a glitch in the system or something miniscule.
There are an alarming number of drivers on the road – just like you – who keep driving their vehicles with the check engine light on.
While the engine light doesn’t necessarily signal an emergency, it is an indication that you need to see a mechanic – and soon. Ignoring your engine light can lead to serious issues. Here’s why:
A bad oxygen (O2) sensor is one of the top reasons why check engine lights come on. A faulty sensor is also one of the most common reasons for repairs.
As AutoZone explains, your vehicle’s oxygen sensor measures how much unburned oxygen is in your exhaust system.
These sensors can fail because of engine problems, neglected repairs and using gas with a high ethanol concentration.
Failing to replace your O2 sensor can cost you more money in gas, as your engine will burn more fuel than necessary. In some cases, you can lose up to 40% of fuel economy because of a bad oxygen sensor.
Over time, a bad O2 sensor can also damage your catalytic converter and spark plugs. This will lead to more costly repairs in the long run and will hinder your vehicle’s performance.
A bad catalytic converter can also trigger your check engine light. This important component helps minimize your vehicle’s environmental impact by converting carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.
In most cases, catalytic converters become damaged because of poor vehicle maintenance. Damaged spark plugs and faulty oxygen sensors are the primary causes of damage to a catalytic converter.
If you don’t fix a faulty catalytic converter, you won’t pass inspection, which means you won’t be able to legally drive your vehicle on the road (if your state requires inspections).
A faulty converter will also:
If your catalytic converter is causing your engine light to come on, it’s important to get this part replaced as soon as possible. Otherwise, your vehicle will be causing even more damage to the environment, won’t pass inspection and will not be running optimally.
A vehicle’s mass airflow sensor measures how much air fuel is needed to run your engine and how much air is entering the engine. Not surprisingly, a faulty sensor will cause the vehicle’s engine light to come on.
Failure to replace the mass airflow sensor can damage your vehicle’s O2 sensors, spark plugs and catalytic converter. A faulty sensor can also hinder your vehicle’s performance and lower its fuel economy.
It’s important to replace a failing mass airflow sensor as soon as you possibly can. Otherwise, you will be spending more money on gas and repairs. Failing to replace this sensor in a timely manner may cause damage to other parts, which will cost you more money in the long run.
Sometimes, something as simple as a loose or missing gas cap can cause the check engine light to come on. But that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the light if your gas cap is the cause.
A damaged, missing or loose gas cap can cause you to lose more fuel due to evaporation, which means you’ll spend more on gas because you’re making more trips to the pump.
A vehicle’s gas cap is responsible for sealing the fuel system and maintaing the right amount of pressure in the fuel tank. The cap also prevents hydrocarbons, or gas fumes, from entering the atmosphere when you’re not driving.
Gas cap issues can also cause your vehicle to drive a little differently. It may feel jerky or strange when you’re out on the road.
If your check engine light comes on, pull over and check the gas cap first. If it’s loose, tightening the cap and driving for a while may reset the light. If the cap is missing or damaged, you may need to replace it.
A bad gas cap is a simple and inexpensive fix that should not be ignored.
One of the top reasons not to ignore your engine light is that you may ultimately be damaging your vehicle, which may eventually make your vehicle unsafe for driving.
If your check engine light comes on, make sure that you check your dashboard gauges to see if there’s a serious problem that needs to be remedied right away. Overheating or low oil pressure are serious issues that need immediate attention. In this case, you should pull over and shut off your engine as soon as you find a safe place to park.
An overheating engine can quickly turn into an emergency situation if you cannot get to a safe place in time, so do not delay pulling over if you can.
Some vehicles have a check engine light that turns yellow when you need to investigate a problem and red when it’s an emergency that requires you to stop right away. If you happen to have one of these vehicles, you will know right away whether you need to get to a repair shop soon or pull over immediately.
Performing routine maintenance can help prevent your engine light from coming on. If your check engine light is on, a mechanic can run a diagnostics test to see what’s wrong. You can also buy your own scanner, like Fixd (check out our Fixd Review), to see what’s causing your light to come on. This is the same type of scanner used at repair shops.
Once you know what’s causing your light to come on, you can take steps to fix the problem and extend the life of your vehicle.
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