You’re driving down the freeway, enjoying the open road and listening to your favorite music. Before you reach your exit, the dreaded check engine light illuminates on your dashboard. That’s going to cost you – but how much? That depends on the root cause of the problem and how long you wait to repair your vehicle.
Over nine million drivers in the U.S. have ignored their check engine light for at least three months, according to Forbes. Waiting to make repairs can drive costs higher and put your safety at risk when driving on the road.
To understand the average cost of a check engine light repair, you need to know what causes the light to come on in the first place.
A check engine light can come on for a number of reasons. Thankfully, most causes aren’t too serious, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the light.
The most common reasons check engine lights come on include:
Experts say the most common cause of a “check engine” light coming on is a failed oxygen sensor. This sensor monitors the unburned oxygen in your exhaust and tells your car’s computer when there’s too much or too little fuel.
A bad oxygen sensor will take a toll on your catalytic converter and will also affect your mileage per gallon. Lower miles per gallon will cause you to spend more at the pump.
A faulty mass airflow sensor can also cause your check engine light to come on. This important sensor is responsible for monitoring the amount of air that comes through the engine to the PCM (Powertrain Control Module). The PCM then uses this information to calculate the engine load.
A bad mass airflow sensor can cause the following signs:
Failure to fix a faulty mass airflow sensor can cause your gas mileage to drop by up to 25%.
Spark plugs are another common – but surprising – reason for a check engine light to come on. Responsible for igniting your vehicle’s air/fuel ratio, spark plugs can cause all kinds of problems, including:
Failing to replace your spark plugs can be a costly mistake if it damages your catalytic converter.
Most people have no idea that a damaged or loose gas cap can cause your check engine light to come on. But this cause is more common than you think and thankfully, inexpensive to fix (more on that soon).
Loose or damaged gas caps cause millions of gallons of evaporated fuel to enter the atmosphere each year.
Checking and tightening your vehicle’s gas cap can help you determine whether this is the cause of your problem.
The four issues listed above are the most common causes for check engine lights to come on. But how much does it cost to make each repair?
As you can see, most of these repairs are relatively inexpensive. A bad mass airflow sensor can be expensive to repair, but failing to replace it will cost you more at the pump.
The second most expensive repair – spark plugs – is still significantly cheaper than replacing a bad catalytic converter. If you fail to replace faulty spark plugs, they will eventually damage your catalytic converter – which can cost over $1,000 to repair.
The cost to repair spark plugs will vary, depending on the make, model and year of the vehicle. Spark plugs are hard to reach in some models, which will cost you more in the labor department.
If you’re looking for the true average cost of a check engine light repair, let’s take the average of the four most common causes. We’ll use the middle-of-the-road cost for repairs with ranges: $350 for mass airflow sensor, and $150 for spark plugs.
Based on the above calculations, the average cost of a check engine light repair is $163.75. That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and to prevent the problem from escalating.
Most people head straight for a mechanic when their check engine light comes on – not a bad idea. But you might be able to at least diagnose the problem yourself before paying a repair shop to do it for you.
Your vehicle’s computer takes in data from controls and sensors that control the ignition and fuel delivery systems. The computer keeps an eye on the data that comes in and out. When something is off, the computer will store a code and illuminate the check engine light.
The code lets you know what’s wrong with the vehicle, but you need a special tool to be able to read the code. That tool, also known as a car health monitor, can tell you what’s causing your check engine light to come on and other issues with your vehicle.
Some diagnostic tools can be purchased in automotive stores, but you can buy more robust tools, like Fixd (read my Fixd Review), online. The more robust the tool, the better you’ll be able to understand the health of your vehicle.
Having your own diagnostic tool will help you understand what’s going on with your vehicle before you even bring it into the shop. Having this information will allow you to budget for repairs and ensure that the repair shop doesn’t rip you off by suggesting repairs you don’t need.
Ultimately, the average cost of repairing the problem that caused your check engine light to come is minimal compared to the cost of letting the problem fester. The longer you wait to make repairs, the higher the cost will be.
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