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Why You Shouldn’t Ignore the Check Engine Light

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

You put your key into the ignition, turn it half way and see your dashboard light up. But once you start the car, the check engine light doesn’t go off—oh no! This is a dreaded yet unavoidable sight for most car owners. Cars are not made to last forever, but at least they are made with this feature that informs us when something goes wrong. You may even consider it a blessing in disguise. At Hillmuth Automotive, we’ve diagnosed thousands of check engine light problems, and we can’t stress enough the importance of addressing the issue as early as possible.

A Silent Light

Unfortunately, a check engine light is just an alarm with no obvious specifics on what has triggered it. “Check engine” is a rather broad request, and quite often the source of the problem isn’t even close to the engine. It might as well say “check you car.” However, this light does a very important job of bringing to your attention that something is off and needs to be checked. This can save you a lot of money in the long run, as you can be proactive and fix the issue before it spreads or worsens.

A check engine light starts talking when you take the car to your mechanic or an auto parts store and have them plug in a device that reads the error code from your car’s computer. However, this error code still doesn’t directly answer what’s wrong with your car. It provides a location of the sensor that picked up the odd reading, so at least you know where to look.

Common Check Engine Light Triggers

A check engine light can be triggered by anything from a loose gas cap to a dirty sensor. More often than not, it indicates problems with the exhaust and fuel systems. Some of the common triggers include:

  1. faulty oxygen sensor

  2. loose or damaged gas cap

  3. failing catalytic converter

  4. misfiring spark plugs

  5. failing fuel pump

Could You Ignore it?

The short answer is yes, you can certainly take a black marker, color your check engine light in and forget about it. But is this in your best interest? It’s understandable that time and money are of the greatest concern when it comes to auto repair. But think about this: you can drop your car off for a day and pay $200 now or drive with a check engine light on and end up spending twice as much time and money later.

Some consequences to consider:

  1. Reduced gas mileage

  2. Increased emissions

  3. Safety risk

  4. The car won’t pass inspection and emissions tests

  5. Risk of car stalling in the middle of the traffic

  6. Potential for further damage and bigger problems later on

DIY or Professional Auto Repair

Check engine code readers are not exclusive to auto repair shops—you can order one online. And if the reading is specific enough, you might even be able to perform the repair yourself. Tightening a gas cap or replacing an oxygen sensor is an easy fix. But this is not always the case.

Most error codes have more than one possible cause, which can complicate the diagnostics process. It might take some disassembling, visual inspection and additional testing to isolate the faulty component. This should better be left to your trusted auto repair pro who has the right tools and experience. A good mechanic will also run your vehicle against the recall database to make sure the problem isn’t a recognized manufacturing defect.

So, if a check engine light comes on, we hope you take the steps to diagnose and fix the problem. Driving with this light is a gamble, because it’s unclear how serious the underlying problem is. Even if the car seems to drive fine, there is no guarantee it’s not about to fail you. Feel free to stop by one of our Maryland auto repair shops in Clarksville, Columbia, Gaithersburg or Glenwood and one of our experienced mechanics will be able to read the code and advise whether your car is safe to drive.

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