Should You Ignore Your Check Engine Light?
We’ve all done it. You’re driving along on your daily routine and you notice the Check Engine Light (CEL) is on. You think, “maybe it’s a just a temporary glitch, I’ll give it some time and see if it goes away.”
What Does the Check Engine Light Mean?
A few days pass and the light stays on, but the car seems to be running fine. You keep driving, thinking maybe it will sort itself out. Anyway, the car has to go in for an oil change around the end of next month. You can let it go until then, right? What could go wrong?
According to CarMD, a leader in engine diagnostic code-readers, the top five reasons for an activated CEL are unsealed gas caps and failure of mass air flow sensors, oxygen sensors, ignition system parts (plugs, coils, and wires), and catalytic converters.
Never Ignore Your Check Engine Light
When that light comes on, you may have only a short window of time to take action in order to prevent more serious problems. Here are five major reasons you should definitely not ignore your CEL.
- Loose Gas Cap: this means the air-tight seal for your fuel system is unsealed. Fuel will be evaporating into the atmosphere and fuel line pressure will not be properly maintained. Both of these problems will hurt your gas consumption, for no good reason. The fix is either free (check the cap and re-tighten) or very inexpensive to replace a faulty cap.
- Oxygen Sensors: these measure oxygen emerging from the combustion chambers into the exhaust. Unburned oxygen usually means unburned fuel, which indicates other problems and if left unchecked will soon destroy the catalytic converter. Plus, your gas mileage will suffer badly. It’s a relatively inexpensive replacement.
- Mass Air Flow Sensor: measures air coming through the air intake system to help set ideal fuel-air mix for the engine. If this sensor breaks down, faulty fuel mix ratios will cause economy and performance to suffer. Over time, it can damage ignition parts, oxygen sensors, and the catalytic converter. Another fairly quick and cheap replacement if caught early.
- Wiring Harness and Spark Plugs: these must work properly to burn fuel efficiently inside the engine. Apart from reduced engine performance and poor gas mileage, misfires here will lead to problems with catalytic converter, oxygen sensors and ignition coils. Parts and shop labor add up to a little more on this repair, but the cost is well worth the improvements in performance and economy.
- Catalytic Converter: the ‘cat’ is one of the most expensive parts of a car to replace (that would be the precious platinum and palladium catalysts inside). Also, the cat usually goes bad because of problems further upstream. At best, this is expensive to replace. At worst, you might be looking at other repairs as well.
Reason #5 is the top reason why it never pays to ignore the CEL, even for a short time or distance. The car may keep running but it’s running dirty, it’s polluting the air, and it’s damaging the vehicle in hidden ways that will show up eventually.
At McKinney Motor Company, our ASE certified mechanics will run the diagnostics and provide expert advice. Call us at (505) 298-6734. We’ll catch the problem early and keep your car, truck, or SUV running smoothly.