Why Did My Check Engine Light Come On? Here’s What You Need to Know

It’s an all too familiar tale. You’re simply driving to work or the grocery store (or maybe worse, on a road trip) when suddenly the small engine icon illuminates on your dashboard. As you stare at the glowing icon you might be thinking: “Why did my check engine light come on?” While some simply choose to ignore it, the check engine light is your first warning sign that something could seriously be wrong with your vehicle. Before you keep driving, we’re here to help you understand whether it’s time to schedule maintenance at your local dealership or if you should immediately pull over and call for assistance. 

Why Did My Check Engine Light Come On?

Your check engine light can go off for a myriad of reasons ranging from a loose gas cap to significant engine failure. The severity of the problem is universally communicated via color-coded symbols that illuminate on your dashboard near the speedometer. However, there are several types of symbols, so it’s important to understand which one you’re dealing with.

Static Light: General Issue

When you see a static light, commonly a yellow or orange color, this typically indicates that a general issue has been detected. This could most likely be the result of a minor issue, such as a loose gas cap or clogged air filter. However, we still recommend visiting your dealership for service at your earliest convenience to avoid any major problems. 

Blinking Light: Attention Needed

A blinking light can be the result of a number of problems, such as an engine misfire, catalytic converter malfunction, or fuel entering the exhaust system. This blinking light suggests that a more serious problem has been detected. If safe to do so, we suggest heading to the dealership for service as soon as possible before the issue becomes more severe. 

Red Light: Urgent Issue 

A red light means that an urgent issue has been detected and it is unsafe to keep driving, meaning you should immediately pull over at your safest convenience. Once pulled over, exit the vehicle and ensure nothing is causing smoke or fire. While your car is unlikely to ignite, we still recommend keeping some distance between you and the vehicle until help arrives. 

Unless your car displays a flashing yellow or red light, you’re generally in the clear to continue driving to your destination. Just make sure to visit your local dealership at your earliest convenience. 

How to Fix It

Depending on the severity of the condition, there are various ways to identify and mitigate the cause of the alert. The most common cause for a check engine light alert is a required replacement of a faulty oxygen sensor, which can cost you between $100 to $300 to fix. However, a check engine light can also be triggered via over-sensitivity to general issues, just as tire pressure can trigger your low tire light during cold mornings.

If you want to attempt diagnosing the issue, first try tightening the gas cap, reducing the vehicle stress load by unhitching a burden (such as a trailer), or pulling over and shutting off the engine in case you think your car could be overheating. If you want to identify the specific issue, the majority of dealerships offer diagnosis service, so head to the nearest location for your specific vehicle. 

If the problem is not mitigated by one of these methods, it’s time to see a dealer expert. When the check engine light is triggered, the vehicle computer system stores a “trouble code,” which identifies the malfunctioning hardware or occurrence warranting the alert. The majority of dealerships are equipped with mechanics and technicians who can translate your specific error code using a diagnostic reader or electronic scan tool.

Other Diagnostic Systems

Elo GPS is a connected vehicle system capable of decoding engine problems. By utilizing its diagnostic capabilities, you take the “stress and guess” out of the check engine light. The system’s CarRx technology provides users with diagnostic reports, translating over 7,000 error codes to communicate exactly what is wrong and what maintenance is needed. Additionally, Elo GPS sends alerts about whether it is safe to keep driving or if you should seek service, adding an extra layer of protection to an already frightening situation. To learn more about Elo GPS, contact our team today to find a dealer near you.