Most new drivers dread the first appearance of the ‘check engine’ light coming up on their dashboard. However, it’s not always a reason to panic. You might at first assume that your light is a signal to get to the nearest quality auto repair service to repair your car stat. But it’s not always a case of a quick fix or impending problem. Your dashboard lights are divided into three color-coded sections: Green for basic information, yellow for “needs attention,” and red for “warning.” Your check engine light is just that: A reminder that you should change your oil or check your gas cap to see if you closed it tight enough during your last refill. However, just because a light is yellow doesn’t mean you can ignore it forever. When your ‘check engine’ light comes on, you should do everything you can to address the problem yourself before taking your car to be looked at. Here are some of the things you can do to deal with a lit check engine light.
Check Your Gas Cap
On each gas cap, you’ll see fine print that says “turn until one click” or “two clicks,” depending on the car. This is a helpful reminder to car owners to properly seal their gas tank for safety. The ‘click’ ensures that the unit is properly closed. When a gas cap isn’t fastened on correctly, it could trigger the ‘check engine’ light as a safety measure. Fortunately, it’s not a big deal. Your ‘check engine’ light in this scenario acts as a safeguard so that you don’t end up driving around with a loose tank of gas, potentially putting your car and yourself at risk. As long as you pull over right away, you’ll be able to avoid a problematic or dangerous situation. You’ll also notice that your check engine light is yellow in this situation, signaling a less serious problem that still needs attention.
Check Your Oil
Another mostly harmless instance of the check engine light flashing has to do with its intended function: Reminding you to change your oil. After every 5,000 miles or so, your car will need an oil change to avoid having to use old, murky oil that could cause issues with your engine. While it’s not absolutely necessary to change your oil after every 5,000 miles, it’s recommended mainly so that you don’t get into the habit of not checking your oil for long periods of time. When you go for a professional oil change, you’ll usually get a reminder sticker to check your oil either at a certain mileage level or after a few months have passed, whichever comes first. You can also check your oil yourself to see if your oil level is low, or if your oil looks black or murky. The point of all this is to avoid getting to the point where your ‘check engine’ light comes on. Much like your ‘low tire pressure’ light, the ‘check engine’ light acts as a warning, but still deserves your immediate attention when it comes on. By the time this light comes on, your engine is probably dealing with some seriously old oil or has used up too much oil, and it’s started affecting your engine. Avoid this by always keeping tabs on your mileage and setting up a standing appointment every few months to get your oil changed.
If Flashing, Take Your Car in Right Away
In the above situations, the problem is serious, but not too dire. However, when your check engine light starts to flash, it indicates a more serious problem. If your ‘check engine’ light is red and flashing, you’ve most likely been ignored all the times it lit up as yellow, and your car is now running on extremely low oil. In addition to this causing major issues with your engine, it can end up leaving you stranded on the side of the road with a smoking car. There are other problems that could cause the red flashing light to flare up, such as oil contamination or low oil pressure due to other causes. No matter the reason, pull over immediately when you see this light and call AAA or another roadside assistance service.
Check Your Engine
Sometimes, your light will come on for no clear reason. Your cap is on tight, you’ve recently changed your oil, and you’re not experiencing a red flashing signal. In this instance, the best thing to do is to take your car in and have your engine looked at. Even if your car is sending off the wrong signals, you want to find out the reason why as soon as you possibly can in order to avoid running into more serious issues.