What should you do if the yellow “check engine” light comes on?
If it’s not blinking, it’s not an emergency.
What it means and what you should do when you see the check engine light on.
The check engine light can mean many things—from your gas cap is loose to your engine is seriously misfiring. The indicator light is a component of your car's onboard diagnostics (OBD) system. Since the 1980s, computers have increasingly controlled and monitored vehicle performance, regulating such variables as engine speed (RPM), fuel mixture and ignition timing. Today’s more sophisticated OBD systems monitor and adjust dozens of components and processes, many of which are part of your car’s emission control system.1
What a non-blinking check engine light means
If the check engine light comes on and remains on, it usually indicates there’s a malfunction of one of the components in your car’s emission control system. This is not an emergency, and you don’t need to stop driving. What you do need to do is have a qualified mechanic at your dealership or repair shop diagnose the problem and fix it as soon as you can. In many instances, a car with its check engine light on will not pass a state emissions test.2
Tip: Pull out your owner’s manual every so often and familiarize yourself with the meanings of all the warning indicators on your dashboard.
Top five reasons the check engine light
According to CarMD’s 2016 Vehicle Health Index, the five most common repairs indicated by the check engine light are:
A good reason to have your car’s problems fixed quickly is that, if ignored, they can cause other, sometimes more expensive, problems for you down the road.3
Replacing the oxygen sensor
Replacing the catalytic converter
Replacing faulty ignition coil(s) and spark plugs
Tightening a loose fuel cap
Replacing the thermostat
What a blinking check engine light means
If the check engine light is blinking or has turned red, your car may have a more serious problem that requires immediate attention. In this case, you should slow the car down, find a safe place to pull over and shut off the engine. Have your vehicle towed to your trusted repair facility for a diagnosis and repair. Continuing to drive your car with a blinking check engine light on could cause more damage and cost you more to repair.4
FYI: When unexpected repairs spring up, Synchrony Car Care can help you with special financing.Click here for more information.
What a “service engine soon” light means
While it might seem that service engine soon is a close cousin of check engine light, the two are unrelated. Service engine soon means your car is due for an oil change or other routine maintenance. Conversely, the check engine light indicates that your car has a problem that needs attention.5FYI: A faulty or undercharged auto battery can also turn the check engine light on because of low voltage going to your car’s computer.6
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