Check Engine Light: What Does It Mean?

The yellow-orange check engine light tells you something in your car is malfunctioning. It could be major or minor. The light may be steady or blinking. The check engine light means the car’s computer detects a problem it can’t correct. When it turns on the light, it also generates a memory code that identifies the source of the problem.

If the check engine light is illuminated, drive to an auto service center and have the memory code read so the problem can be fixed. Many service centers will diagnose the problem for free. Continuing to drive without having the code checked could turn a small problem into a major expense.

This mysterious light can signal many different malfunctions, including:

  • Loose gas cap
  • Misfiring engine
  • Faulty fuel injector
  • Spark plug problems
  • Wet engine
  • Cracked or loose manifold or hoses
  • Blown gasket
  • Sticky exhaust gas valves
  • Malfunctioning sensor

What To Do When The Light Comes On

First, look for serious problems like low oil pressure or engine overheating. If either is present, have the car towed. Next, check the gas cap and, if loose, tighten it up. If you notice a loss of power, get the car serviced as soon as possible. A loss of power means the car’s computer is trying to compensate for damages.

Many drivers get a false sense or serenity if the car is running well in spite of the light. Don’t be fooled! Even without impaired performance, you may be polluting the air, damaging the engine or catalytic converter, and wasting gas.

If the check engine light is blinking or red instead of steady yellow-orange, it usually means a serious problem that could damage your car. Pull over and have the car towed to a repair facility.

Be Prepared

Get to know what the check engine light means in your car by reviewing your owner’s manual. Periodically check the light to ensure proper functioning by turning the key to the “on” position with the engine off. The light should turn on. If it doesn’t, have the vehicle checked.