Whether you’ve been driving for months or decades, and regardless of whether you drive a high-end European import or a beat-up decades-old domestic, you’ll experience it sooner or later: the illumination of your car’s check engine light. What should you do? How nervous should you be? Can you continue on to your destination safely or should you pull over immediately and seek help? Read on to learn more about the answer to this common question: “what does a check engine light mean?”


Should I Panic If The Check Engine Light Illuminates?

The short answer is, “Probably not.” There’s no need to panic, as the reason for the check engine light is to alert you to something that needs attention. Sometimes, the cause of this light is something as minor as a loose gas cap. Other times, the check-engine light illuminates to alert the driver to a serious and potentially dangerous situation, such as a failing oxygen sensor, bad transmission or failing alternator. In these cases, the check-engine light is buying you time until your vehicle breaks down.

The best course of action is to not panic, but not to ignore the light, either. Head to your repair shop or call and make an appointment. One exception? If the light flashes on and off, this could be a sign something is seriously wrong. Pull over as soon as you safely can and call your repair shop for a tow. Don’t risk the safety of your engine – or yourself.


Common Issues That May Trigger The Light

Here are three common reasons for the check engine light on your car to illuminate. Some are more serious than others, but none mean you are in imminent danger. You can safely drive to your repair shop to have your vehicle evaluated.

  • Bad Oxygen Sensor. An O2 sensor tells your car how much gas it’s burning. When the sensor fails, your gas mileage declines. Even worse, not getting it fixed can cause your catalytic converter to break, which can cost thousands to have repaired. A professional technician will tell you if a bad sensor triggered your engine light, and will be able to replace it.
  • Failed Catalytic Converter. If you neglected a check engine light flashing due to a bad oxygen sensor, it will eventually flash for a new reason: a failed catalytic converter. This avoidable repair can cost over $2,000.
  • Loose or Cracked Gas Cap. If you tighten the cap and the light stays on, you may need to invest in a new gas cap to keep fumes from leaking out. Fortunately, your repair shop can put on a new gas cap for little money.

A Rite Of Passage

Sooner or later, you’re bound to have a check engine light illuminate on your dashboard; there’s no need to panic. This is a reason to contact us at Southwest Auto sooner rather than later. Odds are good the reason your check engine light lit up has to do with a routine maintenance issue. But it could signal a serious problem needing immediate attention. Don’t risk your safety; call us!

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