Why Does my Check Engine Light Come On?
Is a Check Engine Light Important?
A few years ago I drove a 2001 Chevy 2500 as a work truck. It was a big crew cab thing that had way too much power for what I needed. It also had its quirks. For instance, it used oil despite having now leaks or engine issues that could solve the oil consumption (a mechanic looked it over and said this era of trucks simply burned oil). It also had a check engine light that would come on sporadically, and shut itself off after a bit. Again, multiple mechanics said there wasn’t anything to do when it came on.
Most vehicles don’t have these issues. But many of them, especially as they age, start to have quirks like check engine lights that come on without there being any real issues with the vehicle. Here at Big Sky Collision Center, we offer auto body repairs to the Billings community. But we want you to be safe when you’re on the road, and that means discussing some of the more common mechanical issues that arise with older vehicles.
Top Causes of a Check Engine Light
The check engine light is a catch-all for any issue that is going on with the vehicle. It’s usually triggered when something, and it could be a variety of things, aren’t working quite well. Your mechanic can run diagnostics and tell you for sure what is going on, but it’s very likely one of these issues.
Loose Fuel Cap
The easiest and simplest fix for a check engine light that is on? Tighten up that gas cap. A loose gas cap causes vacuum issues in the gas tank. The vehicle’s computer doesn’t know if it’s a loose cap or a serious issue, and flags it with the light. Is the gas cap already tight? Inspect it for cracks.
Spark Plugs/Wires Issue
Last year my Honda’s check engine light came on. I took it to one mechanic, who did the inspection and couldn’t find anything wrong. He turned the light off and I paid $80. A couple months later it came on and I took it to another mechanic. They couldn’t find anything, but in their inspection they noticed the plugs were worn out. For $105 they turned the light off and suggested I pay them $350 to do a plugs and wires tune-up. I bought the parts and did the job in my garage for much less and the light stopped coming on.
The oxygen sensor, or O2 sensor, measures how much oxygen is in your vehicle’s exhaust. Your vehicle needs to “know” this information to make micro-adjustments on how much fuel is being burned (at least that’s the case with newer vehicles). When the sensor goes out, you can still drive, but you will end up putting undue wear and tear on other parts.
Incompatible Aftermarket Parts
Many aftermarket parts are sort-of compatible with your vehicle. But there are some that the vehicle just doesn’t like. These are often the aftermarket remote starts and car alarms. They may work just fine for a while, but the car will “notice” something isn’t right. And we have learned that the car will alert you to something wrong by turning on the check engine light.
Don’t Panic with a Check Engine Light
The check engine light is an indication that something isn’t working right. Aside from checking the gas cap and making sure the spark plugs are in place, there’s not a lot that you can do from home without special equipment. The good news: your vehicle is probably going to be fine as you drive it around for a few more miles until you can get it into the mechanic to have a professional diagnose it. Just don’t completely ignore the light, as that can lead to bigger (and more expensive) problems down the road.
Big Sky Collision Center Does Auto Body Repairs
Here at Big Sky Collision Center we fix vehicles after they have been in wrecks or damaged by weather. When that includes fixing engine components, we do that; however, we don’t do regular mechanic work. We suggest you find a trusted mechanic, one that can get to know your vehicle, and use them consistently. Most will keep accurate notes so when you come in each time they know what was done to your rig, and what else they can do.
Need auto body or collision repairs in Billings, Montana? Give us a call at 406-259-6328 to schedule a time to bring your vehicle in.