Why is My Check Engine Light On? 5 Common Reasons.

11 August 2023

Have you ever been driving down the road and suddenly your car's check engine light comes on? It can be a scary feeling, one that often leads to worry and nervousness. That small red, orange, or yellow light can mean something minor or major is happening with your vehicle.

When the light comes on, it’s important to take it seriously.

What Is the Engine Warning Light?

The engine warning light (or check engine light) is a light on your dashboard controlled by your car’s computer system. It's a signal that something isn't functioning as it should. There are a variety of reasons why this might happen. Generally, the light is triggered to come on when there’s an issue with your vehicle’s emissions, engine or transmission.

A check engine light can be static or blinking. Most times, a flashing check engine light signals that there is an urgent issue.

The Problem with Ignoring Your Check Engine Light

It's important to take the check engine light seriously, as ignoring it could lead to damage to your vehicle and potentially costly repairs down the line. Plus, if you continue to drive with the check engine light on, you could be putting yourself and others on the road at risk.

The CarMD 2023 Vehicle Health Index discusses some of the issues with ignoring that engine warning light:

  • Spending more money at the pump because of reduced fuel efficiency
  • Releasing more emissions into the atmosphere
  • Increased chance of bigger car problems in the future

Also keep in mind that in most states or cities that require an inspection, a check engine light that’s on will likely result in your vehicle failing the inspection. Chances are you will need to repair the vehicle before you can legally drive on the road.

5 Possible Reasons Your Check Engine Light Came On

There are a variety of reasons why your check engine light may be on, but some of the most common causes include the following:

  1. A Faulty Oxygen Sensor—Your engine won’t perform as well if there’s an issue with the oxygen sensor.
  2. A Loose, Damaged or Missing Gas Cap—The cap may need tightening or replacing. You can typically buy a replacement at an auto parts store or major retailer.
  3. Catalytic Converter Issues—Your catalytic converter could be clogged, damaged, or worse, stolen. Not only will an issue with it trigger the check engine light, you might experience other problems like a sulfur smell or poor acceleration.
  4. Ignition Coil Failure or Spark Plug Problems—If these are the issues with your vehicle, you might also notice your car vibrating when you’re idling, among other signs.
  5. Mass Air Flow Sensor Issues—Fixing this issue could be as easy as cleaning the sensor wires. You won’t know until you have it professionally diagnosed.

What to Do if Your Check Engine Light Comes On

The first step is to check your gas cap. Make sure it's tight and secure, or buy a replacement if you need a new one.

If that doesn't solve the problem, you'll want to take your car to a mechanic or dealership to have it checked out. They'll be able to diagnose the issue and let you know what needs to be done to fix it.

Also remember that a flashing light can indicate a more serious problem, so make sure you get it checked out as soon as possible.

Will My Insurance Help Me If My Check Engine Light Comes On?

It is unlikely that your personal auto insurance will help cover repairs unless they’re related to a collision. If your check engine light came on because of a mechanical malfunction, you will likely be paying for repairs yourself.

Many insurance companies offer emergency roadside assistance that you can add to your coverage. A check engine light coming on doesn’t mean you have an emergency. However, if the vehicle is unsafe to drive, emergency roadside assistance may be able to provide towing or other services.

Take an illuminated check engine light seriously and get it checked out by a professional. It could save you time and money, and help keep you safe on the road!

Wondering if you’re getting the best car insurance rate? Tell us a little bit about yourself and we’ll see if we can get you coverage that fits your needs at a better rate.

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