Let’s say you have a baby that starts to scream piercingly all of a sudden and without any explanation (duh). You desperately look for possible reasons. Is it in peril of certain death? Or just regular moodiness that can be resolved in under two minutes? Replace the baby with a car engine and the screams with the check engine light, and the situation will still stay accurate.
Yes, the check engine light fulfills its only function, which is to warn you about possible problems, pretty good, but gives you no information as to what caused the problem and what to do.
Once the light is on, you need to check the car as soon as possible. However, urgently taking radical measures might be redundant. Dave Cappert of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence claims that the check engine light ‘doesn’t mean you have to pull the car over to the side of the road and call a tow truck’.
Fortunately, there are things that you can diagnose and fix yourself or with the help of a specialist.
1. Replace Oxygen Sensor
The majority of cars have two to four oxygen sensors that track the amount of unburnt oxygen from the exhaust. Keeping oxygen sensors intact provides for better gas mileage. Unfortunately, with time they get coated with oil ash and are no longer capable to gather and transfer data properly and keep the oxygen and fuel mixture balanced. If you ignore this problem, in perspective it can lead to busted catalytic converter and cost you up to $2.000.
Visiting a shop and replacing the faulty sensor timely, however, will only cost you $200. Moreover, you can replace the sensor on your own; the instructions are usually given in the owner’s manual. Regardless of how you decide to go about the issue, it needs to be fixed immediately.
2. Loose or Faulty Gas Cap
A loosened or cracked gas cap is a frequent problem. After all, you remove it every time you refuel, and as many things, it just wears out over time. A bad cap is usually not a life-threatening condition. However, it negatively affects gas mileage as a misplaced cap lets fuel vapors escape which in perspective can mess up the whole fuel system. Increased emissions is no good. So once the check engine light goes on, it’s only smart to make sure if the gas cap is intact. Sometimes the solution is as easy as just pulling over and tightening the cap. If it looks broken beyond repair, a new one will only cost you around $3 at any auto parts store.
3. Replace Catalytic converter
A well-functioning catalytic converter is essential to increasing the life expectancy of your vehicle. Its mission is to reduce exhaust gases and turn harmful substances into harmless compounds. If before or alongside the check engine light you notice that the fuel efficiency drops, the car won’t accelerate when you press the gas pedal or just refuses to start altogether, it may be the time that you paid a visit to an auto restoration service.
When unaddressed, the repercussions of a failing catalytic converter can be severe. It’s deteriorating to your car’s mileage and prevents it from running. Sadly, there’s not much you can do on your own unless you’re a qualified specialist. Replacing catalytic converter approximately costs $2.000.
4. Replace Mass Airflow Sensor
A failing mass airflow sensor can lead to similar problems: deteriorating gas mileage, increased emissions, and an overall stalling vehicle. Mass airflow sensors fulfill an important function transferring the data on the amount of air entering the engine to the Powertrain Control Module (PCM). Obviously, the check engine light is not the only sign of a bad mass airflow sensor; it’s quite the opposite as you may start noticing the symptoms prior to the failure. They usually include engine dragging or hesitating while idle or loaded, jerking when you accelerate the vehicle, or having hiccups in general.
Usually, a bad mass airflow sensor can go unnoticed for quite a time. However, it’s only smart to clean it regularly and replace once a year. A hand replacement is possible, but given that the procedure requires you to be quick, you might want to delegate it to a professional which will cost you around $200-300 depending on the car model, the cost of the sensor itself included.
5. Replace Spark Plugs and Wires
Checking on spark plugs and replacing them when needed is a part of regular car maintenance. Bad spark plugs may be one of the reasons why the check engine light goes on. However, to be sure, you need to take into consideration other symptoms. Usually, failing spark plugs lead to the engine making rough sounds instead of giving it off smooth, the car having trouble starting or coming unexpectedly to a halt for a second and then continuing to move again.
Changing spark plugs isn’t hard nor expensive. That’s why once the issue comes up, you need to tackle it, either yourself or with the help of a specialist.