How long does the average person drive with the check engine light on? The answer may surprise you. The average person goes nine full days without acting on a check engine light.
When taking care of cars, a minority of people get high marks. One in seven people is driving around at this very moment with a serious car problem.
Giving your car the love and maintenance it deserves is more than just an occasional oil change and filling the coolant. Pay attention to what your car is telling you — read on to learn more about this mysterious red flag for your vehicle!
We’ll cover common causes of the check engine light, when the situation warrants immediate attention, and what the check engine light means. Let’s dive in!
What Does It Really Mean When Your Check Engine Light Is On?
You’re driving down the road and notice the check engine light is on. When did that happen? You start to worry that something dreadful is wrong with your car.
Does a check engine light mean you have an automotive nightmare on your hands? Is something wrong with the car’s engine?
First, stay calm, as the check engine light can mean several things. Problems can range from something as simple as a loose gas cap to a much more serious issue, like an engine misfire. Think of the check engine light as a warning light; it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a serious problem that warrants engine failure or an expensive repair, but it could.
First, a word on the onboard diagnostics system that prompts the check engine light. This is your vehicle’s computer system, and the car’s computer is the main hub that signals when there’s a problem.
The check engine light is just one aspect of this sophisticated system implemented in cars since the mid-1980s. Other things communicated through this system include engine speed, timing with ignition, fuel mixture, or fuel system problems.
Is the check engine light flashing, or is it static and staying on? Let’s cover each situation.
Flashing Check Engine Light
If your check engine light comes on but flashes on and off, it could be due to a few different reasons. Possible causes for an intermittent check engine light include an array of solvable issues. Still, a flashing check engine light is usually a sign of a serious issue and could mean be costly.
For example, a flashing light could indicate a defective catalytic converter, putting a serious dent in your wallet. Other issues that cause an intermittent check engine light are issues with the mass airflow sensor or spark plug wires not functioning properly. It can also be something as simple as a bad O2 or oxygen sensor.
The O2 sensor lets you know the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust. Faulty oxygen sensors can prompt loss of engine power and engine misfires. If you’re noticing reduced acceleration, this could be the culprit.
Static Check Engine Light
Generally speaking, a static check engine light indicates a less severe issue than one flashing. Rather than serious engine problems, it could be a warning about the cooling system, flagging you about potential overheating.
What Should You Do When Your Check Engine Light Comes On?
It can be confusing to know when the car requires a full diagnostic test and when there’s a simple fix you can perform yourself. We’ve covered what the check engine light means — let’s discuss the scenarios of what to do!
1. If the Light Comes on Intermittently
Don’t take your time when addressing an intermittent check engine light — it’s highly advised to stop driving as soon as possible. Regardless of the reason, an intermittent check engine light is the equivalent of a 911 from your car — telling you to get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible.
The techs at a reputable auto repair shop can check the diagnostic system and run trouble codes to confirm what’s causing it. Not close to a mechanic? Get somewhere safe, and have the car towed, or consider if an affordable car shipping company makes more sense.
2. If the Light Is Static
If you’re driving down the road and the check engine light comes on and stays on, it’s advised to get off the road as soon as reasonably possible. Call upon your resources, such as roadside assistance, your mechanic, or the car dealership.
Also, be aware of other lights on your dashboard that may be on simultaneously, alerting you that more than one problem may be at play.
3. If the Light Is Static and You Experience Performance Issues
Engine performance issues could mean anything from hearing sputtering to a lack of fuel inefficiency or just not functioning the way it normally does.
A mechanic can test the diagnostic trouble codes, or if you’re handy, you can pick up a code reader device at your local auto parts store and check trouble codes yourself. If it’s a case of emission problems, you can have an auto repair shop run an emissions test to see if the emission control is working properly.
4. If the Light is Flashing
Flashing check engine light? If you want to avoid costly repairs to your car or a potential safety issue, stop driving the car until you can get it to a mechanic for evaluation. The worst-case scenario is unused fuel dumped into your exhaust system.
Although the cost of a mechanic to check it could run up to $100, it’s far less than the damage that could be caused by continued driving. Even driving for 20 minutes with a flashing check engine light is risky.
Check Engine Light FAQs
Here are some quick FAQs that will answer the most common questions regarding the check engine light!
What Is the Most Common Reason for a Check Engine Light?
Believe it or not, a loose fuel cap is the most common reason for a check engine light to come on. The other most common reason is related to the emissions and exhaust systems. A run-down of other possible reasons is below:
- Oxygen Sensor
- Emission Problems
- Spark Plugs or Ignition Coils
- Wiring Issue
- Transmission Troubles
- Low Engine Oil
- Fuel System
Is It Alright To Drive With the Check Engine Light On?
Check the gas cap first to see if this is a simple matter that’s easily resolved. If the gas cap isn’t loose, don’t take chances, and get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible before the problem worsens and causes permanent damage.
Don’t drive more than 20 miles with a check engine light on without getting the car inspected. See smoke? Pull over, turn off the car, and call for help.
How Can You Get the Check Engine Light Off?
You’ve resolved the problem causing the check engine light, but the light is still, annoyingly, staying on. Here are five options for turning off the check engine light.
- If you’re certain something else isn’t causing it to stay on, keep driving the car and see if it goes off by itself — it can take a little time.
- If you have an OBD (Onboard Diagnostic) reader, plug it in to see if you can get an answer.
- Start up the car, then shut it off. Do this three or four times in a row without time in between.
- Try disconnecting your car battery, then reconnecting it.
- Take it to a shop or a dealer to have it turned off or check for a secondary underlying problem.
Stay Safe from Wear and Tear With Car Shipping
If you’re traveling, especially on a long road trip, and the check engine light comes on, consider how far away you are from home and consider options, such as calling a tow truck, or contacting RPM, for affordable car shipping options.
Remember to never take a check engine light lightly. Although it could be nothing serious and may be an easy fix, there’s a chance it could be a severe issue that will only get worse. Let safety and common sense prevail, and don’t test fate by continuing to drive with the check engine light on.
Consider your options and evaluate the next steps, including driving to the nearest mechanic, calling a tow truck, or contacting RPM and getting a quick quote to ship your car if it’s a longer distance.
Average Person Drives Around For 9 Days With ‘Check Engine’ Light On Before Getting Car Serviced! | StudyFinds.org
What Does the Check Engine Light Look Like, and What Does It Mean? | Consumer Reports.org
Study Finds Loads of Drivers Ignore Their Check Engine Lights