Check Engine Light Just Turned On? Don't Panic, Follow These Steps Instead!

Check engine lights can feel a bit like the automotive equivalent of a sucker punch. You could be driving into work, minding your own business, when suddenly your car informs you that you better get ready for a surprise attack on your wallet. While a check engine light isn't an ideal start to anyone's day, it doesn't need to be a cause for panic.

Your car's check engine light ties into its OBD-II (Onboard Diagnostics) system. This system monitors vital vehicle functions, stores error codes when it detects a problem, and alerts you with an illuminated check engine light when the problem persists. If you've just had this happen to you, these three steps will help you get to the bottom of the issue as soon as you can.

1. Pay Attention for Changes in Behavior

Unfortunately, a check engine light nearly always means something has gone wrong with your car. However, the good news is that many of these issues aren't critical and won't leave you stranded. If your check engine light just popped up, it's a good idea to start paying close attention to your car's behavior. Does it feel sluggish? Is your idle rough? Does it feel like your acceleration is surging and falling back?

A check engine light accompanied by a sudden change in driveability may indicate a more severe problem, such as one or more misfiring cylinders. Cooling system issues can also trigger a check engine light, so keep a close eye on your temperature gauge. If you notice your temperature increasing past the safe range, pull over immediately and turn the car off.

2. Get a Free Code Scan

Although you don't need to panic when your check engine light comes on, you do need to determine the underlying cause of the problem as soon as you can. As long as you don't notice any immediate trouble with your car, you should get a code scan as soon as it's convenient for you. Many local auto parts stores and mechanics will provide this service for free.

Note that a code scan will tell you where the computer thinks the problem is, but it's not a guaranteed diagnosis. If you're not ready to take your car to a mechanic, it's critical to at least research the codes and determine the severity of the issue. Avoid driving your vehicle if the codes indicate a serious problem.

3. Resolve the Problem

An active check engine light will practically guarantee failure if your state requires emissions or smog tests. Additionally, these codes always indicate a real problem with your vehicle, which means you aren't operating at peak efficiency or performance, even if everything seems fine. Even emissions-related issues can reduce your car's gas mileage substantially.

In general, it's a good idea to resolve any check engine codes as soon as you can. You don't need to rush to a mechanic if the problem isn't critical, but plan to repair the underlying cause as soon as your time and budget allow.

For more information, reach out to a local mechanic shop, such as All German Auto.