If you are driving along and a light suddenly illuminates on your dashboard, you may be worried about whether you need to pull over immediately. Unfortunately, check engine lights are not very clear about what they mean. Some modern cars have clearer information for drivers. However, if you don’t have such a system, it is a good idea to know what the light means and what you should do next.
What Does Your Check Engine Light Do?
Vehicle status indicator lights are sometimes called “idiot” lights. This is because they can either be on or off, which is not a lot of information. If it comes on, there is some sort of problem that needs to be addressed. However, knowing what that problem is can be more complex.
Many check engine lights actually have three states: on, off and blinking. You will always see your check engine light on when you start your vehicle. However, it should shut off after a few seconds. If it doesn’t there is a problem. Similarly, if it comes on while you are driving, there is a problem. A blinking light typically indicates a serious problem that may need more immediate attention.
One of the challenges of diagnosing a check engine light is that the exact meaning of each light state varies between manufacturers. Generally, a check engine light indicates a problem with the drive train. However, the severity can vary. The best thing you can do is get a free check engine light scan from somewhere like AutoZone. This will help you get much more immediate and useful information. The problem may be as simple as needing a scheduled oil change or a serious issue. You may even be able to fix the issue yourself with a few tools and parts.
When You Should Pull Over
Of course, the elephant in the room is whether you need to pull over. This can be a little tricky to determine based on a light alone. These are some steps you should follow:
- Look at the Light: If the light is blinking, you need to pull over. If it is steady, you may be able to wait.
- Check the Odometer: If the light is steady and you just passed a mileage milestone, you may simply need to get a routine service (some vehicles use the check engine light for this). Pay attention for other issues.
- Look and Listen: Watch for any other signs of problems. You may smell something weird, hear a rattling or scraping noise, see smoke or feel that the vehicle is driving strangely. All these are indications that you have an issue that needs immediate attention.
- Check Further: If there are no signs of a serious problem and the light is steady, you may not need to pull over. However, you should bring the vehicle to a mechanic and/or scan for trouble codes.
Start Repairing Your Vehicle Today
You may be surprised by how much you can fix yourself on your vehicle. With a few tools and car parts, you can handle a lot of issues, including check engine lights. Discover more today.