Today I was driving my vehicle and without warning the “Check Engine Light” illuminated. Has this happened to you?
Today’s vehicles have several ways to signal to the driver that a problem exists with the automobile. Some of these warning lights are in the form of yellow “Engine”, or icons, or “SES” or even the “Service Engine Soon” message. This is a warning to the driver that the vehicle has a problem and should be addressed as soon as safety allows.
When this occurs we should check our gauges for problems, pull over to the side of the road as traffic permits and shut off the engine.
A great place to start is by asking yourself did you notice any changes in the vehicle just prior to having the light come on? Examples of some of the question you may ask yourself may be:
- Did the steering get really stiff?
- Did you visually observe any possible problems like smoke or steam trailing from the vehicle?
- Did you hear anything unusual such as a “pop”, “crack”, “snap”, “rattle”, “bang”, “knocking”, “whining” or “hissing” sounds?
- Did any other gauge lights illuminate with the engine light?
- Are there any unusual smells that could be an indication of a problem.
Next, safely exit the vehicle to further evaluate what the problem may be. You can perform a quick inspection under the hood. You don’t need to be a mechanic to check several items in the engine compartment that may have triggered this light.
A basic and general visual inspection of the engine area could identify a problem. A steaming engine could indicate problems in the cooling system. A broken or missing serpentine belt is another.
If all appears normal, you can inspect certain fluids and their levels. Start with the engine oil. Be very careful as fluids are VERY HOT!
NEVER open a radiator or cooling system cap on a hot engine!
This system is under pressure and when that pressure is released unexpectedly those hot fluids can lead to serious injury severely burning you or any other bystanders.
On many vehicles, you can check transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid as well. If unfamiliar, you can identify those reservoirs by researching your owners manual, which most people carry in their glove boxes or center console.
Make a quick visual inspection by looking under the car for wet or dripping fluids. Is there a trail of fluid following you to the place where you just pulled the vehicle into?
If at this point all seems to be normal, start the car and see if the engine idles or runs normally.
If you are in the isolated backcountry with no help nearby and provided the vehicle seems to run normally with no drivability issues you could elect to safely drive the vehicle to the nearest town or area of cell phone coverage.
If it doesn’t, or you feel uncertain about the state of the vehicle, call for a tow vehicle and have it taken to a service repair center. If in doubt, always err on the side of caution and call for assistance.
One of the worst things you can do to your vehicle for an extended period of time is to continue to drive it when the check engine light illuminates. A minor inexpensive repair could turn into an extremely expensive repair by doing so. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.
Another routine problem repair facilities face today, is when the driver of the car takes it to the nearest auto repair parts chain store and requests their personal read the trouble codes then asks them to clear these codes.
Clearing the codes erases all the saved history and parameters of the engine components that were stored at the time of the incident. That vital data could save you valuable money spent on diagnosis at a repair facility. Without that data, a technician lacks the necessary information to troubleshoot a failed or failing component.
Modern vehicles have the ability to lead service technicians in the direction of a problem, provided that information is not erased. The last thing you want to hear at a repair facility is “we can’t find anything wrong at this time” which translates into that light coming back on for you on your next trip and the whole process starts over again.
In closing, let us mention that today’s vehicles are also loaded with electronic modules that operate a multitude of components. The old saying “it’s just emissions related and not a serious problem” are days long gone – it’s no longer ok to just continue to drive your vehicle with the light on.
Our cars, while not self-diagnosing, can provide us with information to current or pending problems that can be repaired quickly and inexpensively if attended to immediately.
Did you know that your modern vehicle, when experiencing a problem, can actually shut down other areas of your car such as “Traction Control” or “Air Conditioning” to self-preserve the engine in times of crisis?
So the next time your “engine” light illuminates, bring it to us at Tierra Del Sol Automotive and ask us to accurately identify and repair the problem. Remember, it’s less expensive to repair a well-maintained vehicle than it is to replace that vehicle at a significantly higher cost and monthly payment.