The Check Engine Light can be Humorous
There’s a recurring theme on the popular sitcom Big Bang Theory. Penny’s Check Engine light is on. Obsessive compulsive Sheldon can’t stop worrying about it. Penny chooses to ignore it, probably because she’s afraid that it’ll cost her an arm and a leg to get whatever is causing it fixed.
That little yellow Check Engine light that sometimes glows ominously on your dashboard has struck terror in the hearts of countless drivers over the decades. As soon as they see it, many drivers assume the worst, and immediately start to mentally calculate how much it is going to cost them to get their car fixed in a worst case scenario.
A Minor Problem can Trigger the Check Engine Light
Don’t panic just yet though – there are dozens of things, many of them minor, that can cause the Check Engine light to go on. So, what are the most common causes of a Check Engine light these days? Here are the top five:
- Faulty oxygen sensor – the oxygen sensor is a small electronic device about the size of a sparkplug that’s been installed on cars since the early 1980’s. It’s inserted somewhere in the exhaust stream. It could be screwed into the exhaust manifold or the exhaust pipe. Most vehicles have two to four oxygen sensors. The job of the oxygen sensor is to monitor the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust and determine if your engine is running too lean or too rich. When it’s working properly, it sends a message to your car’s computer to change the fuel/air mix if necessary. If the oxygen sensor fails and you don’t replace it your engine will burn more fuel than necessary. Your spark plugs and catalytic converter could also be damaged. It costs way more to replace a catalytic converter than an oxygen sensor so if that’s the problem, it’s a good idea to get the sensor replaced asap. A new oxygen sensor will usually last around 140,000 km, but if they get fouled with oil from a worn engine or gasoline additives they can fail sooner than that.
- Gas cap – if your gas cap is loose, damaged, or missing completely, your Check Engine light could come on. Your gas cap keeps your fuel system pressurized and prevents gas from evaporating. Not putting your gas cap on properly or not replacing one that is damaged will waste gas and also pollute the environment. If your Check Engine light comes on but your car seems to be running properly, check your gas cap for cracks, and make sure it’s on tight.
- Catalytic converter – this exhaust system component helps to protect the environment by converting dangerous carbon monoxide in vehicle exhaust into carbon dioxide. When your catalytic converter fails, your fuel economy and engine performance will suffer, your vehicle likely won’t pass air testing, and your engine might run hotter than normal.
- Mass airflow sensor – this device measures the amount of air that is entering the engine to ensure that the fuel/oxygen mix is correct for efficient engine performance. A faulty mass airflow sensor can lead to spark plug, oxygen sensor, or catalytic converter damage. It can also make your car run poorly.
- Spark plugs or wires – your spark plugs ignite the air/fuel mixture in your engine. Spark plugs don’t last forever and when they start to fail you’ll experience poor engine performance and lower fuel efficiency. If your engine isn’t running properly because of bad spark plugs or wires, your catalytic converter, ignition coils, and oxygen sensors could eventually be damaged.
Check it Now or Pay more Later
If your Check Engine light comes on relax, it’s probably nothing too serious. Just be sure to take your vehicle to a mechanic to have it checked over and necessary repairs made. Pay a little now, or a lot more later.
For all of your car service needs, including taking care of that pesky Check Engine light, bring your car into Kelowna Nissan.