When the check engine light comes on, your heart drops into your stomach since you think you know that little light is going to cost you an arm and a leg and possibly leave you stranded. That is, however, not always the case. The check engine light (sometimes referred as the malfunction indicator lamp), could mean something as minor as a loose fuel cap or something as serious as replacing a sensor that's in a hidden spot.
The engine light comes on when the vehicle's computer sends a code that something is wrong. The code is stored in memory, and until it's erased, the light remains lit. If you try to turn the light off without repairing the problem, the light will just come back on again. It's best to get the problem diagnosed as soon as possible. If money is tight, your auto technician will be able to tell you if the problem is serious enough to get repaired right away or if it can wait for a week or two. However, it's never recommended to drive far when there's something wrong, even if it's minor.
Two Types of Codes
The computer sends two types of codes: hard codes and soft codes. Most codes are hard codes, meaning the light stays illuminated. If the engine light is on, then you notice it turns itself off, then on again, that is a soft code. This means that the problem is rectifying itself. An oxygen sensor may send a soft code if for some reason it reads the wrong fuel mixture. The next time it reads the correct mixture, the light will go off until it rereads a wrong mixture. A wrong mixture could mean not enough gas or too much gas in the exhaust. Both conditions could cause additional damage to catalytic converters. While you can drive with these issues, it's not recommended to go far.
Limp Home Mode
Many of the problems will allow the computer to go into “limp home mode.” The vehicle will run very poorly and most likely not start again once you shut it off. However, if the engine light comes on and you are close to Concierge Auto Repair, you may be able to drive your vehicle here. If you are more than a mile plus or minus, it's recommended that you call a tow truck. Driving in limp home mode for too long could cause additional damage. Or, your vehicle could stall in traffic, which could cause an accident. If your vehicle is in this mode, you'll be able to at least get the vehicle off the road and to a nearby shop or business where you have much less of a chance of getting hit by other drivers.
Sometimes, you may get a bunch of codes for things that you know are working. The vehicle's computer can't diagnose itself, but it can tell you if it has had a meltdown. For example, you might get a five code for systems that you know are working, such as a coolant temperature sensor, the MAP sensor, the knock sensor and the cam sensor. If the vehicle is running smoothly, that is your first clue. The second clue is that all of these sensors do not usually crash at once.
Contact Concierge Auto Repair
If your vehicle's check engine light is on, contact us at Concierge Auto Repair to diagnose and repair the problem so that you can get back on the road quickly.