What to do When Your Check Engine Light Comes On

by Sean Bryant on April 6, 2013

Check Engine LightOne minute it’s off and the next minute it’s on.  I’m talking about that pesky check engine light.  You have no idea what’s wrong or if your car will suddenly swerve off the road because of some catastrophic failure.  The reality of the engine light is simply a warning of something amiss, not of imminent or immediate danger but simply a subtle warning that a system needs to be checked.

The check engine light is most likely a warning of one of five areas.  These five areas below are the most common problems associated with the check engine light. Before assuming that one of the following is indeed the culprit for the glowing light you should check with your local dealer like Arrigo Automotive for advice and service.

Gas Cap

The first is the possibility of the gas cap being warn or loose or it was left off.  How bad can a gas cap be?  If the vapors held in by the gas cap escape the entire emissions system can be affected.  Make sure your cap is on tight when you refuel and make sure you replace your cap at recommended intervals.

O2 Sensor 

The second possibility of an engine light blaring is the O2 sensor (Oxygen Sensor).  Again this is part of the emissions system and a faulty O2 Sensor can affect your MPG and your cars overall performance.  The cost of a new sensor can run anywhere from fifty dollars to over two hundred and fifty dollars not including installation, and could run up to five hundred or more depending on where it is and how long it takes to get it out and replaced.

Catalytic Converter 

The third most common reason for the engine light is the need to replace your catalytic converter.  It sounds bad and it generally is.

This is part of the exhaust system.  The catalytic converter converts carbon monoxide and other harmful materials into harmless compounds; without it the strict emissions standards for noxious output is compromised. In other words, your car will be polluting more than it’s supposed to.  The cost of this repair can range from a few hundred dollars to a nearly one thousand dollars depending on the year, type and model of your car.

Mass Air Flow Sensor 

Next is the Mass Air Flow Sensor. This tells your car to add or decrease the amount of fuel based on the amount of available air, ensuring the best fuel and performance as needed. This repair is fairly easy on many vehicles and is usually near the top of the engine.  The cost for the part varies but is generally not too expensive and the labor is generally reasonable.

Spark Plugs 

The last common problem associated with a check engine light is worn or failed spark plugs and wires.  New wires and plugs ensure constant and ready spark to the pistons while old plugs or wires may delay the spark leaving precious fuel behind to be wasted and dumped into the exhaust system.  These repairs vary widely due to engine design and placement, its recommended that you check with your dealer.

There are other issues addressed when the engine light comes on but the best strategy to take is get it checked.  Your local automobile dealer is well equipped and ready to lend a helping hand.

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created OneSmartDollar.com in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and he wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his daughter Colette and dog Charlie.

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