If there’s one indicator on most vehicle dashboards that’s misunderstood, it’s the check engine light.
Sure, this light flashes on when your car detects something amiss, and it tells you to check your engine – but what, specifically, are you supposed to check?
Your car’s engine is a complicated piece of machinery with many, many interconnected parts. So, really, when your check engine light flashes on, there’s not enough information at hand to do much of anything about it (other than perhaps call your auto mechanic). Right?
Not so fast.
In some cases, your check engine light coming on can indicate a serious problem, one you might make worse if you continue to drive the car.
In other cases, the light can point to a generally low level of performance for your car, including poor fuel mileage.
The good news: No matter which type of scenario you’re dealing with, there’s a way to handle it. We’re giving a full explanation, so buckle up and pay attention – here’s how to clear the check engine light.
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How to Clear the Check Engine Light the Logical Way
Your car is trying to tell you something – but what?
Follow these steps to find out.
1. Check Your Other Dashboard Indicators and Gauges
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If your check engine light comes on because of a big problem, your other indicators and dashboard gauges may help clue you in.
First, check to see if your engine is overheating or if your oil pressure is low. In both situations, you need to pull over and stop the car as soon as possible.
If your check engine light comes on and nothing else seems amiss, you can probably safely continue to your destination.
Some models of cars can clue you in on whether the light indicates an emergency or a warning. For example, the light may be red if it’s an immediate issue, and yellow if you need to get your engine checked, but it’s not an emergency.
In both cases, the only way to clear the check engine light is to get your car serviced.
2. Reduce the Stress on Your Car
If your check engine light comes on and you immediately notice a problem with performance to go along with it (like a loss of power), you should reduce your speed. If you’re pulling a load or towing something heavy, you should pull over and unhitch it or remove that extra weight.
After you reduce your car’s stress, you may be able to drive yourself straight to a mechanic. Remember to go nice and slow, and take it easy on the brakes and accelerator.
Again, the only way to clear the check engine light in this situation is to get your car professionally serviced.
3. Is Your Gas Cap Loose?
If your check engine light is on but nothing else seems to be wrong, first make sure the light is yellow, not red. (If it’s red, there could still be an emergency, even if you can’t detect the problem.)
Drive carefully and listen to your car. If you still can’t figure out why the check engine light came on, try pulling over and tightening the gas cap.
It may seem silly that this warning indicator can come on for such a small problem, but it does happen.
Once your cap is tight, give the check engine light some time to go off – it may not do it immediately. In fact, it may not turn off until several rides later.
If some time has passed and the light is still illuminated, you guessed it – it’s time to go get your car checked by a mechanic. They’ll have diagnostic tools that can read the information your car has stored about the check engine light, which will point to the problem.
In some cases, the light itself may simply be malfunctioning.
To Clear Your Check Engine Light, You Usually Need to Service Your Car
If you’re trying to avoid a trip to the auto shop and want to clear that pesky light on your own, bad news:
Usually, your car needs to get serviced to clear that light once and for all. The only situation when you can clear it yourself is if you have a loose gas cap.
What’s the good news?
If you pay attention to your vehicle’s warning signals, like the check engine light, and get your car serviced in a timely manner, you’ll probably avoid worse problems happening down the road. These can lead to more expensive repairs.
Save yourself a headache and use common sense. If your check engine light comes on, pay attention, drive carefully, and get it checked out as soon as possible.