If my ‘check engine’ light is on, do I have a serious problem?

Question:

How immediately do I need to respond to the check engine light?

Answer:

That dreaded check engine light can cause a lot of stress for vehicle owners. They fear a costly repair bill, and sometimes car owners take a head-in-the-sand approach, preferring to ignore it, hoping it will go away. A check engine light can indicate any number of issues:

  • It could be a very minor problem, such as a loose gas cap. Tighten the cap, and see if the light disappears after a couple of cycles with your engine.
  • It could be a more significant problem that can wait a few days, but should be investigated at your earliest convenience.
  • If the check engine light is flashing, you have a major problem, and you need to stop driving the vehicle as soon as possible. A flashing light often indicates, for example, a problem that can damage the catalytic converter.

Another thing to consider: Some cars in Colorado won’t pass inspection if the light is on. So whenever your check engine light comes on, you need to respond to it at some point. The sooner the better.

Bottom line: While you are driving around with a check engine light illuminated, the problem might be minor, but you are now preventing the light from signaling a more major problem, should one arise.