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‘Check engine’ light on? Time to see a technician

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A “check engine” light on a car’s dashboard is different than a maintenance light. Generally, when a maintenance light comes on there is a need for general maintenance, such as an oil change. The check engine light can mean there is a more complicated problem.

by Larry S. Chowning

Your “check engine” light is on! Do you put a piece of tape over it and ignore it? And, if you do, how long do you ignore it?

Over time, ignoring a check engine light may be costly.

Mac Davis of Mac’s Auto World of Va. Inc. in White Stone said it is critical that when a check engine light comes on, it needs to be checked as soon as possible.

“If the check engine light is on by itself and there is no oil light or temperature light on, then you can go ahead and check your oil and antifreeze levels,” said Davis. “But, you also should go to a shop and have your car’s computer plugged into the shop’s computer so a mechanic can retrieve the car’s code.

“First, you need to know what’s wrong. It can be as simple as not tightening the gas cap,” said Davis. “Or, it can be a very complicated problem.

“You should go as soon as possible to determine the code problem. If you wait, it makes it more difficult later to determine the problem. Many computers are set up so they store failure codes, and these codes become layered in different parts of the computer,” continued Davis.

“If you bring the car to a shop in just a few days, the technician can retrieve that data from all those departments. But if you drive it for three months and then decide to come into the shop, the technicians might have a much harder time retrieving all of the codes. They may not be able to get the fault codes out at one time and the check engine light off on the first try,” said Davis.

This would result in having to go back and forth to the shop until all the code failures can be retrieved. 

“The car owner wants to blame the shop because it didn’t get everything on the first trip,” said Davis. “It’s not the shop’s fault. It’s the car owner’s fault. He waited too long.”

Brandon Taylor of Chandler Automotive in Urbanna agreed that as soon as a check engine light comes on, it needs to be checked. He said the problems are usually computer related and involves sensors and other complicated elements in the engine.

There is an array of problems that cause the engine light to go on. “It may be a serious problem, but most times it’s not,” said Taylor. “The problem is that if you don’t fix minor problems and get the light shut off, then when you have a major problem you won’t know it.

“I recommend you have the problem scanned and have it fixed so if there is a major problem with the car, the check engine light will let you know the problem is there,” said Taylor.

posted 11.11.2010

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