(This post was inspired by and contains information from an article written by Ann Carrns. The original article appeared at NewYorkTimes.com.)
The “check engine” light. It’s vague and mysterious, usually inconvenient, sometimes a little scary and, often, all of the above. But ultimately, the “check engine” light is doing you a favor by alerting you to a problem that may eventually affect your vehicle’s performance.
In an article for the NewYorkTimes.com, Ann Carrns explains the top five reasons “check engine” lights come on. (Her list was based on research compiled by the folks at CarMD.com.)
What Your Check Engine Light is Trying to Tell You
1) Replace your oxygen sensor. That’s a device that measures the oxygen in your car's exhaust and helps regulate how much fuel the engine needs to operate efficiently. If the sensor is faulty, your car will use more fuel than necessary - up to 40 percent more! A new sensor usually costs less than $200.
2) Check your gas cap. Your car is smart enough to know if your gas cap is loose or cracked. If it’s either, you’ll lose more gas to evaporation. Cost of a new gas cap: about three bucks. Money you’ll save by not wasting gas: a whole lot more than three bucks.
3) It’s time for a new catalytic converter. Hopefully, this isn’t the problem because a new catalytic converter can run as high as $2,000. This part doesn’t usually fail unless you repeatedly ignore problems with faulty oxygen sensors or spark plugs. Avoiding the expense of replacing this part is reason enough to bring your vehicle into a Mountain View Tire location whenever your “check engine” lights pops on.
4) You need a new mass air flow sensor. That’s the device that measures the amount of air coming into your engine. Keep it working properly by replacing your air filter when you have your oil changed. For less than $20 you may be able to avoid a $400 repair.
5) Change your spark plugs. Damaged plugs can cause your engine to misfire, and that can lead to expensive catalytic converter problems. New spark plugs can serve as cheap insurance against a big repair bill.
Carrns reminds drivers that, if your “check engine” light comes on, you can usually drive your car safely until you’re able to A) check the gas cap or B) take the vehicle in for a diagnosis. However, if the “check engine” light is flashing, you should stop driving as soon as it’s safe and take the vehicle to a qualified automotive technician as quickly as possible to prevent mechanical damage.