Is it Safe to Drive with the Check Engine Light On?
There are a number of reasons why your vehicle’s check engine light may turn on. It could be something as simple as a loose gas cap or something serious like a failed catalytic converter. While the more serious issues will potentially make themselves known in a more obvious way, you can’t always immediately diagnose what the problem is. For this reason, it is best to treat the check engine light with the seriousness of what the problem could be and not necessarily what it actually is. You could drive safely with a loose gas cap but you never know if it is a more serious issue instead. If you don’t have the ability to diagnose the problem on your own, make sure to have a professional take a look at your vehicle before doing any serious driving.
Check Engine Light Urgency Levels
While it is a good rule of thumb that any check engine light issue should be checked out and fixed ASAP, there are urgency levels associated with the check engine light.
- Check engine light on but steady – In a case where the check engine light is simply on but not blinking, you are probably safe to drive the car but should consider having a technician check why it is on. It may be that you are due for an oil change or something is wrong with the car’s electronics. Don’t ignore it, but it is also not an urgent matter in most cases.
- Check engine light is on but flashing/blinking – If the light is flashing, you don’t want to ignore this. A flashing engine light typically indicates a more severe issue that requires immediate attention. If you see this, get your vehicle to an auto repair shop right away.
Common Reasons Your Check Engine Light May Be On
While there are many different reasons that your check engine light could turn on, there are several frequent problems that might be the culprit. We’ll address just a handful of these so you’ll have a better idea of what to consider when you see the light come on.
Gas Cap is Loose, Missing, or Damaged
This is a pretty easy thing to look for if your check engine light has turned on. Your car will run fine with a gas cap problem but it can allow gasoline to leak from your gas tank. Depending on the specific gas cap issue, these leaks can be relatively small or rather large. There are also other issues that can be found in your gas tank recirculation system so even if you don’t see a problem with the gas cap, there might be another underlying issue. Ignoring these problems will cause increased gas evaporation which means you’ll need to fill up more regularly. It is in your financial interest to fix these issues as soon as they appear.
Failing Oxygen Sensors
The oxygen sensor in your car measures the unburned oxygen in the exhaust system. The area that houses the oxygen sensor can get to 800 degrees or more which puts a lot of stress on the system. They commonly need to be worked on or replaced. Sometimes the engine code is identifying a problem but does not necessarily mean the oxygen sensors need to be replaced. If you ignore problems with your oxygen sensor, your engine will burn more fuel than necessary and you will lose fuel economy. A faulty oxygen sensor also has the potential to damage your vehicle’s spark plugs or catalytic converter.
Catalytic Converter Failure
Your vehicle’s catalytic converter is a crucial component of the exhaust system that turns carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. It is a very simple but important part of any vehicle and one that you should keep an eye on as failures can easily be avoided. A new catalytic converter can run you several hundred dollars so it’s best to keep your current one in good condition rather than have to replace it. Regular maintenance such as oil changes and emissions repair are the best time to also make sure your catalytic converter is in working order.
In general, this is going to be an obvious problem even without the help of the check engine light. Your vehicle’s ignition system includes the spark plugs, coil packs, and everything else needed to ignite the air/fuel mixture inside the engine. If you are experiencing frequent misfires when attempting to start your vehicle, there is almost certainly an issue with one of these parts that should be addressed.
Bradley’s Auto Can Diagnose Check Engine Light Issues
If your check engine light turns on, don’t ignore it. Call or contact Bradley’s Auto Service in Red Bank, New Jersey today to schedule a diagnostic to pinpoint the problem. Our ASE-certified mechanics have built a reputation for providing honest, professional auto services.