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How Can I Tell What The Check Engine Light Means?

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The check engine light in your car, also known as the Malfunction Indicator Light, is one of the warning lights on the dashboard of your car. The check engine light often looks like an engine outlined in orange. The indicator light might say "check" or "check engine" or may feature what looks like a lightening bolt zig-zagging across the front of the engine. Many car owners fear the check engine light in part because it is an indicator light that could mean one of many different things--either an expensive repair is coming due, or something far less sinister is at work. These tips will help you discover the source of your problem. 

Check the Gas Cap

Your car is monitored by many sensors that are constantly taking readings on the various systems in your car, and one of the things that your car's computer is monitoring is the gas cap. A loose or cracked gas cap can cause gas emissions to leak out of your car. In turn, this can cause a reduction in your gas mileage. The car's computer can detect this, and will turn on the check engine light.

When the check engine light comes on, the first thing you should do is attempt to tighten the gas cap. If the gas cap is loose, this is very likely the source of your problem. The car's computer will continue to take readings for a day or two after you tighten the cap before turning the light off once again, so don't fret if the check engine doesn't turn off immediately after tightening the cap.

Buy a Code Reader

Code readers are available for sale in automotive supply stores. Code readers run diagnostic tests on the car's computer and tell the user basic information about what's wrong with the car. Code readers are helpful for people who like to do DIY repairs on their cars. If you're a person who never does his or her own car repairs, a code reader is probably not worth owning. In addition to the fact that the knowledge gleaned from code readers can be vague (it might tell you which part is the source of the problem, but not what's wrong), code are also useless unless you have the tools to fix what's wrong with the car. 

Take It In for a Diagnostic

Your mechanic, such as ABS Unlimited Auto Repair, can run a diagnostic on the car using a device similar to--but more sophisticated than--the layman's code reader. Mechanics do often charge to run a diagnostic, but many will deduct the cost of the diagnostic from the repair of the vehicle. Taking your car to a mechanic has the added benefit of bringing an expert's opinion into the equation. Whereas DIY car owners are forced to guess the cause of the problem based on the cryptic messages from their code readers, mechanics are more capable of judging the problem based on their experience and sophisticated equipment. 

For more information about fixing a car when the check engine light comes on, speak with your regular mechanic.