Top 4 Reasons NOT To Panic When Your Check Engine Light Comes On

While there are literally dozens of reasons your check engine light may be triggered, there’s typically no need to panic. Here are 4 big reasons to stay calm.

Yellow letters on a black background saying check engine.

You’re driving along, singing a song, and everything’s fine and dandy.

Then you see it … the orange-red glow of the check engine light. And suddenly life’s not so hunky-dory anymore.

Do you drive straight home? Pull over? Check something? Panic?!

While there are literally dozens of reasons your check engine light may be triggered, there’s typically no need to panic. Here’s why.

1. It might just be your gas cap

Many people don’t know this, but a loose, cracked, or faulty gas cap can cause fuel to evaporate, thus cuing your check engine light.

So first things first, pull over (as soon as it’s safe) and make sure your gas cap is on tight. If this was indeed the trigger, your check engine light should go off within 10 or 20 miles once you’re back on the road.

2. A certified mechanic should be able to diagnose the problem easily

Technology is on its way to helping us figure out what’s gone wrong when the check engine light comes on. For instance, a new company called MetroMile offers a free app for iPhone® users that, among other features, helps to easily diagnose the issue behind the light.

But for now, whenever that pesky light comes on, your best bet is to take your car to a certified mechanic and let them diagnose the problem.

3. It’s typically not an emergency

Here’s where there’s some good news. Unlike some of the other lights in your car (your oil light, for example) that could mean a big problem if you don’t address it right away, your check engine light rarely signals anything disastrous.

When it comes on you’re probably okay to drive a few more miles or even a few more days. (That being said, do the smart thing and take it to see a mechanic as soon as you can.)

4. There are numerous reasons the light may come on

Aside from a loose gas cap, all other reasons for your check engine light coming on are much more complicated to diagnose (and likely not things you can fix on the side of the road). Triggers can include everything from a damaged vacuum hose or ignition coil(s) to a failing catalytic converter to worn out spark plugs (just to name a few).

No idea what any of that means? That’s OK — most of us don’t. Most modern cars have an on-board diagnostic system that provides a code identifying the specific issue at hand. If you take your car to a pro or even select auto part stores, they can figure out what the code means so you can act accordingly.

So when you see that light flickering in the corner of your dash, know that while you will need to see a mechanic in the near future, there’s absolutely no need to panic. It’s ok to keep going, just make sure you have it checked out as soon as you can.

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12 Responses to “Top 4 Reasons NOT To Panic When Your Check Engine Light Comes On”

  1. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    August 26, 2014 #

    Great post Heidi. It’s great that you’ve covered the different angles- it could be something small, it could be something big but is it just me or would I be right in saying that despite knowing the check engine light means there is some form of a fault, drivers still have far too much of a tendency to ignore it?

  2. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Gerard meyer
    November 11, 2014 #

    I guess then I will keep on driving my 95 Caddie for another 20 years even though that darned light keeps coming on……Thanks

  3. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Scott Barstow
    November 12, 2014 #

    The check engine light can come on for many reasons. When you feel a major difference in how the vehicle drives or sounds would increase the priority to the warning light.

  4. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    marilyn rembert
    November 13, 2014 #

    my check engine light came on and it was my gas cap door open

  5. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Brenton Brown
    November 13, 2014 #

    Only issue is that it's kind of hard to find a true and honest mechanic these days.. My light just came on and I think they're tryjng to scam me but since I know nothing about Jeeps and can't see the history from the past owner, I'm kind of lost.

  6. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    ian heller
    November 13, 2014 #

    usual its no big deal

  7. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Sally Palmer
    November 13, 2014 #

    We have had the frightening experience of the engine light coming on during a trip only to find it was a loose gas cap. That is the first thing I would think of now that I know it can be a problem.

  8. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Rodney Harris
    November 14, 2014 #

    Bose soundbar

  9. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Dario Castellanos
    November 15, 2014 #

    Now thanks to this blog, next time the CHECK ENGINE light comes on, I will check the gas cap and tighten it; it already happened once and we really panicked!

  10. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    samuel morrison
    December 20, 2014 #

    That is exactly what happened to me however I drove for a few days and had to disconnect the battery for five minutes for the light to do off.

  11. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    Alex Brooke
    July 17, 2015 #

    Really great post. Have to say we've seen this issue with the petrol cap happen time and time again. I'd definitely say if you're engine oil level is low it's crucial that you top it back up again otherwise you'll find that your engine gets quickly damaged.

  12. Avatar for Heidi Wallis
    July 19, 2015 #

    This is a pretty good article, but the last paragraph might be deceiving. For most modern cars, as long as the light comes on solid, you can generally continue on your way.. but if it is flashing, manufacturers recommend you pull over and turn the car off IMMEDIATELY.

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