Check Engine Light: is it an emergency?

The functions of the check engine light

When your check engine light comes on, you may be torn between utter panic and just wanting to ignore it and hope it goes away. That's perfectly understandable. That same check engine light could come on for anything from a serious engine or transmission problem all the way down to a loose gas cap.

Late model vehicles are equipped with an on-board computer that manages all components, mostly notably the power train—from the fuel supply to exhaust gases—but also peripheral systems like the brakes, electric system, air conditioning, and even tire pressure, through a network of sensors linked to the computer.

When the main computer detects a problem, a light on the dashboard turns on to notify the driver. In some vehicles, a red light indicate issues that require immediate attention. In others, if the check engine light is flashing, it means that the problem could also lead to serious damage. You should get to the service centre as soon as possible to get the problem solved. If it's on but not flashing, you have some time to get in at your convenience.

Your certified NAPA AUTOPRO technician will use a scan tool to get the diagnostic trouble code(s) of a defective part or component.

What should I do when my check engine light is on?

Every driver has experienced that stressful moment when the Check Engine light on the vehicle’s dashboard comes on. In many cases, it means that something serious is wrong and that you should take your vehicle to your NAPA AUTOPRO centre right away so a certified technician can identify and fix the problem. Getting your vehicle checked by a professional as soon as possible is often the right call, although in some less urgent cases, parts can be ordered and replaced in the next few days.

For any given trouble code, there could be a number of causes. Your trained technician takes the trouble code as a starting point and begins a diagnostic process to determine the cause of the problem.

What are the steps when diagnosing the check engine?

If you don’t consult a professional when the Check Engine light comes on, you could end up with serious damage or even compromise your vehicle’s safety.

When your engine management system logs a problem and illuminates the check engine light, your service technician will plug in a scanner, download the trouble codes and go to work tracing the cause of the problem. That's just the first step. That's when your technician's training, equipment, databases and skill get put to work diagnosing the problem and fixing it.

Learn more about the check engine light from our NAPA AUTOPRO experts in the video below: