When the Check Enginelight comes on…

You break out in a cold sweat, convinced your engine is going to give out at any second, and call your mechanic in a panic. Take a deep breath—it’s just the Check Engine light on the dashboard, after all!

The technology that makes cars “smart” has been around for a while. For years, dashboards have been full of sensors that light up when something’s not quite right. Here’s a breakdown of your car’s main sensors.


The increasingly common Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) measures tire pressure. If the pressure is insufficient or abnormal, the sensor turns on. To avoid this situation, check your tire pressure regularly and adjust as needed. In some cases, like when you get your tires changed, the computer will need to be reprogrammed with the size of the new tires so the sensor doesn’t stay on indefinitely. Extremely cold winter weather may cause the sensor to light up, as cold air contracts and lowers tire pressure.

Malfunction indicator lamp:

The infamous Check Engine light can indicate a minor issue, such as a loose gas cap, or a major problem, such as a part that’s about to give up the ghost. If the light is orange or steady, you should get your vehicle checked out by a professional in the next few days. If the light is red or blinking, you should have your vehicle serviced right away! If you wait before consulting a professional, you may end up with a hefty repair bill!

Anti-theft sensor:

Late-model vehicles are often equipped with an anti-theft system, which detects a broken window or unexpected entry and sets off an alarm. In some cases, it is impossible to start the engine once the anti-theft system is activated. It is also becoming increasingly possible to recover stolen vehicles through the use of geolocation technology.

Brake wear sensor:

Increasingly common, brake wear sensors indicate when the brakes need to be replaced or if there has been a loss of pressure or performance. Sensors are installed on the brake pads and are connected to the vehicle’s computer.