A common situation that drivers experience while driving smoothly is suddenly seeing the check engine light flashing or staying on on the dashboard. For example, in the United States, at least 10% of cars and trucks on the road see this situation at any given time, according to the 2018 CarMD Vehicle Health Index 2018 Ranking. When it happens to you, you may be a bit surprised because you usually won’t notice any change in the car’s operation, strange noises or smells. However, the check engine may mean your vehicle is having problems. Here’s everything you should know about it.

What does check engine mean?

In Spanish, the phrase translates to “check the engine”. Depending on the vehicle, you can identify it as “check engine”, “service engine soon” or with an engine icon. Generally speaking, cars have an electronic unit that, through different sensors, monitors engine operation. When these stop working or detect any anomaly in the system, and the computer cannot correct it, the check engine light comes on to warn of the failure.

You should keep in mind that, in some cars, this warning signal is linked to other systems besides the engine, such as the transmission, ABS, EBD, among other tools. Therefore, if the check engine light blinks or stays on, there is a wide range of faults that may be occurring, ranging from something as simple as a poorly closed gas cap, to anomalies in the ignition system, faulty oxygen sensors and serious engine failures. The way the light presents itself can also tell you a lot about the problem:

The check engine light stays on: the system malfunction is permanent. It may not be serious and may not affect the overall performance of the vehicle, but over time it hurts engine performance and gas mileage.

The check engine light comes on for a while and then goes out: it means that the car had a temporary failure and it was solved, or that the computer registered the failure in the memory.

The check engine light flashes: this is the most serious warning condition. It means that your car has a really serious problem, such as, for example, unburned fuel leaking from the exhaust, something that could completely damage the catalytic converter by overheating. It’s urgent to fix it.

So, what to do when the check engine comes on?

When you receive this signal on the dashboard of your vehicle, regardless of the intensity, you must scan it so that the computer reads the information from the sensors and detects the fault. If you have this equipment and you know the meaning of the error codes that the reading shows, you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you must go to a mechanical service center where the respective diagnosis can be made. In any case, once the system displays the fault codes of the car, a professional has to enter the scene to correct the fault. Then you press the “delete” button on the scanner to clear the alerts, and the check engine light will turn off again. That’s what you have to do when the check engine light comes on. Any failure, no matter how small, can become a big problem if you don’t pay attention to it in time.

So be sure to go to specialists, especially when the light blinks. In addition, and now that you know what check engine means, don’t forget that this signal also comes on for a few seconds when you start the vehicle, along with the other lights on the dashboard. This is normal, since its function is to indicate that the alerts are working properly.

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