Common Triggers for Check Engine Lights

Diagnosing Check Engine Light Causes at Kelly Clark Automotive Repair in Phoenix

As a driver, there’s nothing worse than cruising along, only to have your eye caught by that dreaded little check engine light. Even the most clueless of mechanics knows that this warning light means one thing – trouble! So what should you do, and more importantly, what does it mean? Read on for our guide to managing your check engine light, and coming out unscathed.

The Basics

The first step is to pull over as soon as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean coming to a grinding halt, especially if you’re in heavy traffic or cruising at high speed. Be smart, and pull over only when it’s safe to do so. Chances are, an extra minute or so on the road won’t make a huge difference.

The next step is understanding what a lit up engine light actually means. Unfortunately, it’s a little vague, and doesn’t indicate exactly what the problem is. Just that there is a problem. So what issues could the light be trying to warn you about?

First things first, check your dashboard gauges and lights for any signs of overheating or low oil pressure. These categorize as roadside emergencies, and should be addressed immediately. If you can’t see any immediate problem, the following are common triggers that get engine lights glowing:

  • One frequent cause is a faulty oxygen sensor. We see many Phoenix-area cars come in to Kelly Clark Automotive Repair with this issue. This item actively monitors unburned oxygen from the exhaust pipe, and sends data to the car’s internal computer. Without it, gas mileage can significantly decrease, and emissions can skyrocket.
  • Malfunctioning catalytic convertors can also light up engine warning lights, and prevent the car from reducing its exhaust gases. Again, this decreases gas mileage, and allows harmful materials to be released into the atmosphere. When catalytic convertors overheat, damage repair costs can get expensive.
  • Another major cause is a loose or faulty gas cap. This can allow gas vapors to escape, which can disrupt the entire fuel system. It happens to many of us too. You’re finishing the fill up, texting, talking to your kids and simply forget to replace the cap. The next day you panic when the light comes on, but never think for a minute about your fill up the day before.
  • Worn down spark plugs and wires can also activate engine warning lights, which can spell big-time headaches for motorists. Spark plugs seal the combustion chamber and are a critical part of kick-starting the engine. Faulty plugs see sparks misfire, which can cause the car’s acceleration to jump and jolt. Engine misfires can also dump unburned fuel into the exhaust system, which can send catalytic converter temperatures soaring – see above!

It’s important to remember that while you may not notice an immediate problem, a flashing engine light is definitely not something to be ignored. Modern automotive computers tend to overcompensate when there’s an engine issue, which can conceal signs of performance deterioration, and lull drivers into a false sense of security. Meanwhile, gas mileage suffers, emissions spike, and permanent engine damage becomes increasingly likely. Avoid all of the above by paying close attention to your engine light—and seeing expert mechanical help from Kelly Clark Automotive Specialists if it lights up.