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check engine light
auto repair shop
many cars
trouble code
scan tool
autozone
loose connection
poor performance
Q & A About Check Engine Light
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Q & A About Check Engine Light

When check engine light comes on what should you do? All cars made since 1996 and sold in the U.S. have OBD2 system. Check engine light is a part of this system. It is an indicator light in an instrument panel that tells you vehicle's computer detected a problem with your car. At least almost all drivers probably know that. But you are not so sure in detail what to do when the light comes on. Here are some questions and answers about check engine light.

  • Is it OK to continue to drive?

Yes. Assuming that a car seems to be running normal, you can drive but youshould have it checked as soon as possible. When the light is on there must be diagnostic trouble code(s) stored in a vehicle's computer. The code(s) will help and give technicians a short-cut for diagnosis. In case you wonder what to do when a car has a poor performance, you feel a lot of change in drive-ability, call a tow truck.

  • Can I disconnect the battery or pull a PCM, ECM fuse to clear check engine light?

It works for many cars but not recommended. The light will come back on if the problem still exists. Depending on codes, each code has a standard for the computer to turn on the light. Some causes turn on the light right after you connect and start the engine, some causes after several driving cycles. If the reason you want to clear the light is for a road test after you fixed the problem, use a scan tool. Some parts stores such as AutoZone do it for you for free. They also give you code's numbers and descriptions. Scanning and clearing the codes would be done in a minute. Please note that scanning the computer and get the codes are just single step of diagnostic procedure. If an auto repair shop tries to charge a full diagnostic cost (around $50) only for scanning or clearing, let them do nothing and leave.

  • When check engine light comes on a car always needs to replace something.

Not always. There are various causes to turn on the light. Bad sensor, loose connection, broken wire, and so on. Not always that divices or sensors are faulty.

  • The light went off itself. Is my car OK now?

Yes.....for now. Some problems are intermittent. Most of time, a car has no problem but under a certain or multiple condition(s) it does. When the light goes off there is no code stored in the computer. (exactly speaking, advanced scan tools can show history codes) There is nothing you can do for now. A recommended way of dealing with check engine light is have your own scan tool so you can check anytime the light comes on. There are a variety of scan tools on the market. The prices are from 20 to 1000s dollars. Some have big screen and many features, some show only code's numbers. And now there are many mobile applications doing the job of scan tools. All you need is an adapter that connects your car to mobile devices. Depending on apps, but there are relatively many features.

Having your own scan tool, scan, take a note then clear the light. See if the light comes back on. That is the best and first step of diy diagnosis.


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