Why Is My Check Engine Light On?

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Imagine for a moment that your baby is crying. Something must be wrong, but their diaper is fine, they just ate, and they napped like a champion this afternoon. How could you possibly know what is causing their discomfort?  

This is kind of how a mysterious check engine light can make you feel.

The check engine light is one of the most frustrating and needlessly confusing parts of a vehicle. The light could mean a wide variety of things that range from the quickest fixes to the most costly repairs. But, before you get too worried that something serious is wrong with your big metal baby, check out some of the reasons your car could be crying for help:

  1. The Oxygen Sensor Is Out of Whack

One of the most common reasons for this annoying light is a faulty oxygen sensor. It helps monitor how much fuel your vehicle burns. If the sensor is out of whack, that means it’s not giving the computer the correct data and can decrease gas mileage. This one is a quick fix if done in a timely manner. But, if you wait too long, it could damage the catalytic converter, a fix with a much bigger price tag.

  1. Your Gas Cap Is Playing Tricks on You

While the gas cap may seem like a minor convenience on a car, it is actually a pretty big deal. When the cap is cracked or loose, fuel vapors leak out and can throw your entire fuel system off balance. If your check engine light comes on, get out and tighten the gas cap. If you notice the gas cap has a crack in it, you can grab a new one at an auto parts store for a few dollars and be back on your way.

  1. The Catalytic Converter Needs to Retire

The catalytic converter reduces exhaust gases from your car. If it is failing, you may begin to notice a decrease in gas mileage or speed. Luckily, if you keep up with regular maintenance, your converter shouldn’t fail.

The bad news is that it can cost you a pretty penny–often upwards of $2,000. And, unfortunately, if you decide to hold off on repairs, eventually your car won’t be able to continue running for very long.

  1. It’s Time for a New Mass Airflow Sensor (MAS)

The MAS tells your car’s computer the proper amount of fuel to add based on the engine’s airflow. If yours is faulty, this can increase emissions, cause your car to stall, and kill your gas mileage. A new MAS isn’t too costly, but if it fails, that’s most likely because your air filter wasn’t installed properly. Always remember to change your air filters at least once per year to avoid any issues with this sensor.

  1. The Spark Plugs or Wires Have Seen Better Days

A vehicle’s spark plugs seal its combustion chamber, provide space for the spark to jump across and ignite combustion in your engine. There is not much you can do to avoid regular wear and tear on these parts, but most plugs only need to be replaced every 100,000 miles. Try to get them replaced right away though–it’s cheap, easy, and will allow your car to run much more smoothly.

There are plenty of reasons your car might be crying out for help, but these five are by far the most common. How long do you typically wait to make a move after your check engine light comes on?

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