On some cars it’s called a Check Engine light; others use a Service Engine Soon light. Still others just have a light with a picture of an engine on it. The industry calls it a MIL — Malfunction Indicator Lamp. All scary names for the same thing… something that isn’t scary at all. Basically the light means that the car’s computer has identified a problem in the system that needs attention.
What kind of attention? Professional attention, from a professional technician. It needs to have the computer system scanned and checked to identify any areas that have shifted outside of the normal operating range.
Sounds confusing, but in reality that light is just the computer’s way of telling you to have your car checked. It found a problem — often one that you wouldn’t even notice during normal driving — and it needs to be checked before it becomes serious.
Why does the system need a Check Engine light? Because the more complex the system is, the more it has to help you monitor its performance and diagnose problems. And the computer system on today’s cars is highly complex. So the system is designed to monitor operation and set codes when it identifies a problem.
Most of the time a Check Engine light indicates a problem that’ll increase emissions. And those emissions don’t have to increase much to turn the light on: Today’s cars are designed to run a lot cleaner than those of just a decade ago.
But even if you don’t really care all that much about your car’s environmental impact, a Check Engine light is still something you’ll want to have checked. Keep in mind, anything that increases emissions probably also burns more gas. And at the price of gas today, that’s not something you want to ignore.
What’s more, pumping additional fuel through the engine can force the catalytic converter to work overtime to burn off the excess carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. That can overheat the catalytic converter and burn it out in just a few miles. And replacing the catalytic converter can be an expensive repair you’ll have to take care of before you’ll be able to pass your next emissions test or smog test.
Your local ATRA Member shop is equipped with the latest test equipment for diagnosing today’s computer systems. They’ll be happy to scan your car’s computer system and check for any codes stored in memory. And their technicians can examine the circuits and systems to track down any problems, and bring those systems back into proper operating condition.
To find the ATRA Member shop near you, click the Shop Finder link.
If you have any questions, you can e-mail ATRA's Technical Department through the Technical Services page or call 1-866-GO-4-ATRA (1-866-464-2872).