Spring on the Road

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4 reasons for a check engine light

Vehicles rely on many components working harmoniously to function at optimal capacity. Any number of systems can go wrong, and oftentimes the first indication that something has gone awry is an illuminated dashboard signal.

One such signal is the "check engine" light. Many drivers have little idea what to do when this indicator lights up, and this light can cause some anxiety. According to Consumer Reports, a check engine light turning on does not usually require immediate action. However, it does mean that you should make an appointment to have the vehicle inspected for potential problems.

Check engine lights are part of a car's onboard diagnostics. The light turning on may indicate something minor, such as a loose fuel cap, or something more serious like a misfiring engine. When the light turns on, drivers wondering why may want to see if the answer is related to one of the following issues.

1. Loose gas cap: Fuel vapors can leak out and air can get in when the fuel cap isn't secured correctly. This can compromise the fuel system and make the check engine light come on. Take off the cap and then reseal it to see if that alleviates the problem. Cracked caps will need to be replaced.

2. Dirty oxygen sensor: A faulty or clogged sensor may not provide the right information about unburned oxygen from the vehicle's exhaust. This sensor monitors how much fuel is burned. Compromised data can cause a decrease in fuel efficiency. Some do-it-yourselfers can replace an oxygen sensor on their own, but those who can't should have the issue addressed immediately by a professional.

3. Too much speed or load: Towing a trailer or another heavy item may put strain on the vehicle and cause the light to come on because of loss of power. Lightening the load and reducing speed can help fix the problem. Always consult with the owner's manual to determine the towing capacity of your vehicle.

4. Short or faulty code: Computers aren't always fool-proof, and sometimes an electrical short or another similar problem can cause a light to come on. Bring the vehicle to an automotive supply store. Such stores typically have diagnostics tools that can be hooked into the car's computer and provide a more detailed understanding of what is triggering the check engine indicator.

In many cases, a steady check engine light is not a serious concern. However, when such a light comes on, drivers should try to find out why as soon as possible.