Auto Repair Blog

Published 07:00 AM, Tue October 27, 2015

View Comments


What does the check engine light mean?

The check engine light is a mysterious thing: Most vehicle owners are aware that it exists, and that seeing it turn yellow is never a good sign. And yet, many drivers are unsure of exactly what an engine warning might entail, or what the protocol is when they see it come on.

The engine light is actually a little complicated: It could mean one of any number of things, some of them quite serious and some not so serious at all. At one end of the spectrum, it could mean massive engine failure. On the other hand, it may simply mean that you didn’t sufficiently tighten your fuel cap the last time you pumped gas.

What Does the Check Engine Light On Mean for Drivers?

Interpreting the engine warning light is hard enough—but first things first: When you see the light flicker on, what exactly should you do?

Thankfully, there is no need for you to pull the vehicle over and call a tow truck. The engine light almost never means anything quite that urgent or that serious; most of the time, the light will come on to alert you to a pending or mounting problem, not all-out engine failure.

What you should do is take your car in to have the light interpreted and the engine inspected at your earliest convenience; if you’re driving and the light comes on, call the Meineke team and make an appointment for servicing sooner rather than later, as ignoring the problem will only compound the issue.

Interpreting the Check Engine Light

On a more technical level, the engine warning light is connected to your onboard diagnostics system—the computer that monitors your vehicle for performance and alerts you to potential issues.

This system will automatically repair some issues on its own. When it arrives at an issue it cannot remedy, it will trigger the check engine light, telling you to take your vehicle in for professional servicing. When this happens, the computer system in your car will also store a diagnostic code, which reveals the precise nature of the problem. A mechanic or technician will have a special code reader, allowing them to read this diagnostic code and tell you what’s wrong with your vehicle.

Note that in most vehicles, there is a separate indicator to tell you when your car needs routine servicing of fluid replenishment—i.e., an oil change or something of that nature. As such, the engine warning light probably doesn’t point to one of these simple issues. Do not attempt to offset the engine light simply by pouring oil or other fluids into the respective tanks; this will not correct the problem.

Addressing the Check Engine Light

Rather, try taking the following steps when you see the engine warning light come on:

  • Tighten the gas cap, which in some cases can correct the problem altogether.
  • Reduce your speed and load until you can have the vehicle examined, especially if you hear strange noises or feel like the vehicle is “shuddering” when you run it.
  • If you have a service like OnStar, call in to have your diagnostic code read and interpreted remotely.
  • Otherwise, make an appointment with Meineke as soon as possible.

Don’t panic about your engine light, but don’t ignore it, either; make an appointment at your local Meineke Car Care Center for servicing right away!

  • CSUF1

    Meineke free oil change on Veteran’s Day, 11/2015.
    I want thank the company for the excellent job the Garden Grove(Valley View at Chapman)employees did for me.

    They were very welcoming and very, very efficient. I have never had an oil change done so quickly at any dealerships. I had never been to Meineke before, but they won my future business.

    Thank you from all the Vets that you helped today.

  • Thoma’z Boddie

    I too went to Meineke for the free oil change promotion for Veteran’s Day, 11/2015. My experience was quit like yours, it was my first time at Meineke. A very friendly staff, excellent service. Then I find out afterwards my hood wasn’t completely shut and it flew open on me, causing damages to the hood and hinges of my truck. I took the truck back to the Columbus, Ohio (old courtwright) location were things changed, no excellent customer service, no responsibility for the damages, actually told by store manager and Columbus area manager “file a claim with your insurance company we will deny it, we are not paying for a hood and hinges. Ask me to leave the store or they would call the police

  • Cedric Duncan

    Thanks webmaster for sharing such common but important information about the check engine light. Everybody should have these ideas on check engine light. I agree with one point that most people’s could not understand the meaning of check engine light and get panic. However I always careful about my car and its all parts. So when I used to check car’s health to our local Mobile Auto Mechanic as “Rxmobileauto”.