My Check Engine Light Is On! What Do I Do?

vehicle check engine light

You’re driving down the road. It is a beautiful day, and your mind is focused on the day’s plans. Suddenly, your Check Engine Light (CEL) comes on, and you're thinking of what might be wrong with your car and that your day may be ruined.

Since 1996, cars and most trucks have been manufactured with emission monitoring systems to ensure that there are less harmful emissions coming from cars and trucks. These electronic sensors monitor hundreds of conditions per second to make sure your vehicle is running as efficiently and pollution-free as possible. When your Check Engine Light comes on, your car is telling you that something is amiss, and that your system has a malfunction.

What to do:

  1. Don't Panic! If the CEL (Check Engine Light) remains on steadily, there is a malfunction affecting fuel efficiency and emissions. Unless the vehicle is running poorly, drive with caution to a auto repair facility to check the code that made the light come on. This will need to be determined in order to determine the best next step.
  2. If the CEL is flashing, this means something is critically wrong in the system, and there is the potential for further damage to occur. Pull off of the road safely, and call AAA Emergency Roadside Assistance to help you get your car to a auto repair location. 
  3. Many auto part stores will "pull the code" for you at no charge, but remember that they are in the business of selling auto parts. They do not have the ability to diagnose the issue; they can only tell you what parts or systems may have failed. Replacing a part related to your code will not necessarily fix your problem. It may require special equipment and expertise to replace after the code has been properly diagnosed.

The best course of action when the CEL comes on is to get your vehicle to your AAA Car Care Center where they have the experience, expertise and equipment to check your code and help you determine the next step to repair the issue.

Quick Hints on other Dashboard Lights:

  • Red Engine Light: Safety pull off the road. This can be an engine temperature (overheating) issue or low oil pressure. Continuing to drive can cause extreme, expensive damage.
  • Tire Pressure Light: Most Tire Pressure Indicator Lights do not warn you until a tire is at least 25% low.   Walk around the car to identify if any tires are flat or appear to be low on pressure. If all appear to be normal, check the air pressure in your tires as soon as possible. Tires normally lose around 1 pound of air every month, and for every 10 degrees of temperature drop, another pound is lost. For example, if your tires were inflated to 35 lbs. in May, and in October you have 75-degree days and 45-degree nights, you may have only 27 lbs. The best practice is to check air pressure at least once a month. 

Our article was provided to us by one of our very own Car Care Managers, Thomas Judson from AAA Winston-Salem superstore location. Everyone of our AAA Car Care Centers are staffed with knowledgable individuals who are always there to help our members and customers with all things automotive.  If you are having any issues with your vehicle, including your check engine light, stop by AAA Car Care today to have this checked out by one of our automotive experts.  Visit below to view all of our locations across the Carolinas as well as check some of our online Car Care coupons.

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