Check Engine Light: What Does It Mean and What Should You Do Next?

Have you ever driven down the road and noticed the light come on the dashboard? The panel is filled with different indicators but the one that’s commonly illuminated is the check engine light. What does it mean and how do you deal with it?

Understanding The Check Engine Light

What does the check engine light mean? This indicator is a critical component of your vehicle’s diagnostic system. It lights up when the system detects a mechanical or electrical problem. It’s just a single indicator but it can mean a lot of things. It may be a sign of serious problems such as an engine misfire or minor issues like a loose gas cap. In other modern vehicles, a message that says “check powertrain” or “service engine soon” may be displayed in the instrumental panel whenever the check engine light is illuminated.

In most cases, you don’t have to pull over to the side of the road or call a tow truck if you see the check engine light come on. However, you do need to have your vehicle checked by a professional auto mechanic as soon as possible.

How do you know what the check engine light means?

There are many reasons why the check engine light turns on. Listed below are the most common ones.

Engine Issues

There are several problems that may cause the engine to malfunction, thus triggering the check engine light to turn on. Some issues are minor and lead to poor emission ratings and fuel economy but there are a few that could turn into major issues if left unattended. Bring your vehicle to a reputable auto shop right away so a certified mechanic can perform a check engine light diagnosis to determine what’s wrong with your vehicle.

Loose or damaged parts

Your car check engine light may also turn on if there are missing, loose, or damaged parts in your vehicle. One of the most common examples is a loose gas cap. It doesn’t pose an immediate or serious danger to you or your vehicle but it’s best to fix it right away.

Sensor Problems

What to do when the check engine light is on? One reason could be a faulty sensor. Your vehicle has several sensors and a problem with just one could trigger the check engine light. Talk to a car mechanic and have your vehicle checked as soon as possible.

Transmission Issues

Problems with the transmission can also be a trigger. A faulty transmission can result in other issues including an increase of exhaust in the tailpipe. You need to have your car checked immediately. You’ll find several auto shops that offer a check engine light service. Be sure to choose one that’s reputable and experienced.


Another common problem that causes the check engine light to turn on is overheating. The thermostat in the engine will degrade if you don't change the coolant properly. When this happens, your engine will overheat and the check engine light will be triggered.

Can You Still Drive Your Car With The Check Engine Light Turned On?

Most car owners ignore the check engine light even if it’s illuminated. But this is not recommended. Have your car checked as soon as possible once you see an illuminated check engine light. This way, the auto mechanic can catch the problem early and get it fixed right away. But if you put it off, what could have been a minor fix can turn into a massive and expensive car problem.


There are a few things that you can do when your car’s check engine light is on.

Tip 1: Switch your vehicle on and off at least three times, consecutively. Doing so may reset your car’s generated codes, which could get rid of the check engine light warning. If this doesn’t work, try tightening the gas cap. A loose gas cap may trigger the check engine light.

Tip 2: You can also try to reduce your load and speed. Lowering your speed reduces the strain on your car’s engine, which is critical especially when the check engine light is blinking red. You can also reduce the load, especially if you are towing something.

Tip 3: Visit an auto mechanic. If you have no clue why the check engine light is on, it’s better to talk to a mechanic. Bring your car to a reliable auto shop as soon as you can.

There are instances when the check engine light means you need to bring your car to an expert. You don’t need to panic but you shouldn’t ignore the problem either. If the check engine light is blinking, you need to stop the car and seek out immediate help. You can continue driving your car until you can get a mechanic to help if the light remains steady.

Call Craig's Car Care now and let our team of professional auto mechanics help fix your car problems.

Craig's Car Care is committed to ensuring effective communication and digital accessibility to all users. We are continually improving the user experience for everyone, and apply the relevant accessibility standards to achieve these goals. We welcome your feedback. Please call Craig's Car Care (972) 941-6700 if you have any issues in accessing any area of our website.