BOISE – When the dreaded “Check Engine” light comes on, it usually means that your vehicle needs immediate attention.  But what kind?

Unlike a general maintenance reminder, a check engine indicator alerts the driver to a potential problem with the engine or the emission system.  Issues can range from extremely simple to very problematic.

Six check engine culprits

  1. The fuel cap may be loose or faulty.  Tighten or replace as necessary.
  2. Faulty oxygen sensors, which may misread the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust system.
  3. Frequently the target of theft for the valuable metals they contain, a missing or damaged catalytic converter will result in reduced vehicle performance and efficiency.  A problem with a catalytic converter may also be a sign that something else is wrong in the emissions system.
  4. The mass airflow sensor measures the amount of air flowing into the engine.  It contributes to how much fuel gets injected into the engine based on the amount of air flowing in.  If it fails, reduced engine performance, lower fuel efficiency, and rough idling may follow.
  5. Faulty spark plugs may fail to properly ignite the air-fuel mixture in the engine.  Replace as needed.
  6. A weak car battery may not provide enough energy to the vehicle’s electrical system, triggering electrical malfunctions or difficulty starting.

“A solid check engine light urges the driver to address the issue as soon as possible, while a flashing light usually requires immediate attention,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “In either case, please don’t ignore an indication that something may be seriously wrong with your car.”

If the vehicle is losing power, shaking, emitting a strange odor, or acting in an otherwise abnormal way, pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so and either inspect the problem yourself or call for roadside assistance.  For less serious issues, use an OBD2 scanner – commonly available at auto parts stores – to diagnose the issue, or visit a trusted mechanic, such as a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility, for a full diagnostic and possible repairs.