Imagine you are on your daily commute through North Raleigh, perhaps driving down Glenwood Avenue or across the North Hills district, when you notice that the check engine light coming on your instrument panel. If such an event causes you to feel like your day has been thoroughly ruined, you are hardly alone. Ever since the 1980s, when engine management systems were widely introduced into virtually all vehicles, drivers have been at the mercy of check engine light diagnostics, and quite a few continue to associate this with impending doom.
Most drivers across Raleigh are probably not familiar with check engine light diagnostics, and there is no reasonable expectation for them to know about all the issues that may cause this dreaded and often infuriating light to suddenly appear. Automakers know about this anxiety, but they have largely decided to stick with check engine light diagnostics over many decades.
Alternatives have been considered; in the 1980s, for example, the Ford Motor Company introduced an instrument that displayed the outline of the vehicle with lights pointing to a section where sensors reported issues. This instrument, which was installed on some Thunderbird and Mustang models, was eventually abandoned because it would light up like a Christmas tree, thus creating even more anxiety.
Check engine light diagnostics are not found on electric vehicles such as Tesla models because this is a system designed with internal combustion engines in mind, and it is largely focused on emissions control mechanisms. Nonetheless, Tesla does have a touchscreen that displays somewhat ominous messages such as “Car Needs Service.”
How the Check Engine Light Works
Your car is constantly going through adjustments determined by a computer called the engine control module. This computer comes to life each time you turn the ignition to its first position before the actual crank; the ECM starts gathering information collected and transmitted by various sensors before executing routines coded by the automaker.
The instructions sent by the ECM to the various systems and components of the car deal with functions such as air and fuel mixture, overall pressure, spark advance, engine timing, and many others. All these functions generate readings, and there are numerical ranges for them. When a single reading falls outside of the coded ranges, the ECM will do two things: log a trouble code and turn on the check engine diagnostics.
What The Service Engine Light Really Means
As previously mentioned, automakers could design a “smart check engine light diagnostics” system that will tell you the thermostat has failed or the fuel pump is working under strain; in fact, a few luxury and exotic models feature such functionality, but this is not coming into mass production anytime soon. In many situations, people view the check engine light as a precaution. However, some models feature a flashing and intermittent light that the owners manual explains as an indication that immediate action should be taken.
It’s possible that the light might illuminate without any other indication of mechanical failure or defective functioning…. And interestingly, the problem could be as simple as fuel cap being lose or in need of replacement…
A$20 or so cost, could potentially solve you check engine light woes. The same goes for a spark plug that was defective out of the box and failed before the rest. The real problems begin when the light goes completely ignored.
A single spark plug going unattended could result in the wires as well as the ignition coil needing replacement…
Let’s say you drive a Toyota Camry; the part cost for a Denso spark plug with the right gap could be as low as $10. For example, ignoring this need for one spark plug could make you need to replace all of them. Then you could be looking at repair costs of more than $300.
The error codes logged by the ECM will not tell the whole story because they are merely starting points. Let’s say the code indicates a faulty oxygen sensor on a Honda Accord that you purchased new a year ago; our technicians will not simply assume that the sensor was faulty and needs replacement. This is a situation that will fall under manufacturer’s warranty. However, it merits checking if other issues are causing the fuel mixture to be poor.
The service warning light is also useful because it gives you diagnostic data PRIOR to a catistrophic failure. And this may allow you to start saving up for future repairs. Or even to extend the time til the large repair by making small adjustments immediately. In older cars, catalytic converter related codes will offer the driver an estimate regarding mileage tile failure. Catalytic convertors can be an expensive repair.