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12300 Lake City Way NE
Seattle, WA 98125 MAP
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What To Do When Your "Check Engine" Light Comes On

The advent of computer-controlled cars has provided a number of benefits to car owners, such as better fuel economy, lower exhaust emissions, and easier, more accurate diagnostics for problems. It has also indirectly created confusion and needless apprehension for many motorists, in the form of the "check engine" light. It's been characterized as the most misunderstood indicator in a dashboard, because so many motorists have no idea what it means or what they should do about it.

First of all, it is important to understand that the light is part of the onboard diagnostic system in computer-controlled cars. Computers have been installed in vehicles since the 1980s, and they control a variety of engine functions, such ignition timing, fuel mixture, and engine speed, with the primary purpose being to limit automotive emissions and improve performance.

When the check engine light is illuminated by the computer, it means that there are issues with your power train that effect the car's computer controlled systems.

In most instances, an illumined check engine light is not a cause for alarm. There is no need to pull your car over and call the tow truck. It is important, however, to have the car checked over as soon as practicable to determine the cause of the problem and correct it.

It's important to note, however, there is one instance in which immediate action is recommended. That is when the light illuminates and then begins steadily blinking. That can signal that significant amounts of raw fuel are entering the engine. This fuel passes through the engine without being burned, and can enter the catalytic converter, which operates at very high temperatures, and be ignited there. That can result in damage to the catalytic converter requiring its replacement.

Any time the check engine light is lit, the car's computer records a malfunction code that can be accessed by diagnostic equipment to aid in finding the cause of the malfunction. There are several auto parts outlets that offer to access that malfunction code for free, the goal being to identify the malfunctioning component that can then be replaced by the car owner to fix the problem.

Such free service, however, may not be the most cost-effective approach to solve the problem. The malfunction code may refer to a certain engine sensor, but that doesn't necessarily mean the sensor is bad. There can be multiple causes that record the trouble code referring to the sensor, and the only way to determine the exact cause is to do what's called a pinpoint test.

That test is best left to an automotive technician with the training and diagnostic equipment that will enable him to fix it right the first time, saving time and expense.

Call today to talk with a certified master technician and to make an appointment in our Lake City Way auto repair shop.

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