Deciphering the Check Engine Light

It always happens at the worst possible time, like when you’re pulling out of the driveway to go on vacation or taking the kids to practice and your schedule’s full. You do not have the time to deal with that dreaded light on your car’s dash, but there it is… the check engine light.

Should you stop and have your car towed in for repair? Not necessarily. Should your car be looked at as soon as possible? Most definitely.

To make sense of a check engine light, there are a few facts you should know about modern cars. First, the car you are driving typically has approximately five computers on board. Secondly — and this is amazing to us — just one of these computers will outperform the entire computer system of our famous Apollo Mission space vehicles that transported our astronauts to the moon and back.

What does this have to do with a check engine light? Quite simply, a check engine light comes on when one of those computers senses something is not right with your vehicle. It could be a faulty sensor or a break somewhere in one of the wiring harnesses or grounds or connectors. Often, there are multiple problems occurring simultaneously. Sometimes, other than the light on your dash, you see no other apparent indication of any problems. Other times your vehicle will not run as you would normally expect it to. The issue may affect your fuel economy, overall vehicle performance and drivability, or may lead to an expensive repair if not taken care of right away. The check engine light will also cause automatic failure of your emissions test as administered by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality  or DEQ as we like to call it.

When a car arrives at our shop with a check engine light on, the first thing we do is hook one of our diagnostic tools up to the car. This diagnostic scan tool  “talks” to your car’s computers, asking them what the problem is. Your car responds with one or more diagnostic codes, similar to you informing your doctor of a stomach ache. The codes point us towards the direction of the problem. From there, like a doctor, we investigate possible causes, testing various components until we locate the fault.

Once we find and replace or repair a problem component, we do not stop there. We certainly could send you on your way, though there is a chance you may return in a week or two with another check engine light issue, since there may be more than one problem causing the light to come on. You see, many of the electrical sensors will have a nasty little habit of going inoperative intermittently while another sensor has totally failed. Combine this with a wiring problem and, well, you begin to see the complexities the Check Engine Light repairs our Technicians are tasked with on a regular basis. To decrease the chance that your check engine light will come back on, we continue to look for other potential causes until we eliminate them all. This sometimes requires patience on the customers part as we want to get their vehicle back to them in a very timely fashion, but also on the otherhand do not want to release the vehicle until we can do quality control checks and be sure all Readiness Monitors are reset.

We make every effort to only send your car home when we’re completely confident it’s fit as a fiddle. and we’ll be sure to give it a bath and lollipop, too.

Is your check engine light on? Do you have other auto repair needs? Perhaps a question about other automotive subjects? Make a Service Appointment online or give us a call at (503) 635-8335 to set up an appointment for quality auto, truck, and SUV service today.  And As Always We Do Have Loaner Cars Available By Appointment!