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The Check Engine Light is On! Now What?

It’s a sinking feeling, isn’t it? You’re driving along and suddenly you see it. The check engine light. It’s glowing like a beacon on your dashboard, and the first thing you see in your mind’s eye are dollar signs leaving your wallet.
4-2 Check engine light
Paying attention to the light when you see it come on and taking the right steps quickly can save your car--or save you the more costly repairs.

Is the engine ruined? Is it seizing up this very moment? Will I be stranded by the road? How much is this going to cost me? First of all, take a deep breath. There are many reasons why the light may be on, and not all of them are serious. That being said, you need to look into this right away. Here’s what to do.

Check for blinking and colour

In most cars, the engine light will blink or turn red if the problem is very serious. It will not blink or will turn yellow if it is not an emergency. Regardless of the blinking or lack thereof, and regardless of the colour, do not ignore this signal. Get the car into service the same day as the blinking/red light appears. Schedule an appointment soon for a steady/yellow light.


If the light is steady and/or yellow, there are a few quick things you can try. If any of these tips work and the light goes off, you have likely solved the problem – but it is still a good idea to have your mechanic give your car a quick lookover. Missing a bigger problem can be very costly in the long run.

  • Is your gas cap on? Is it loose? A missing or loose gas cap can trigger the check engine light. When it is safe to do so, pull over and check this first. Note: it will take three engine cycles (your engine going from cold to hot to cold again) for the light to turn off after you fix the problem.
  • When was your last oil change? If you have been ignoring the change oil light or something caused the oil to leak, you may see that ominous check engine light. Also take heed if you just got an oil change. Sometimes a cap doesn’t get put back on right. When it is safe, pull over and check to make sure your car has oil in it before you keep driving.
  • Are you towing a trailer or carrying a heavy load? If the car is under strain, this could trigger the check engine light.
  • Is your catalytic converter on the car? Catalytic converter theft is a massive problem, particularly in the Edmonton region right now. A damaged or malfunctioning converter can also trigger the alarm.

When to stop and possibly make a speedy exit from the car

If the check engine light comes on along with several other dashboard lights, pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. If you see or smell smoke, pull over and exit the car. Call emergency services.

I see the light

The check engine light is never a thing you want to see, but it is there for a very good reason. It warns you when something is going wrong, or if something has gone drastically wrong.

CPC-logoThis story was made possible by our Community Partners Program. Thank you Davis Chevrolet for helping to expand local news coverage in Alberta. Learn more.
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