So, you’re driving along, perhaps belting out some tunes in sync with the radio when the dreaded check engine light comes on. Gulp. What should you do? Where should you go?
One option is to head into a car repair shop. Technicians use equipment to get the diagnostic code that caused the light to come on. Some technicians do this for free, while others charge, sometimes up to $75 or even $100.
From there, the techs may need to run a test. They’ll probably be able to figure out the underlying cause of the issue and how to resolve it. The check engine light can indicate issues including a loose gas cap, worn spark plugs or a bad catalytic converter. The problem may be minor or major, so it’s best to get the light taken care of as soon as possible.
An Auto Parts Store
Another option is to stop by an auto parts store. Hopefully, it’ll offer cheap prices on auto parts, and you can purchase a tool such as a code reader. You’ll be able to use the reader to get the diagnostic code for yourself. From there, you can decide what to do, but you’ll likely need to run a test to find out what’s wrong with your vehicle.
Alternatively, take advantage of a program such as Fix Finder at AutoZone. Staffers use store-owned equipment to read the codes and give you possible solutions. You also get a free report summarizing what seems to be going on. Download the rewards app to find the nearest store and to browse the selection of auto parts in the shop.
Speaking of auto parts stores, many do a free battery test and free battery charging. Some drivers decide to run a battery test when their check engine light comes on. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but a battery issue might not be causing the problem. Let store personnel know that your check engine light is on so they can focus on that.
The Next Safe Spot to Pull Over
If you own a code reader already, look for the next safe spot to pull over. Use the reader to get the diagnostic code, and you have a decent starting point to help you figure out what to do next. Many code readers also enable you to turn the check engine light off. That doesn’t mean the problem has gone away, just that you’ve “acknowledged” seeing the light. In fact, the light may reappear later.
How the Codes Help
The codes tell you which test you should run to pinpoint what’s actually causing your check engine light to come on. When you run that test, you may be able to figure out what’s wrong. However, the tests must be followed to the exact detail. Skipping a step can render the results meaningless.
If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, you can often get any parts you need at the local auto parts store. That’s another reason you may prefer to get your check engine light interpreted there. If the problem remains vague or if you don’t feel comfortable handling the solution yourself, take the car to a mechanic.