What Does a Check Engine Light Indicate?

Your check engine light means it’s time to inspect your vehicle. This general warning light can be as simple as a loose gas cap or as complex as a major engine issue. Thankfully, the most common reasons for this light to illuminate are minor issues. Learn how to identify the issue and find affordable parts, from a replacement battery to a universal catalytic converter.

Gas Cap

When your gas cap isn’t properly tightened, it can create a leak in your fuel system. This alerts your vehicle to an issue and typically illuminates your check engine light. If the warning light is yellow and you aren’t experiencing any performance issues, tighten your cap and see if this solves the trouble code.

A sign that your check engine light may not be an emergency is if it’s colored yellow rather than red. Some vehicles have these two colors to indicate two stages of warnings. A yellow light means you should inspect the issue soon, while a red light means you should stop your vehicle as soon as it is safe.


Another common issue is your alternator or other battery components. Your vehicle uses an alternator to convert mechanical energy to electricity and stores it in your lead-acid battery. When your alternator, battery or related systems are damaged, it will illuminate your warning light and prevent you from using your electrical system. Has your battery tested to see if you need to continue to look for other check engine light reasons?

Spark Plugs and Sensors

Spark plugs, oxygen sensors, and mass airflow sensors all wear out over time. After thousands of miles or years of driving, have your engine tuned up to prevent these sensors and spark plugs from failing. A failed sensor or inefficient spark plug will reduce the fuel economy and horsepower of your vehicle and cause your warning light to turn on.

Airflow sensors and oxygen sensors monitor the intake and exhaust of your engine. Without proper airflow, your vehicle may struggle to perform at peak efficiency. These sensors also alert you to possible clogged filters or other damaged components.

Emissions Control System

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Your engine emits harmful gases as it operates. A catalytic converter converts these gases into less harmful emissions and a muffler muffles the sound. Together, these two components are part of your emissions system.

Rust can create a hole in your muffler or other piping, while emissions can begin to clog your converter. Either of these issues can reduce the efficiency of your vehicle and, over time, even cause it to stall and come to a halt. Prevent engine issues and harmful emissions by having your catalytic converter inspected. A catalytic converter is an affordable replacement component and can improve the efficiency of your engine.

Find Out More

Don’t let a minor issue cause significant damage to your engine or other essential systems. Pick up a car code reader at your local auto parts store or ask to have your warning signal read to find the exact issue related to your check engine light. A check engine signal doesn’t always mean an emergency issue, but it should be inspected quickly to be sure you aren’t damaging your engine with normal use.

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