Annoying Check Engine Lights

We all know what to do when the fuel gauge hits empty or the oil warning light comes on.

But do you know what to do when the check engine light comes on? Consumer Reports helps make sense of this maddening warning light. When the check engine light goes on many people panic.

Consumer Reports' Jon Linkov says it's no wonder car owners are uptight about their check engine light.

It can be any of hundreds of problems from something as simple as say your gas cap is loose to something far more serious like your catalytic converter is failing.

Mechanics like Bill Nibur, get tons of calls about check engine lights.

Nibur, said, "My rule of thumb when i get a phone call so I don't alarm everyone is, if the car feels normal, it's okay to drive it to get it to us."

Mechanics have a scanning tool that can tell what's wrong.

A computer program tells the mechanic where to check for problems. In one case we saw, a vacuum hose was disconnected. Consumer Reports says when your check engine light goes on if it's flashing or your car is stalling or misfiring get service immediately.

Otherwise, check that your gas cap is on tight. If the cap was loose, be aware the light may take several days to turn off.

And if the light doesn't go off by itself take your car into the shop within a week.

if your check engine light stays on not only does this mean there's a problem with letting out too many pollutants, but also could mean long term damage to the vehicle.

And there's another important reason to get your car fixed. With the check engine light on, there's a good chance you'll fail the state emissions test.

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