Is it OK to ignore the check engine light in your car?

Don't Waste Your Money
Posted at 2:35 PM, Jan 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-31 14:43:04-05

Today's new cars have all sorts of digital displays, that tell you if a tire is getting low or if its almost time for an oil change. That's all very helpful.

But there are three warning lights that require immediate attention, and if you ignore them you could be stranded.

Lights Not to Ignore

Let's say you're driving along, and all of a sudden a bell chimes. You look down, and see a warning light on the dashboard lit up in red or orange.

What should you do? AAA says there are three lights you should never ignore, because they can leave you stranded on the highway with a blown engine.

1. The red thermometer. A thermometer means your motor is overheating, usually because it is low on coolant.  This can mean a radiator leak, burst hose, or blown gasket, or several other things.

2. The red oil can: This means your oil is dangerously low. It doesn't mean it's simply time for an oil change.

In both cases, pull off the road as soon as its safe: Do not keep driving, as your engine could seize up in a few if you don't shut it off soon.

If everything looks OK, and you are sure you still have coolant in the engine, then drive to a gas station or auto parts store to replenish, and figure out what is wrong.

3. The red battery: This means your alternator is no longer charging the battery. The car will still run ... but not for long. This is a case where you want to get to a garage or auto parts store ASAP, though you do not have to pull over immediately, as you do if the red oil light comes on.

Confusing Check Engine Light

But from the "doesn't that stink file," lights that just confuse you — like the infamous check engine light.

It can mean your emissions system has a problem, your gas cap is open, your catalytic converter is failing, a vacuum hose is leaking, or your Aunt Marge just baked an apple pie. OK, it doesn't alert you to a fresh apple pie, but you get the idea.

With the check engine light, you can keep driving, just have a shop check your engine soon. Some people have driven for months with the check engine light on.


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