Checking Out the History of Check Engine

How the Check Engine Light Came to Be

If you’ve been driving awhile, chances are you’ve seen the check engine light come on at some point. But did you ever wonder how it came into existence? Maybe not. Most of us are too busy worrying over what problem has triggered the light, whether we should stop or keep driving and how much the repair bill is going to be. Before you cause yourself too much check engine stress, bring your car to Jeff’s Auto Repair in Renton, Washington, for proper diagnosis and repair.

A Brief History

Today’s check engine light also called the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) or Service Engine Soon lamp, is a second-generation indicator. The first generation was known as the OBD-I (On Board Diagnostics). Found in some 1980’s and earlier 1990’s vehicles, these systems and the information they provided were specific to each car manufacturer that used them. The trouble codes were not applicable across multiple car companies. Beginning in 1996, all vehicles were required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use a universal system that would generate common codes to alert drivers to problems, show service providers the area of the problem, and help control emissions. This mandate necessitated and facilitated the OBD-II. These newer computers now generate universal trouble codes that cross manufacturers.

Correcting the Issues

When you have a solid illuminated check engine light, it is advisable to take your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible. If you have a flashing check engine light symbol, this usually means there could be a major problem occurring and you should pull over immediately if operating your vehicle and contact a professional. Once the car is connected to a computerized code reader, the machine will give the technician a trouble code. This code tells the service provider the general area in which to look. (It is a misconception that the machine does all the work. While it gives helpful information, the technician still has to troubleshoot to find the exact problem.) Common issues that cause this warning signal include faulty spark plugs and wires, a bad catalytic converter, a bad alternator, a loose gas cap, a faulty mass airflow sensor, ignition coil issues, a bad oxygen sensor, or a vacuum leak. Repairing the issue before it becomes more serious saves you additional headache and expense in the future.

We’re Here To Help

The ASE certified technicians at Jeff’s Auto Repair in Renton, Washington, can help you with finding and fixing your car’s check engine issues.

Check Engine Lights: Common Triggers

What’s Causing Your Warning Light

How It Works

Most drivers are familiar with the check engine light. It’s that yellow dashboard indicator that makes you worry about what’s wrong with your vehicle. As part of the vehicle’s computers that monitor performance, it activates when something isn’t quite right under the hood. But to the driver, it’s just a yellow light! The only way to tell exactly what is causing your vehicle’s check engine light is to visit a professional. Using a code-reader, they can quickly diagnose the issue.

While diagnostics are the best way to decipher the cause, it can still be helpful to have an idea of what to expect. At Jeff’s Auto Repair, we frequently see the same triggers. To help drivers get a better idea of what the check engine light means, we’re sharing them with you!

Common Triggers

  1. Loose Gas Cap
  2. Something as simple as not tightening your gas cap could trigger the check engine light. If you’ve just stopped at the gas station and notice the light is illuminated when you drive off, it might be a good idea to double check that you’ve secured the gas cap in place. If it’s not, fuel vapors leak and impact the whole fuel system, reducing gas mileage and increasing emissions. Replace a lost or cracked gas cap to prevent the escape of fuel vapors.

  3. Oxygen Sensors
  4. Oxygen sensors monitor the amount of unburned oxygen that escapes through the exhaust to measure how much fuel is burned. In other words, they use the information to track the fuel economy. A faulty oxygen sensor fails to alert when gas mileage drops or when emissions increase. When the sensor gets dirty, it may need a simple replacement. Avoiding this could lead to much more costly repairs, like a failed catalytic converter.

  5. Failed Catalytic Converter
  6. A vehicle’s catalytic converter converts carbon monoxide and other harmful exhaust gases into harmless compounds. If it fails, your vehicle’s gas mileage will suffer. You might also notice decreased power when you press the gas pedal. Ignoring a failed catalytic converter won’t solve anything — in fact, your car will eventually stop moving completely.

Get Repairs

Once you notice your vehicle’s check engine light, your first course of action should be to check the gas cap. After that, head to Jeff’s Auto Repair in Seattle, Washington for diagnostics and repair!

Check Engine Light Evolution

History of Check Engine Lights

Have you ever wondered what it was like to drive a vehicle before all of today’s advanced technology? Cars come equipped with complex computer systems to make our lives easier. From parallel parking to maintaining lane control, today’s cars are closer than ever to driving themselves, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole. Drivers ought to appreciate their vehicle’s computer-assisted systems, such as the check engine light that monitors engine function. Without your vehicle’s electrical systems and early warnings, you’d probably end up stranded on the side of the road. But where did this technology come from?

Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MIL)

In the 1980s, new vehicles made use of the malfunction indicator lamp (more commonly known today as the check engine light). Early versions were frequently confused with existing “trouble” indicators, likened to an “idiot light” that only indicated serious engine trouble and imminent breakdown. Computerized engine controls had self-diagnosis functions for the first time, which meant they could warn drivers of engine problems in advance of breakdowns. The light on the dashboard told owners to seek professional attention soon. Code behind the alert could be read by a special device and technician to determine what repairs were needed. Today’s check engine lights work pretty much the same way, just with more accuracy!

The MIL illuminates prior to the engine starting, in the moments before drivers turn the key all the way in the ignition, to prove the light is not burnt out. When no fault is detected, dashboard warning lights turn off. Older vehicles that required multiple cranking attempts used MIL to indicate failed starts. If the light remained on, drivers needed to take another attempt to start the car.

Starting in the 1990s and 2000s, some vehicle manufacturers used MIL to remind drivers of maintenance intervals. For example, Mazda programmed the light to come on at 80,000 miles, regardless of engine health and function to encourage owners to visit for maintenance service. This kind of alert was known as an odometer trigger. Chrysler vehicles built in the early 1970’s used similar odometer-triggered reminders labeled, “Check EGR,” which were reset at a Chrysler dealership.