Driving can be a complicated process at times.  We have to manage traffic, deal with the woman putting mascara on in the car in front of us, and try to stay alive when it comes to people texting on the highway.  Owning a car is an even more complex venture, with all the maintenance costs and fill ups at the pump.  Add into this experience what happens with a car when we’re not driving it; it literally sits in our driveway losing value until eventually, we have to replace it, unless you’re helping the mechanic keep his light bill paid.

A car is a fickle creature, and any number of things can happen between the purchase and when the car needs to be replaced.  Your car could be completely low maintenance and not need to be in the shop very often or it could be difficult and have you strapped for cash on a regular basis.  At some point, however, no matter how your car performs on a regular basis, you’re going to see the hateful glare of a dreaded light on your instrument panel; the engine light.  Your first reaction to the engine light is going to be either anger or complete panic, but neither are necessary.  Here are the top causes of the engine light coming on.

  • The O2 Sensor – Your car’s oxygen sensor keeps track of the amount of fuel your car is burning, by measuring unburned oxygen through the exhaust. If the sensor is triggering the engine light in your car, it means it is not able to get appropriate signals to the car’s computer. Typically, in newer cars, there are several oxygen sensors and it will have to be hooked up to a diagnostic device to determine which of the sensors it is.  This can be an uncomplicated fix for those skilled in car repair, but can be quite costly at the garage.
  • Gas Cap – Sometimes people fly into a blind panic at the sight of their engine light, and it can be an uncomplicated as the gas cap being loose or in disrepair. If your engine light shows up on a routine drive, and you’ve recently filled up, you can cut the engine and check the gas cap.  If it was loose, a couple of turns should solve the problem.  If this doesn’t work, and the engine light is still lit up on the dash, run a further diagnostic and replace the gas cap immediately.  This is an incredibly inexpensive fix and a gas cap can be ordered from the internet.
  • Catalytic Converter – This one may be a reason to panic, as this is a major expense that can cost you in excess of two thousand dollars. This system reduces toxic gases that come through your exhaust, and when it goes bad, it can reduce the gas mileage and cause multiple other issues.  If you’ve kept up with your maintenance, this system should remain in tip top shape, but if not, it’s going to cost you.  Coupled with the cost of extra fuel replenishment, the catalytic converter is one of the more expensive repairs associated with the engine light.
  • Mass Air Flow Sensor – If you’ve been noticing a worse than normal consumption of fuel, and then your engine light comes on, this may be an indication of a bad air flow sensor. This sensor measures the air that enters the engine and determines how much fuel to inject into the cylinders.  Repairs of this sensor usually run between four and five hundred dollars, so while it is not an intensely expensive repair, it’s not exactly cheap either.

Driving a car can be incredibly intense, and when you add in a solid or flashing engine light, it is difficult not to freak out.  However, panicking is the worst possible thing you can do.  Typically, the engine light is not actually indicative of a serious issue, and it doesn’t require immediate attention.  After seeing the engine light for the first time, give your car a rest, turn the engine back on, and see if it is still on.  If it is, contact your mechanic and schedule a diagnostic exam for your car.  If not, breathe easy.