We all dread that check engine light flashing on the dash, don’t we? It usually means to get ready and drop some cash and get something fixed. A buddy of mine with a Ford Escape had a check engine light pop up, so he took it to the dealership to see what was wrong. He paid something like $80 just to check it out…not even fixing anything.
Sometimes a check engine light can come on for something as minor as the gas cap needing replacement. Do you really want to pay $80 just to find out you need a new $5 gas cap? Wouldn’t it be nice to find out what the problem is for free before deciding on dropping some cash? I found out that you could when my maintenance light came on my Honda Accord.
I was driving, and all of the sudden a yellow maintenance light came on the dash. I later found out that this was not the check engine light, but a “timed” warning to take the car to get serviced…aka, pay the dealership money…but more on that later.
The reason a check engine light comes on in the first place is because the cars computer is throwing an error code. The computer is known as OBD, or on-board diagnostics. On 1996 and newer cars, they use ODB-II. When you take your car in to see why the check engine light came on (or to turn it off), they simply plug a little device in called an OBD-II scanner, which allows them to do a variety of things, including clearing the CEL (check engine light) and seeing what error(s) was causing it to light up in the first place. The plug is normally located around the steering wheel column.
What you may not know is that going to your local auto parts store like Autozone or Advance Autoparts, they have an OBD-II scanner on hand as a courtesy to customers. Simply walk up to the front counter, and tell them your CEL is on, and you want to find out what codes it’s throwing. This way you can at least know what you may possibly need to fix it. Another benefit is if you don’t trust your mechanic, you can ensure exactly what’s wrong with the car.
So back to my maintenance light. Once I saw it on, I went over to my local Advance Auto Parts and asked them to read for any error codes. After checking, we both found it odd that no errors were being shown in the scanner. Luckily the employee had a Honda Civic and realized that the light was not in fact the CEL, but just the service car light. We popped open the owner’s manual (which I should have just done in the first place probably) and found that you can simply reset or turn off the light by following a couple simple steps. 15 seconds later, problem was solved.
My whole point is, you can either pay $80/hour of labor for the dealership to do the same exact thing that a local auto parts store will do for free in seconds. I didn’t know this until a friend told me, so I would assume some of you may not either.
Good luck with all of your car troubles, and I hope you learned something!