Why Did My Check Engine Light Turn On?

It's a question that most drivers have asked themselves one or more times throughout the years. Figuring out the answer to that question is proving to be easier each year, with the tools and technologies that are used to diagnose your car’s struggles becoming more widely available, decreasing in price and adding to their functions.

Your car's on board diagnostic systems will trigger anytime it senses an issue somewhere in the parts of your vehicle, then it will turn on the corresponding warning lights and generate the appropriate error code that can be read by an On-Board Diagnostics version 2 (OBD II) code scanner or code reader, standard on all vehicles produced since 1996.

Is a Check Engine Light a Serious Problem?

The only short answer to this question is that it could be. If you are an auto enthusiast or do-it-yourselfer, you can grab the error code from your onboard diagnostic system with an OBD II code reader. OBD II code readers can be purchased relatively cheaply from your local auto parts store. Many auto parts stores can retrieve the code for you in hopes that you will purchase the parts needed for your repair.

For the rest of us who are not so inclined to get our hands dirty, having a professional diagnostic from Boise Muffler Auto Repair is your best option. Anyone is welcome to stop by for a FREE scan, but often the codes can be generic or random and can’t be identified in just a couple of minutes. If this is the case, we will properly perform system and parts tests to ensure that we have pinpointed your exact issue. The cost for a full diagnosis is minimal in comparison.

The severity of your issue could be something simple that is affecting your vehicle's basic performance, fuel economy or comfort. But a check engine light could point to a more severe issue that impacts the drivability or safety of your vehicle. You won't know what the problem is until a complete diagnosis is performed. We do NOT recommend operating your vehicle when the check engine light is on. Besides the risk of getting stuck somewhere, experiencing a system failure, or getting into an accident, your vehicle may sustain additional damage if you overlook your check engine light for too long.

One common symptom of almost all check engine light issues is an increase of harmful emissions that could make it difficult or even impossible for your vehicle to pass an emissions test. Your car is a very highly engineered machine that needs all of it's many moving parts to be working correctly and in harmony to operate within optimal ranges of power output, safety, and emission control.

Another very common symptom that shows up with check engine light problems is overheating, which can be caused by all sorts of different errors or issues, including malfunctioning sensors, your engine misfiring, coolant and oil system leaks or failures, or even just in need of a good tune-up.

In some cases, regardless of how accomplished an at home mechanic you are, at some point you may need the help of an experienced mechanic shop that you trust to complete a full panel of diagnostic tests to figure out which auto repairs might be necessary.

Can I Troubleshoot Check Engine Light Problems Myself?

If your check engine light turns on while you are driving you will want to reduce your speed, turn off your radio and remove any unnecessary noise so that you can listen to the sounds your vehicle is making and feel if there are changes to the way it drives.

Paying attention to your car is important so that you can find the problem or help point your mechanic in the right direction. Pay special attention to any new sounds it might be making, as well as to any changes in behavior, such as new vibrations or problems with accelerating or braking. You may also take notice if there are new smells or look and see if smoke or steam is coming from the engine compartment!


You can take some more simple steps yourself like checking your oil, seeing if your gas cap is loose and making a visual inspection of your wires and electrical system. Tightening a loose gas cap or electrical connections can be enough to clear some errors!

What Else Could it Be?

Once you have checked for some of the things that are potentially easy fixes, it may be time for you to start thinking about involving an experienced mechanic in your repairs, as a lot of the possible issues will require specialized tools to diagnose and repair the issue. Again, it's a good idea to pay special attention to your vehicle for any new sounds, vibrations or behavior, as that information can help pinpoint the issue you are experiencing.

It is fairly common for check engine issues to originate somewhere in your intake and exhaust systems, as the correct ratios of fuel and air are very important in maintaining proper controlled combustion in your engine. A faulty oxygen sensor, mass airflow sensor, catalytic converter, ignition coil pack, moisture in your fuel, bad air flow, dirty injectors, and a host of other problems could be the culprit. Many check engine light issues are lighter fixes that won’t break the bank. But you need to get them checked before major issues arise.

Should I Bring My Car to a Shop?

Unless you are a determined do-it-yourself at home mechanic with some extra time to devote to diagnosing and repairing your issue on your own, you want to go ahead and bring your vehicle to a friendly and experienced repair shop that you can trust.

Boise Muffler Auto Repair is a local family-owned business committed to putting customers first by providing exceptional quality and great service. In our shop, we complete only the repairs that you need and approve. Our job is to help you care for your second largest investment-your vehicle. We take cars by taking care of people!