About That Check Engine Light

December 28, 2021

Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candlestick

Often the question comes up where customers wonder if they should buy a device to read the codes set off by the dreaded check engine light.

There is so much confusion about the check engine or malfunction indicator light (MIL) that many drivers don’t understand why it is there and how it works. We may as well be playing CLUE with the car.  This leads to drivers feeling taking advantage of and powerless. It also leads them to make uneducated decisions about their car repairs. Most of us have prayed away the check engine light whenever it would light up on our dashboard.

Just a few of the reasons companies are offering services and products to help drivers decipher and decode the check engine light. There are devices you can buy online that will plug into your car and read the check engine light codes that your car’s computer or PCM stores. Places like AutoZone offer to read your check engine light codes for FREE. Nice right? “No more mechanics taken advantage of me,” you think.

However, I now know that there is a little more to the story. These devices and services give you a clue to the big picture of what is going on with your car. Very rarely is a computer code a direct diagnosis of a problem with the car. A trained technician will need to take that code, check and test the car parts and system associated with the code, then produce a root cause analysis of why the check engine light came on in the first place. Once you know the root cause of the problem you can repair it. A P-code or any code spit out by a device will not give you the root cause to the problem.

Sometimes, more than one problem or part needs repair when this light illuminates. Sometimes it can cost $1000 while other times it can cost $50 to fix. There is so much variety and complexity with the check engine light that these devices and services don’t tell the complete story. The code is just a FIRST clue into what could possibly be causing the check engine light issue.

A price-conscious customer with a great car relationship knows the amazing value of having a Primary Care Technician or PCT. They can read the code, with the proper training and tools to diagnosis the car. If you take your car to a parts store or buy a device to read the check engine light codes, you will still need a repair from an auto repair shop. Guess what’s the first thing a PCT does when your car comes in to a repair garage with a check engine light code? Hook up their own device to your car and read the code(s) themselves. A reputable PCT is not going to take a diagnosis or code from an unknown source to fix your car.

If you have PCT, they replace the free service or device you can buy to read your code. You won’t be staring in confusion at a code, still not knowing what is going on with your car. That nervous feeling when the MIL comes on might still happen because it could be an expensive repair, but with a PCT you’ll have no doubt that you are doing the right thing for your car! This is just one of the many great advantages to having a PCT and being savvy around car maintenance/repair.