What To Do When Your Check Engine Light Comes On

Typical results of aggresive driving.

You’ve had the experience. You’re driving down the highway in your nine-and-a-half-year-old Ferrari, at about mach 3 speed, wind blowing in your hair even though the windows are up, and you see a cute little engine icon pop up on the dash board. Your first thought might be, “Oh, an Easter egg! The manufacturer’s letting me know I’ve reached an important milestone in mileage! It’s my lucky day!” If you thought this, you were wrong. Dead wrong.

In fact, this “cute” little engine icon is called the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) or Check Engine Light, and signifies that the engine is about to explode unless you “check” it right away. So what do you, the driver, do when this light comes on?

The first thing you should do is remove yourself from the vehicle. This can sometimes be difficult, in which case a crowbar may be needed. And, possibly, something to un-glue your fingers from the steering wheel, like Glue Dissolver, which is not sold at any hardware or auto parts store that we know of.

The second thing you should do is stop the vehicle. This is also difficult since you removed yourself from the vehicle in the previous step. If someone else is in the vehicle, such as a grandmother or a child, he/she can sometimes be helpful here, but often he/she is inadequate for the task. To see how adequate the occupant is, send him/her hand or smoke signals telling him/her to press the brake, shut off the engine, etc. If inadequate, you may need something really heavy, like a police car, to help stop the vehicle. If no police cars are available, sometimes concrete barriers can help. These you can usually find at construction sites.

The third step, after stopping the car, is to check the engine. The easiest way to do this is to pop the hood and look underneath. If you see a big chunk of metal with some strange knobby things on top, that’s the engine. See if it’s on fire, undergoing a meltdown, or falling out of the car. That’s what we call “checking the engine.” Once this is done, regardless of the results of your check, you have fulfilled the requirement of the “Check Engine Light” and should be able to re-enter the vehicle and drive home.

If you fail to take those three steps, though, your engine will most likely explode, i.e. self-destruct, taking you and anyone else within 30 miles with it. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s a good idea to call a tow truck, and have it brought to a mechanic. Usually, if the engine explodes, the car will need some work before it’s comfortable to drive again. You should also make sure you have money in your bank account before the check engine light comes on (reading your horoscope may be worthwhile for exactly that reason) so as to ensure you will be able to pay the mechanic when this happens.

Otherwise, you may need a new head gasket.


“Car Cash 2,” by Thue. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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