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How Long Can You Drive with Check Engine Light On?

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The check engine light of your car illuminates if something goes wrong in the engine. If any sensor malfunctions, an electronic scan tool identifies the issue. The issue can be major or minor. But what should you do when the light glows? How long can you drive with check engine light on? Read this post to learn about it.

Reasons why the light is on

Your car’s check engine light can glow for a host of reasons. Fixing the issue will be easier if you know the root cause. When you notice the light glowing, the reason can be any of the following:

Faulty oxygen sensor

Your exhaust system contains oxygen, and the amount of this gas is measured by the oxygen sensor. Then, this information is communicated to your car’s computer. Thus the engine’s fuel and air mixture is adjusted.

A faulty oxygen sensor results in more consumption of fuel, leading to more emissions. Although this problem is not alarming, you should get it fixed when it is convenient.

Faulty gas cap

A loose, faulty or cracked gas cap can cause the check engine light to illuminate. It happens if there is a vapor leak in the fuel system. The problem can also be the result of a serious leak.

You can keep driving when it happens, but make sure you tighten the gas cap. In such a case, the check engine light usually turns off automatically. Go to a mechanic if the light does not go off on its own.  

Malfunctioning catalytic converter

The exhaust system of your car has emissions, and the emissions are controlled by a catalytic converter. Carbon monoxide is converted into byproducts that are less harmful. A failing catalytic converter will lead to more fuel consumption, and as a result you will have to spend more money.

This car part is usually expensive, costing up to $1000 each. And there are some cars with four catalytic converters. If the check engine light comes on due to a faulty catalytic converter, take your car to a mechanic. If you keep driving without addressing this problem, you may end up causing costly damages.

Faulty MAF sensor

MAF stands for Mass Air Flow. This is a sensor that determines the right amount of fuel based on the amount of air that comes in contact with the motor. If this sensor does not work properly, the check engine light will come on. How long can you drive with check engine light on due to a faulty MAF sensor. It depends on the severity of the problem.

It can happen also when the air filter is not installed properly. It is good to know that the failure of this sensor is not an emergency case. But your car will consume more fuel until the MAF sensor is replaced. It can also lead to poor car performance. The air intake system of your car is quite technical. So, to fix the issue, you should hire a professional mechanic.

Faulty spark plugs

If you read your car’s manual, you will find that the spark plugs should be replaced after a certain time. If spark plugs are faulty, your car’s check engine light will come on. The solution to the problem is to replace the plugs. But it should be done by a qualified mechanic.

Faulty charging system

A smoothly functioning charging system is a prerequisite for a smoothly running car. If the charging system malfunctions, your car’s check engine light will start glowing. The issue should be addressed as soon as possible; otherwise your car may not start. The charging system is a fairly complex mechanism, and that is why it should be fixed by a qualified mechanic.

Faulty ignition coil

The ignition of your vehicle contains the ignition coil. This induction coil serves a very important purpose. Your car’s voltage is converted to the required volts. And as a result the air-fuel mixture is ignited by the spark plug. The check engine light will glow if the ignition coil does not work. Get the issue fixed by an auto electrician.

Determining the severity of the issue

The performance of your vehicle should be taken into consideration when determining whether you should drive your car as the check engine light glows. We know that it is not necessarily dangerous to drive when the check engine light is on. But how long can you drive with check engine light on?

To determine it, you have to inspect the car. With that said, here are three ways to determine the safety of driving your car when the check engine light is on.

Does the issue require immediate attention?

Apart from the check engine light, the dashboard contains other lights that indicate other problems such as overheating and low oil pressure issues. If these lights come on, the engine should be shut off as soon as possible. If the red check engine comes on, you should stop driving right away. You need to investigate the issue when the yellow light comes on.

If possible, reduce load and speed

If you notice performance issues, lowering the speed of your car can be helpful. If possible, also consider reducing load. By all means try to avoid erratic shifting and speed surges. If you are carrying heavy equipment or towing a trailer, stop your car and unload. By doing this you will be able to prevent costly repairs.

Check the gas cap

If the light glows shortly after you have refueled your car, check and see if the gas cap is tight enough. In most cases, the issue can be solved just by tightening the gas cap. However, to reset the light, you may have to restart the engine several times.

How long can you drive with check engine light on because of a loose gas cap? Certainly you can not drive for a very long time. If there is a leak in the emission system, the light comes on. If you have a newer model of car, the car may have a specific gas cap indicator light.

Is it safe to drive with check engine light on?

It is not a pleasant experience to notice the check engine light coming on. But panicking is not a solution. Just take your time to assess the severity of the problem and see if the car is functioning normally. If the car is surging or bucking or producing unusual sounds, you may need to stop the car.

And you can keep driving if none of these is happening. The problem can be with the MAF sensor or the oxygen sensor. The bottom line is, there is a problem in your car’s engine when the check engine light is on. To avoid serious and expensive damages, try to repair the issue as soon as possible.

In conclusion

How long can you drive with check engine light on? Now you know that it depends on why the light is on. When the check engine light is on, do not panic. Just safely pull over and take the car to a mechanic. If you do not take the problem seriously, it may get worse. We hope you will learn more about the check engine light and do what needs to be done.

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