For many drivers, it’s one of the most dreaded things that can happen while they’re on the road – you’re motoring down the highway. You look on the dash, and there’s that brightly colored check engine light, either static or even worse, flashing.

Most of the time, this light is indicating something that is not an immediate road hazard, but sometimes it can be more of an emergency. It’s hard to tell in that moment what exactly is turning that check engine light on. It’s even harder to tell while you’re still behind the wheel. Most motorists have a very limited knowledge of check engine light problems, so even after the vehicle has been parked at home, there are a lot of question marks surrounding what’s behind the check engine light problem.

Here are some of the best ways to get more involved in diagnosing your vehicle when the check engine light comes on. 

Understand Your Vehicle’s Emissions System

Many check engine light issues are caused by the complex part of your engine computer called the emissions system. This measures the fuel/air mixture and tailpipe emissions of your vehicle.

There is an electronic component to this, made up of parts like oxygen sensors. Then there is the physical part, made up of the exhaust pipe and muffler, as well as what’s called a catalytic converter. The catalytic converter is supposed to scrub the emissions and catch some of the greenhouse gas pollutants that would otherwise spew into the environment.

Drivers often encounter various problems with the catalytic converter and/or oxygen sensors on the vehicle. Many of these are first indicated by a check engine light, and may require mechanical work in order to comply with state law in many U.S. states.

Knowing your emissions system and having the best OBD2 scanner will help you to figure out what’s behind the check engine light on your dashboard.

Check the OBD2

In modern cars, there’s something called an onboard diagnostic center or OBD2 system that you can plug a scan reader into. That portable scan reader or device then communicates with the engine computer to tell you what’s happening inside the electronic part of your vehicle’s system.

So hooking up to the best OBD2 scanner that you can is a great way to get started on figuring out what’s up with your check engine light. Some shops will do this for you for free, or you can buy your own scanning tools (get the best OBD2 scanner you can find) to check OBD and scrutinize resulting engine codes that start to show you where the trouble is.

Know Your Codes

It’s also important to understand that engine codes have certain complexities to them.

A lot of these codes are an inscrutable mix of numbers and letters that pop up on your scan device. You’ll have to learn about what’s behind each particular code, because the more generic codes have a range of issues associated with them.

Some of the more complex scan tools offer more precision, but the best OBD2 scanner models are often used by expert mechanics.

However, the more you know about the codes themselves, the more you can diagnose your own vehicle.

Look at Climate and Conditions

Going with that point above, about diagnosing your vehicle through codes, it also helps if you know how climate and external conditions can affect your vehicle systems.

Not many people know this, but the moisture and humidity from a different climate like a beach can actually turn your check engine light on if the climate changes your fuel/air mixture and how your vehicle is processing it.

If you know that you’re encountering a quick and profound change in humidity, you can factor this into your vehicle diagnosis.

That’s just one example of knowing how conditions affect your vehicle’s OBD codes.

There’s much more that you can do to learn about modern vehicle systems and be able to pinpoint what’s going on when you see the engine light appear, using the best OBD2 scanner you can find.

Rule Out Problems with Routine Maintenance

You should also perform regular good preventive maintenance on a vehicle, so that you can rule out some of the biggest emergency factors when a  dashboard light comes on.

Many modern vehicles do have different lights for engine oil than they do for the check engine light, but it’s still important to make sure that the engine is properly lubricated. That way, if you see a roadside emergency indicator, you know that it’s not low oil.

The same holds true for coolant – if you know that you have sufficient coolant in the engine, you know that it’s unlikely to overheat.

By properly maintaining your vehicle, you can isolate some of the problems that can flag a check engine light or create some codes on a vehicle.

Understand External Parts and Pieces

It also helps to know about everything that surrounds some of these systems that we’ve already talked about, in addition to having the best OBD2 scanner. 

For example, there is the manifold and heat shield that often interact with the catalytic converter. Mechanics know how to work with these modular pieces to get sufficient fixes in place. Keep in mind that a lot of that requires working in tight conditions, trying to isolate something that’s built into a factory design on a very small physical footprint. In other words, it’s not as easy as just reaching in and pulling out the manifold or the catalytic converter – you’re often working with specialized socket wrenches and other tools, to get deep access to parts that are buried amongst other parts and systems.

With this kind of key knowledge combined with the best OBD2 scanner you can source, you can start to figure out what’s going on with the engine light on your vehicle.


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