The check-engine light is probably most drivers’ least favorite feature, signaling not only problems with your vehicle but money, time, and potential headaches down the road. While it’s tempting to ignore it for a few days or even weeks, experts warn that failing to address the light can make problems more costly and even hazardous. Also known as the Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL), the light is triggered by your car’s engine computer. The problem is it doesn’t actually tell you what is wrong, just that something is wrong.

Decoding the Signal
Since 1996, automakers have standardized the check-engine codes under a protocol called OBD-II, mandating that cars are equipped with a universal connector to communicate these codes. Usually located under the steering column, this connector is easy to use and access. Nowadays you can purchase an inexpensive code reader but you still have to decipher it.

Actsoft now has a convenient solution for drivers and fleet managers: Comet Fleet, a GPS Tracking solution, now has code reading capability that will alert you in real-time. This information is invaluable when managing several vehicles because drivers and fleet managers now have the chance to make informed decisions on whether a driver can continue on his route or if the vehicle needs immediate attention.

Common Codes and What They Cost (and Save) You
According to Edmund’s, an automotive research center, the five most common reasons for the check engine light to come on are:

  • Faulty oxygen sensor (part of the emissions system, monitoring and helping adjust the air-fuel mixture)
  • Catalytic converter
  • Ignition coil and spark plugs
  • Loose gas cap
  • Mass air flow sensor (monitoring the amount of air mixed in the fuel injection system)

The oxygen sensor, which monitors the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust and tells your car’s computer when there is either too much, or not enough fuel, is a common problem among vehicles. This repair can cost an average of $258, according to CarMD. However, it can save hundreds or even thousands in the long run since a faulty sensor can reduce gas mileage by a whopping 40 percent. The same is true for the mass air flow sensor, which calculates the amount of air coming into the car and determines how much fuel to shoot into the engine. CarMD reports that when this malfunctions, it can drop fuel efficiency by 10–25 percent which, over time, will cost you much more than the $378 (on average) it costs to fix right away.

While your check engine light may just be screaming for a new spark plug, don’t be one of the nine million drivers who have a habit of ignoring their lights for three months or more.

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