Typically, you can drive your car with the check engine light on as long as it's running smoothly. Even though an illuminated check engine light isn't a great sign, we want to help you understand if you can still drive your car, for how long, and what will happen if you keep driving with the check engine light on.
Why the Check Engine Light Turns On
Your car or truck has many warning lights on its dash, and they all mean something different. Your check engine light should be easily identifiable as either an engine symbol, the words “service engine soon,” or the words “check engine.”
The primary job of a check engine light is to let the driver know that one of the car's sensors is malfunctioning or that the car isn't running properly. The engine light can be solid or flashing.
As a side note, the check engine light should always light up when you start your car, but it should turn off within six seconds of ignition.
Is Your Check Engine Light Flashing or Solid?
When the check engine light is solid, it means that there is a stored code in your car’s computer. It also shows that the issue has happened consecutively and needs to be looked at by a trusted mechanic at an auto repair shop. They will inspect the stored check engine light and diagnose one of over 150 codes.
When the check engine light is flashing, do not drive your car. The vehicle's manufacturer created the flashing check engine light to warn you that your car's catalytic converters will be damaged.
Can You Drive With the Check Engine Light On?
When your car's check engine light is solid, you should be able to drive it. The only caveat is if the car feels like it isn't running smoothly. In this situation, you should avoid driving your vehicle.
If your car's check engine light is flashing, don't drive it. You might be able to get the car to run, but doing so will end up costing you money because you will have to replace the catalytic converters. Each one costs about $500-$1000, and some cars are equipped with four of them.
How Long Can You Drive With the Check Engine Light On?
When the check engine light is solid, you can typically drive the car for hundreds of miles without an issue. Of course, that depends on which code is stored in the vehicle's computer. If an engine sensor is faulty, the car will usually use made up sensor values to keep running. There will be a decrease in fuel efficiency and vehicle performance, but you should be able to drive without a problem. It’s not an emergency, but you should still make an appointment with your mechanic soon.
What Do the Other Lights on Your Dash Mean?
Other common lights, like the maintenance light, sometimes get confused with the check engine light. Here are more guides to understanding what the light on your car means.
The team at A+ Japanese Auto Repair has years of experience servicing different makes and models of Japanese cars. If you have questions about your check engine light, schedule an appointment with us online or call (650) 595-2277.
Written by Eric Sevim – ASE Certified Technician in San Carlos, CA 94070
Disclaimer: This article is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as advice for your particular vehicle, and it should not be relied upon for that purpose. Please consult a qualified automotive maintenance professional to determine your car's maintenance and repair needs.