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Can I drive with a check engine light on?

Typically, you can drive with the check engine light on as long as the vehicle is not "feeling" or "driving" differently. Let’s be honest, it’s never great when the check engine is on but we want to help you understand if you can drive the car, how long, and what happens if you do drive with the check engine light on. 

Let’s start with why the check engine light comes on.

Your car or truck has many dash warning lights and they all stand for something different.  You can determine if your check engine light on because it could be a symbol of an engine, the words “service engine soon”, the words “check engine”, or a combination of all three.   

The main job of a check engine light is to alerts the driver of an issue with one of the car sensors or that the car is not running properly. The engine light can come on solid or it can flash.

As a small side note, the check engine light should always come on when you start the vehicle but should turn off within 6 seconds.

Is your check engine light flashing or on solid?

When the check engine light is on solid, it means there is a stored code in the car’s computer. It also means whatever the problem is has happened consecutively and needs to be looked at by your local trusted mechanic. They will inspect the stored check engine light and diagnose any one of over 150 codes. List of codes here.

When the Check Engine Light is Flashing, DO NOT drive the car. The vehicle manufacture created the flashing check engine light to alert the driver that damage will occur to the catalytic converters.

Can I drive with the check engine light on?

When the check engine light is solid – most likely yes. (The only side note to this is if the car feels like it is running differently than normal. If that is the case, I would recommend to not drive your vehicle.)

When the check engine light is flashing – it’s definitely not recommended to drive. (You physically can still drive the car but it will end up costing you a lot of money to replace your catalytic converters. They cost between $500-$1000 for each catalytic converter and some cars have four of them!)

How long can you drive with the check engine light on the dash?

When the check engine light is on solid you can typically drive the car for hundreds of miles. Of course, it depends what code is stored in the car’s computer. If an engine sensor has gone bad, the car will usually put in made up sensor values that allows the car to keep running. There will be a decrease in gas mileage and possibly a decrease in vehicle performance but the car will still run and get you to your destination. You will want to make an appointment with your mechanic soon but it’s not an emergency.

What do the other lights mean on my dash?

What does the maintenance required light mean?

How far can you drive with the gas light on?

What does the battery light mean on the dash?

What does the tire pressure light mean on the dash?

If you have any more questions about a check engine light, feel free to visit A+ Japanese Auto Repair for a chat with us 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 as advice for your particular vehicle, and should not be relied upon for that purpose.  Please consult a qualified automotive maintenance professional to determine the maintenance and repair needs for your vehicle.


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