What to do when Your Vehicle Check Engine Light Turns On and the Warranty has Expired

I wish to share this simple piece of information that has saved me thousands of dollars over the past several years.

Yesterday my vehicle check engine light turned on and I knew what to do.

I have never owned a new car; I always buy used. I usually buy an American model lease back or rental return with around 25,000 miles on it which saves me $10,000 – $20,000 on each vehicle purchase, and that allows me to stay out of debt (which my wife and I abhor). The risk is that the factory warranty expires 5,000 – 10,000 miles after purchase, so I could end up with a useless car less than a year after purchase, but that hasn’t happened.

What has happened is the check engine light frequently lights after the vehicle exceeds 50,000 miles. In the past when this happened, I always took the vehicle to a dealership to have them diagnose and fix the problem. I’d have to make inconvenient commuting arrangements since I’d loose the car for 1-2 days, and a repair was required that cost between $500-$2000 dollars. Since I am a mechanical know-nothing, I accepted the dealer’s word, made the repair, and paid the bill. I don’t recall how many times I’ve been through this repetitive cycle, but it’s been often enough to cause me a lot of frustration.

I don’t remember where I learned this, but several years ago, I learned that I didn’t need to go to a dealership or another garage to find out why the check engine light was lit. I didn’t even need to buy any special equipment to find out why it was lit.

Today I take the car to an auto parts store like Auto Zone or Advance Auto Parts and tell the guy at the counter that my check engine light is on. He plugs a handheld electronic device into my car, and tells me why it is lit. Several times, it said “emissions problem” – translated – A LOOSE GAS CAP! We tightened the gas cap, reset the light, and it didn’t light again for months. Other times it was a plug misfire, which can be a complete aberration. Again, we reset the light and it didn’t light again for months. A couple times, repairs were required, but at least I walked into the dealership with knowledge, which helped me keep the cost down. With knowledge of the problem, they couldn’t B.S. me.

The best part – it’s something you can do in five minutes that may save you thousands of dollars.

You can also buy yourself your own inexpensive Diagnositc Code Reader.

Check out Amazon’s entire assortment of ODBII Diagnotic Scanners.

To some readers this may be common knowledge, but for those of us that are mechanically challenged, it will save you cash.


167 thoughts on “What to do when Your Vehicle Check Engine Light Turns On and the Warranty has Expired”

  1. I got mine from Amazon and it cost me around $30 including shipping and handling. I’m not really an expert when it comes to fixing cars but this is what I can share so far – having these codes will help you save money and keep you from getting a lot of headaches.

    Some of the codes you can easily find online and the one I got do offer some practical advice. Better than paying $50 to $150 a mechanic just to read and clear the codes.

  2. I had a issue with my CEL on my ford i did all the things above disconnected the battery and even removed the fuses. But this did not help me with making the light go out.

    i spent a lot of money with ford pluging the car into there computer to try and work out what was going on after spending all this money it turns out it was a problem with on of the boards in the car.

    Cars are just big computers now anyways to get it fixed would have cost more than the car was worth now i just wish i took the car to a local garage maybe i could have saved myself a lot of money…..

  3. I got cable on ebay with USB connection for $20 , whic allowed me to reset the engine management light on my seat toledo

  4. Guys, a few quick things I’ve learned over the years:
    1. The check engine light doesn’t just come on for no reason. It was desgined to come on to report some sort of issue that will cause the emissions to increase to at least 1.5 times higher than they should be.
    2. The check engine light will NEVER come on telling you to do routine maintenance. That is a service reminder and is totally different than a check engine light.
    3. Simply turning off the check engine light is never the solution. The light came on because you have a problem that is affecting your emissions. Turning it off will only delay the inevitable – you need to fix your car. In the mean time, your car will be continuing to pollute. Additionally, more than 30 states will not allow you to pass your emissions test if you’ve just erased your computer (ie turned of the check engine light).

    Just my two cents. Hope it helps.

  5. OMG! Just tooke the advice of the original post and changed my fuel cap. The severe engine revving that was happending on idling or slowing down to stop at the lights is gone! I cannot believe it was so simple. I had the car in at the mechanics only a month ago to replace a leaky water pump. It came back running like it was my grandma’s old corolla trying to run on diesel (it ran really rough!). Made them take it back and they fiddled about a bit more and got it running a bit smoother but said the revving was a new problem and not related so I would need to bring it back in to have that investigated. Decided to do some research of my own first and came across this site (which I see this thread has been going for 5 years now!). Wrote down the different things to try asd suggested here, starting with checking the fuel cap. That fixed it, and for the princely sum of just $18!

  6. To Bob on Post 154 – I believed what you were saying. But the reality is my CE light for the 2002 Corolla came on for no reason. It started in 2005 on a Sunday. I was visiting Oakland and had to be back to San Diego on Monday. The Mechanic said it that the CAT needed to be replaced but he couldn’t do the work until Monday. He cleared the light.

    I took the car to a mechanic is SD and asked him to replace my CAT. He asked me whey did I think the CAT needed replacing. I told him the whole story. My car only had 65,000 miles. But he said CATs last over 100,000. Thank God he was honest.

    The light did not come back on for years. Then it started again, at the time it needed smogging. Dec of 2008, I did a few things from what I learned from the Net. Bought a scanner and l cleared the code before taking it to smog. It passed. But it came back off and on.

    In Dec 2010, I called Toyota and they wanted $1500 just for the CAT. It is just too ludicrous. So I did a few things. It passed smog again – so obviously, it was not CAT as the code had indicated and there is nothing wrong with the emission system or it would not have passed smog two times in the past 4 years.

    Had to replace the breaks and I asked the mechanic to check the CE light. I told him it passed smog. He said if that is the case, I don’t have to worry about it. He simply cleared it for me.

    My sister also told me that she had taken her car to the mechanic numerous times and no matter what he did, the light came back on. I have heard other stories like that.

    I believe CE lights is a racket and there is a whole industry out there thriving on faulty CE lists, fixing car that had nothing wrong with them – OK may be it had something to do with faulty electronics or sensors that are sending the wrong messages.

    The problem is that the wrong parts are replaced due to these faulty messages. I was not going to spend $2000 to fix a car that runs perfectly well. A CAT should not cost $1500 – like I said, it is ludicrous.

  7. Drive Toyota Corolla VE 1999. As per diagnostic advise changed 4 fuel injector. Nobody advised to try fuel injector cleaner to stop engine light on. Now I used it couple of time and it worked. Currently light is getting on and off. Light staying on day couple of days and agian it is getting off. But driving normal. Need tech. advise.

  8. I had an oil change on my 2005 stratus Friday, ODI light came on tues. 48,000 miles on car. Only drive 7 miles one way to work, waiting to see if in goes out in afew trips…..anyone else had the light come on after an oil change?

  9. MY OBD light came on after oil change, 2005 dodge stratus,48,000 miles
    anyone else had this problem?

  10. My check enging lite came on in my 06 4.3 silverado so I went to the auto parts and asked them to put the scanner on the truck and it showed code 02 which is usually the coolant sensor just under the right manifold toward the rear driver side. I bought the sensor and replaced the old one with the new one and the lite went out for about three weeks and then it came on again so I went back and had them put the scanner on it again and once again it showed the 02 code which the only other thing could be the engine thermostate so I bought it and put it in and the lite when off and has stayed off. So my advice is when you change the coolant sensor go ahead and also replace the thermastate and save yourself alott of grief. Also the lite does not go off imediately you have to drive it for a few days so computer can find itself.

  11. very helpful site here’s my problem 96 jeep cherokee check engine light is on took it to my mechanic who tried to connect scanner but after searching could not find the plug to conncet it too any ideas where its suppose to be.

  12. First off I try and never take my vehicle to a dealership if there is no warranty. They are far to expensive. Secondly just take the vehicle to any autoparts store and they can read the code. Then go on angies list to find a cheap and professional mechanic. This will save you a decent amount of money. Plus the mechanic will get a 30% discount at the auto parts store.

  13. Thanks for the advise Steve. This is NOT obvious info to us, and we’re going to try it before seeing our mechanic.

  14. Took my 2002 S-Type Jaguar to a top rated auto shop because it was skipping/jerking when I would slowdown but, when I would push the gas pedal ( flooring it ) car would take off. After 2 days mechanic called and said I needed new sensors/plugs. It cost me $589.00. The next afternoon driving home from dr appt the check engine light comes on. I called the auto shop that fixed the sensors and told them the check engine light was on so they told me to bring the car in the next day, which I did and it took them maybe 3 minutes and they said I needed a new catalytic converter. They said keep driving it because it could last a week up to a year but it would go into driver mode which would give me time to bring it back in for the catalytic converter and would cost around $3000.00 to $3500.00. My car has just hit the 50, 000. Mile mark. I don’t know if I should go ahead and have a new one put on or just keep driving it or if what they told me is true.

  15. An OBD scan tool is a useful thing to pull codes and find out POSSIBLE causes so you don’t get stuck replacing all of your sensors and MAF because you have a bad gas cap or a pinhole in or a slipped vacuum hose, but for pity’s sake don’t think it is a fix all and don’t repeatedly reset if the CEL keeps coming on. Have a qualified mechanic look at it.

  16. I have a Mazda 626 e002 model I had similar where the check enigine light has been on after reading thw comment here I removed the battery postive cAble And the light went off . ThAnk u so much. For this site

  17. I have a 2003 Jaguar s type, the check engine light was on. my mechanic scanned the computer and found that i needed an oygen sensor replaced. after replacing it the engine light went off but on three other scans, the codes revealed that it would not pass NYS inspection -“drive it around town and highways for at least 50 miles” okay. after i75 miles, the scan still indicates the computer is not ready for inspection yet….any suggestions or questions i should ask my mechanic about the workings of this computer and or scan? In the meanwhile, i am driving around in a car with no current NYS inspection.

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