Learn how to find and interpret a vehicle's check engine light.
There are few things more terrifying to the average car owner than the sight of the check engine light suddenly illuminating. The check engine light can mean an urgent trip to the car repair shop, hours or even days spent with no car and a hefty repair bill...or it could be nothing.
The check engine light is a warning light illuminated by your car's diagnostic system (in cars built after 1996, the system is known as OBD-II) when it senses a mechanical or electrical problem. This can be anything from a loose gas cap to a serious issue with the electrical system. Fortunately, Consumer Reports estimates that most of the time the problem is nothing serious.
The location of the check engine light varies depending on vehicle make and model, but it is often found in the main instrument panel behind the steering wheel (near the speedometer and fuel gauge). If you can't locate the check engine light, check your vehicle's service manual for a schematic of your car's lights and gauges.
For cars built after 1996, the only way to reset the check engine light is to use a computerized scanning device (which is also used to identify the problem tripping the check engine light) compliant with the OBD-II diagnostic system. These handheld scanners are available at many auto parts stores or online. Alternatively, some auto parts stores will scan your engine and reset the light for free. The safest but most expensive option is to have a certified repair technician reset the engine light - and examine your engine in the process.
It was once possible to turn off the check engine light by disconnecting and then reconnecting the battery. Since the implementation of the OBD-II standard in 1996, this trick no longer works. In order to turn off the check engine light you'll need access to a handheld scanner - available at many online and retail auto-part vendors. Otherwise, you will need to take the vehicle to an auto repair shop, where a technician can turn the light off for you.