Understanding the ‘yellow light of death’

What does it really mean when your vehicle’s “check engine” lamp (also known as the dreaded “yellow light of death”) comes on? How bothered should you be? Why does it happen, and what will turn that annoying, disturbing light off?

When illuminated, the check engine icon on your instrument panel is a signal that something is wrong (or “reading” wrong) in your engine — whether because of a glitch or a temporary condition, or because a sensor detects something wrong.

The best thing to do is stay calm. DON’T PANIC. 

There’s a tendency to start freaking out and stop in the middle of the road. You turn off your engine, turn it on again, and it’s still there. If the check engine light comes on while you’re driving, it can be unnerving. You won’t find ready answers on the internet; ask 10 people and you might get a hundred different answers – if you’re lucky. If you start noticing some problems with your vehicle’s performance together with the check engine light appearing on your panel, that is a clear indication that you should get your vehicle checked right away.

In either case, the best thing to do is find out for sure. Go to your nearest casa or trusted auto shop with a scanner that can be connected through your OBD (on-board diagnostic) port which is always located somewhere below your steering wheel near the gas pedal area. It’s a standard that all car manufacturers agree on.

What could be wrong

• Damaged hoses/wires

If you have leaking hoses and frayed/cracked wires especially those connected to the spark plugs, your spark plugs may be misfiring. 

• Mass airflow sensor

The mass airflow (MAF) sensor calculates the amount of air entering the engine so that the computer can add the right amount of fuel. A faulty MAF sensor could trigger the check engine light. It can also cause a car to experience impaired gas mileage and increased emissions. 

• Catalytic converter

The catalytic converter is an emission control device that “reduces toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas from an internal combustion engine into less-toxic pollutants” relatively safer for the environment, and decreases the amount of smoke your vehicle produces. If it is faulty, the car’s gas mileage will suffer, and your car may accelerate slowly.

• Spark plugs

Replace your spark plugs every 30,000 kilometers. This is a quick, easy, and inexpensive fix. If you get that check engine light along with slight jolts while accelerating, the spark plugs might be the problem.

So, while we advise you to not to overreact to the yellow light of death, don’t ignore it either. 

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