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Ignoring My Check Engine Light

February 25, 2021

I’m a good mechanic. I’m not a great mechanic. But, I’m pretty good. And I have a pretty well stocked tool chest. Multiple tool chests, there’s way too many tools for a single chest. Anyway, basically I’m saying I’m reasonable at fixing my car problems.

So, why is the check engine light on my car on? I didn’t check it. I know what it is. Well, I’m pretty sure I know what it is. And I’m not really interested in checking it.

Check engine lights are really stupid and really helpful. They are helpful because there are things that can go wrong inside your car that you don’t notice. You won’t notice until it becomes a serious problem. So, the car manufacturers setup the check engine light. If any one of multiple things go wrong the light comes on. Smart, huh?

Why’s it stupid? Because it’s just one little light. . . for everything. The light might mean your engine is about to blow up, or it might mean that the air to fuel ratio coming out of the catalytic converter is too high. . .or too low.

The check engine light has helped me on multiple occasions. In fact it’s useful enough that I went and bought a code reader. I actually have two code readers.

The red one is specifically for my Suburban. The blue one is generic for any car after 1994.

Code readers are useful because they can do two important things. First, they can read the codes and give you some idea of what’s wrong with your car. And second, more importantly, it can clear the Check engine light so that it doesn’t show on the dash anymore.

So, why am I not pulling out my code reader and checking the code on my Suburban?

Best way to describe it is your car has asthma.

This car had the check engine light on when I bought it from my brother several years ago. When his registration finally expired, I had a problem. You cannot get an emissions test done if your check engine light is on. I could clear the code, but it came back right away. The codes didn’t make a lot of sense to me, so my neighbor offered to get it inspected for me. He “knew a guy” that he thought could fix it.

He had my car for a couple weeks. He spent a lot of time and money with “his guy” working on it. Finally, the code stayed off long enough to get it inspected.

The issue was the air mixture coming out of the exhaust. At times it was too rich. At times it was too lean. It’s not like you can buy a piece to replace the entire air filter systems.

In the summer, the light stayed off for weeks or months at a time. It seemed to be worse in the winter. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Different types of gas didn’t seem to make a difference. Replacing the air filter didn’t make a difference. I had no idea from one day to the next whether it would be on or off.

And that was the problem. The check engine light can tell you if lots of different things are wrong on your car, on my car. But, my check engine light is now broken. It still works, but because it showed up so many times for that too lean/too rich issue, I don’t check it anymore.

My check engine light has become the boy who cried wolf. It comes on and off multiple times throughout the year. In the meantime I just look at it and ignore it.

Knowing I wanted to write this I did look through and clear the codes. Just like I thought, plenty of too lean/too rich codes. And a few others.

Huh, I wonder what that code is for or how long it’s been on there? I wonder if it will come back?

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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