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CarMD's Real-Time Check Engine Light Tool Can Save Money, Time and Headaches

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author photo by James Riswick August 2016

The check engine light -- many know it as the little amber nuisance that illuminates when you're running late for work or just after you've managed to cram all the kids on board for a week-long road trip. It's an ominous bummer that seemingly foretells roadside breakdowns and smoking engine compartments should you not heed its warnings. You can practically feel the money oozing out of your bank account and into your dealership.

However, a check engine light is often not as bad as it seems. While you should, without question, still heed its warnings, it can mean a number of easily fixable things. To help you figure out what they might be and potentially save you time and money by avoiding a dealer visit, CarMD compiled a list of the most common causes and how you can easily remedy the situation. Most conveniently, it also allows you to input your car's year, make and model to customize potential common causes.

1. Tighten or Replace the Gas Cap

It seems so ridiculously simple, but this is actually the most common cause of a check engine light. Thankfully, it's also the easiest and cheapest to fix. At worst, you're looking at spending a few bucks on a new gas cap. Left unfixed, your gas mileage can suffer. Annually, up to 147 million gallons of fuel evaporate due to missing or damaged gas caps.

2. Replace the Oxygen Sensor

This, too, is a common cause, but it's more difficult to repair. However, you can buy a new oxygen sensor for about $45 on Amazon, and there's no shortage of how-to internet videos available should you want to replace it yourself. A professional will charge $271 on average to repair an oxygen sensor (also known as an O2 sensor). If you don't fix it, fuel economy will suffer in the short term, and the catalytic converter could suffer expensive damage over the long term.

3. Replace the Mass Air Flow Sensor

This cause is more common in dry and dusty areas of the country, and a good way to avoid replacing it in the first place is to make sure you keep your engine's air filter clean. Case in point, a new air filter runs about $20, while professionally replacing a mass air flow sensor can cost upward of $400 total. Nevertheless, it's possible to conduct the repair yourself with a part you can purchase online for about $60.

You can check out the other common check engine light causes at CarMD.com, ranging from relatively simple fixes, like replacing your engine's thermostat, to pricey, complicated ones, like replacing the catalytic converter. Many auto part stores will check your car for the fault code that caused the check engine light, therefore letting you know for sure what the issue is.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
CarMD's Real-Time Check Engine Light Tool Can Save Money, Time and Headaches - Autotrader