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History of the “Check Engine” or “Service Engine Soon” Light

by | Sep 30, 2020 | Dashboard light, dashboard warning, Driving safe, History check engine | 0 comments


Nowadays, it’s easy to take our car’s features for granted. Take, for instance, the check engine light. Have you ever ​really thought about it? How did it come to exist? Today, we’re covering the complete history of this handy invention, from the 1930s all the way up to present day.

How exactly does the check engine light work?

Before we get down to the nitty gritty, let’s go over a few things. A check engine light is sometimes called a malfunction indicator lamp (or MIL for short). It’s operated by your car’s computer system and serves as a warning that there’s something wrong with the engine. When activated, it’s a red or orange light that shows up on your vehicle’s dashboard. It will either look like a phrase, like “SERVICE ENGINE SOON”, or it will appear as an image of an engine. If the light is not blinking, it means there’s a minor issue that needs to be addressed sometime soon. If the light is blinking, it means there’s an urgent matter that needs immediate resolution. As soon as the light gets triggered, a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) gets sent to your car’s computer system. A scan tool reads the DTC and identifies the problem.

History of when the check engine light was standardized?

The check engine light as we know it dates back to the mid-1990s. In 1996, the United States government was trying to reduce vehicle emissions. They mandated that all cars sold in the U.S. be equipped with an on-board vehicle diagnostic system, called OBD2. Since all new cars had the same technology, it standardized everything, including DTCs. This standardization allows our skilled technicians at D&D Autoworks to read DTCs using scan tool technology. This means we can diagnose any issue on any vehicle we see, regardless of the make or model.

How has the check engine light evolved through History?

Before OBD2 technology, there wasn’t a systematic approach to identifying and resolving engine issues. In the 1980s, automakers started manufacturing vehicles with computerized engine controls. However, each system was unique to the vehicle’s manufacturer. Because nothing was standardized across the board, the diagnostics process was extremely time-consuming.

The earliest form of the check engine light was called an idiot light (no joke), or warning light. They were first used by the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, who started installing them sometime in the mid-1930s. These tell-tales were only triggered by a major engine fault. Unfortunately, they didn’t give much of a warning before a vehicle broke down. Because of their limitations, idiot lights were eventually phased out in the 1980s.

Luckily, we’ve made significant progress since the 1930s. These days, skilled technicians can conduct diagnostics tests in no time. Modern check engine lights are often activated for minor vehicle issues. Being aware of the smaller issues often prevents you from having crippling car troubles down the line. This saves you time and money.

This concludes our brief history lesson on the check engine light. The next time your check engine light is activated, think about how far we’ve come since the “idiot light” days. Consider the check engine light as your car’s way of talking to you, and give us a call.



8 Reasons Your Car’s Check Engine Light is On and What You Need to Do About It

The dreaded check engine light. When you see it, you know you have a problem. Although ignoring it is tempting, this will only cause you a bigger headache. Below, we’ll discuss 8 of the most common causes for an activated check engine light.

1. Vacuum leak

One reason your check engine light may be on is a vacuum leak. Cars have lots of vacuum lines, which are rubber hoses that carry a lack of air pressure. They’re used for lots of different things in your engine. Since they’re made out of rubber, they’ll develop cracks or stretch out over time. Finding the leak can take some time, but the vacuum lines themselves are a relatively cheap part.

2. MAF failure

If your MAF (mass air flow) sensor malfunctions, it’ll trigger the check engine light. This sensor tells exactly how much air enters the engine. This lets your car know the amount of fuel needed for it to run efficiently. If an MAF repair is put off, it can damage your oxygen sensor, spark plugs, and catalytic converter. It can also cause reduced fuel economy and performance.

3. Catalytic converter

If your check engine light turns on because of the catalytic converter, it’s usually because there’s another engine part that needs maintenance. The catalytic converter changes poisonous carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. If this part is clogged up, it can’t do its job.

4. Oxygen sensor

Your car’s oxygen sensor tracks the gases present in the engine to make sure enough oxygen is present. A faulty sensor is another reason you may be seeing your check engine light. A problem here can lead to bad gas mileage. Putting off maintenance on your oxygen sensor could lead to issues with your spark plugs or catalytic converter, costing you thousands of dollars in damages.

5. EGR valve

The EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve doesn’t need regular maintenance. However, if your check engine light is on because of this, it’s probably because it’s clogged by carbon build-up. This valve is opened or closed by your vehicle’s computer to control vehicle emissions. It does so by redirecting some exhaust gases back to the intake manifold. If the valve is clogged, it can’t do its job and will need to be replaced.

6. Battery

If your car battery is faulty or isn’t charging, your car’s computer won’t detect the right amount of energy. This will trigger the check engine light in your car, and you may need to replace the battery. A car battery lasts about 5 to 7 years, so this isn’t something that you’ll see too often.

7. Spark plugs and spark plug wires

Faulty spark plugs and spark plug wires can also activate your car’s check engine light. These parts ignite the fuel and air in your engine to produce power. When they don’t work properly, it affects the performance of your engine, and can even cause it to stop running. As long as it’s addressed right away, spark plug replacements are a relatively minor issue.

8. Loose or missing fuel cap

Your gas cap is there to keep fumes from coming out of your gas tank. If the cap is missing, loose, or cracked, your check engine light will turn on. Replacing your fuel cap is an easy, inexpensive fix. Don’t put this off, though. Driving without one will cause bad fuel efficiency and increase your car’s emissions.

These are 8 of the most common reasons your check engine light is on. The only way to know why your check engine light is on is to take your vehicle in for an inspection. Thankfully, our technicians at D&D Autoworks are here to help. Give us a call today or ​book online​ to schedule your inspection.


What Should You Do If Your Check Engine Light Is On?

One of the last things you want to see while driving is the check engine light. But, when you see it, you need to know what to do. Check engine lights can indicate a wide range of issues, from simple to serious. The last thing you want to do is ignore it and pretend like it’s not there. Read on to learn about what you can do to troubleshoot the issue.

Should I pull over?

The first decision you need to make is whether or not you need to pull over. Here’s what you need to know. The check engine light on your dashboard will appear in one of two ways. So if you have a serious issue, the light will be flashing. If it’s a less urgent matter, the light will be illuminated but not flashing. This indicates that your engine needs attention at your earliest convenience, but you probably don’t need to stop what you’re doing. If your check engine light is flashing, the safest option is to pull over immediately.

Flashing or not flashing, take a moment to observe your surroundings. Do you notice anything odd with your vehicle? Some telltale signs of major engine problems include engine smoke, loss of power, and strange noises. If any of these things are happening, you should stop driving and seek help. If possible, get your car towed to a service provider for diagnostics.

How to troubleshoot a check engine light

If your check engine light is illuminated but not flashing, you may be able to resolve the problem yourself. However, the first thing to look at is your gas tank. Oddly enough, a loose fuel cap can activate the check engine light. Examine your fuel cap to make sure it’s fastened properly. However, this is a quick and easy fix that could turn off your check engine light, solving your problem. Another spot to check is your oil dipstick. The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that it’s sealed. You should also check the oil fuel cap to make sure it’s attached correctly. This might be all you need to do to deactivate your car’s check engine light.

If you want to go a little more in-depth, you can purchase an OBD2 scan tool. This device reads diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) saved by your car’s computer. These DTCs get saved when the check engine light turns on. All you need to do is connect the OBD2 scanner to the data link connector, which is typically found underneath the driver’s side dashboard.

OBD2 Scanners

OBD2 scanners can cost up to $50 to $100. Even though DTCs can point you in the direction, they don’t give you the full story. But the good news is that they can give you a solid idea of how serious your engine problems are. Having this information can help you decide how to address vehicle repairs. If you see the check engine light, try not to panic. Stay relaxed and come up with a plan. Remember to always pull over if you think you have a major issue on your hands.

D&D Autoworks is always here for your vehicle service, maintenance, and repair. You can make an appointment online​, or give us a call. You can reach us at (952) 931-9696 for our Minnetonka Boulevard location, or (952) 922-9696 for our West Lake Street location. Our experienced technicians look forward to serving you.