Q. The warning light came on my dashboard, should I panic and drive straight to the mechanic?
A. First, don’t panic. Save that for when your 401k shrinks to a 201k. The “check engine” warning light is simply a general alarm. How it looks and what it means varies from car to car. It might be a yellow or red light or just a little engine symbol. No matter what it looks like, all it lets you know is that the computer that monitors your car has determined that some component of your car is not working properly.
That problem can be a minor one or a major one. It could indicate something as simple as a loose fuel cap, especially if you’ve recently refueled. Stop the car in a safe place, turn off the engine, and tighten the gas cap until you hear two or three clicks. Sometimes, that does the trick. But if it doesn’t, you need to take your car in for a diagnostic evaluation. Don’t worry; they’re generally painless. But not always cheap.
As a general rule of thumb, if your check engine light comes on and stays on, you should take your car to a mechanic, but there’s no immediate danger to you or the car. If, however, the light blinks on and off with a regular pulse, it can be a sign of something much more serious. You should pull over when it’s safe to do so and have your car towed to the mechanic.