VIDEO: How to Kill a “Check Engine” Light

Posted In: RV Products, Video

Most vehicles built in the last couple of decades come equipped with on board “check engine” lights. There are other lights on the dashboard, often referred to as “idiot lights” because they were originally invented for mechanically challenged folks who could not read traditional auto gauges. These warning lights are designed to illuminate anytime the vehicle’s on board computer detects something wrong with the engine. In theory, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, it means that approximately 99.5% of vehicles on the road today are cruising around town with “check engine” lights on.

PART 1: The Ritual Unboxing

Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I bought a nice BMW in 1998 that I’ve owned for 13 years (I am the “buy and hold” type, remember?). In this 1998 car, the “check engine” light has been activated for at least 12 of the 13 years. I’m not kidding. I’ve taken it to auto shops and they’ve turned off the light; it invariably pops back on within a few hundred miles. I finally gave up worrying about it.

There are a few different ways to address check engine lights.

PART 2: Upfixin’ Der Porsche

Of course you can actually “check” the engine, but this will accomplish little except getting your hands dirty.

You can go to certain auto parts stores where they promise to read your codes for “free.” (Just remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.) They may or may not turn off the lights.

You can go to a car stealership (dealership, sorry!) and pay them a handsome sum to perform the same task.

Or you can do what we have done, and purchase an OBD2 scanner. These scanners are small computer devices that are designed to interface with your vehicle. You can spend as little as $20, or as much as a few hundred dollars. The cheapest of these devices will merely read the trouble codes generated by your car. The more advanced devices will enable you to erase or turn off the trouble codes. I think the latter functionality merits an additional $30, which is why we chose our particular model.

The OBD2 standard was implemented in 1996, so in theory every car manufactured after 1996 will interface with these scanners. There may be a few exceptions, so be sure to research whether you can expect success with your particular car, truck, or motorhome.

Note that just because you have turned off a “check engine” code, you may still have a problem. Obviously in some cases the trouble codes indicate ACTUAL trouble. Erasing a code is only a temporary fix, as the underlying trouble will persist. In the case of the limping Porsche, we were able to temporarily take the car out of “limp mode,” but we still had an issue with the fuel pump relay. We could make the car perform normally for a little while, and then the relay would trigger another trouble code, and the car would revert to limp mode.

An OBD2 scanner may not cure what ails your vehicle, but it is a handy device to have in your toolkit. We bought ours for about $60 via Amazon.

 


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