At Performance Automotive, Inc in San Diego, CA, we have seen our fair share of preventable engine failures. Frequently, engine disaster could have been avoided if the driver had known beforehand what the warning lights or gauges on the dashboard indicated. While some dash lights are fairly benign, others indicate imminent trouble. This guide from Performance Automotive, Inc in San Diego, CA will prepare you for the next time your car shows you a warning you shouldn’t ignore.
Check Engine Light
Typically, a check engine light is nothing immediately threatening (though you should still have it checked into as soon as possible.) All vehicles are a little different, but if the light is flashing or turning red when it’s usually green or orange you have a more serious problem. A normal check engine light can be caused by anything from humidity or a loose gas cap to a clogged catalytic converter or other serious problem. Get it checked no matter what and heed the advice of your mechanic...but if it is flashing or red, take more serious action. Turn the car off once you’ve come to a complete stop, and don’t restart it until you know what the problem is. In some cases, your car can be moved after it’s cooled down for a while but be aware you are running your engine at your own risk. If you choose to restart the car, turn it off again immediately if the light begins to flash once more.
Temperature Gauge or Temperature Light
Depending on the vehicle, it’ll be equipped with a temperature gauge or warning light. If you don’t have a gauge, you have a light...it will look something like a thermometer most likely but consult your owner’s manual for an accurate image of what it looks like when illuminated. With a gauge, familiarize yourself with where the needle usually hovers once your car is fully warmed up. If it ever gets above this point, keep a sharp eye on it. Typically, operating temperature is about half way across the gauge, but on some vehicles up to three-quarters of the way across. If the needle gets close to the red section on your gauge, pull over and shut the car off immediately. Don’t wait until the gauge maxes out; your engine will keep heating up for a few minutes after you’ve shut it off, and severe damage can occur even after the engine isn’t running. The same principle applies to the warning light if your vehicle is so equipped...you won’t have any warning before it comes on, however, and there’s no way to monitor it. If the light comes on, turn the engine off once you’ve stopped. Typically, a vehicle that is overheating can be restarted and driven a short distance to the repair shop or another destination, after the engine has had ample time to cool down. Just be sure to keep a very close eye on the dash, and don’t push your luck. An engine that gets too hot will sustain significant damage.
Oil Pressure Gauge/Light
As before, some cars have a gauge, and some have a light. Usually the gauge or light is denoted by a symbol that looks like an old-school oil can (vaguely resembling a teapot, for our younger audience.) Also, as before, know where your gauge usually stands...this one is different because the gauge may rise and fall depending on your engine speed. This gauge is also different because, while it is possible to have high oil pressure, you mostly want to watch out for low oil pressure. If your needle is on the very low end of the gauge, or your warning light illuminates, stop driving the car and shut off the engine immediately. Poor oil pressure will destroy an engine very quickly, and unlike your temperature gauge, it’s unwise to start the engine again until you know what the problem is. In many cases, the car is just low on oil...add oil until you achieve the correct level on the dipstick, then start the car and see if the oil pressure looks better. If this doesn’t correct your problem, have the vehicle towed to the shop and let a technician take a look. Under no circumstance is it safe for the engine to run with low oil pressure.
This one doesn’t likely mean your engine will suffer harm if you keep driving, though it can be damaging to sensitive electronics, so proceed with caution if you see this light. Typically, this light means your alternator isn’t charging the battery or powering the car, meaning that once your battery dies your engine will too. Turn off all unnecessary electronics and get the vehicle to a safe place immediately. Most vehicles will run for at least 20 minutes after the charge light comes on, but again you shouldn’t push your luck, and if you do, you do so at your own risk.
Maintenance Req’d Light
Your engine isn’t about to self-destruct. You should probably get your oil changed though.
In Summary, familiarize yourself with what the lights and gauges on your dashboard mean, and know what action to take should you need to. Typically, the lights will come on when you turn the key on, before you start the engine, and may remain illuminated for a second or two after the engine starts. This is normal. If they come on at any other time, or your gauges read something irregular, immediately stop the car and turn your engine off. While this material may sound grim, now you are prepared for the worst, and it’s likely you will save yourself from having to purchase a new engine in the event any of these warnings appear. If you encounter any issues on your dashboard or otherwise, don’t hesitate to give us a call, or get your car to us as soon as you can. Our Performance Automotive, Inc technicians will diagnose your issue and have you back on the road as soon as possible!
Thank you for visiting Performance Automotive, Inc in San Diego, CA. Count on our automotive repair technicians to keep your car, truck, suv, or van on the roads longer and safer. Schedule your appointment today (858) 695-9644 or schedule here.