We All Live in a Red 'Check Engine' Light

A warning light came on in my car. One of those mysterious little graphics that-- to the Automotively Unschooled such as myself-- are more frightening by the fact that they're lit, than any idea what the frig it's supposed to symbollize.

"Crikey-moses, I think my personal exploration submarine is going to blow!"

Realizing there probably wasn't enough room under the spare tire for a hidden marine submersible--- disappointing: I'd had my heart set on seeing those transparent fish who are their own flashlights-- I dug out the owner's manual.

It turns out the meaning of the warning sensor is actually more convoluted than a 60s psychedelic musical cartoon based around an excess of Liverpudlians cohabitating in a sunny steel shark.

In fact, it could indicate any one of the following:

Meaning One:
Something is wrong with your emissions. Which means something is wrong with your engine. Or transaxle. Or exhaust, intake, or fuel system. Possibly air freshener.

Which means your car will either stall out on a four-lane highway where you become instant paté-in-a-can for packs of very lost dingoes... Or, you'll make it to the mechanics only to learn everything but the cupholders are ruined, and you owe them your first born child and/or spun gold as payment.

Meaning Two:

The engine, which has tragically bad aim when it's been drinking heavily (especially the cheap stuff), has misfired. Giving itself a flesh wound. This may or may not require service, depending on how macho it is. VW Bugs will ask for floral-printed Band-Aids (ouchless) and a hug from the nearest maintenance man. Dodge Rams will only cry on the inside.

Meaning Three:

The emissions system is simply confused and cranky. The car may be feeling the effects of a loose gas cap. Rain might be frizzing its electrics. Its gas tank might be queasy from a new brand of fuel. Or the car might be held sway by the light of a full moon and Team Jacob. If the latter, druids should be called in to make the light go off. Though, it may go off on its own, after it's had a good cry.

Or not.

But maybe.

So you could wait.

Or you could explode in a fiery ball of flame and rubber Hello Kitty floormats.

Your call, really.

The funny thing is, as far as I can tell, the information on the problem is really no different than the Service Engine Soon light. I've written about that before. Does the Mini-Sub-looking icon indicate a greater level of peril than the big square "Service Engine Soon" icon?

Or does it simply mean that when I finally bow to the power of the light and take my car in, the mechanic will tell me it has... oh, I don't know... a small case of the Blue Meanies...

...And that "that'll be $700 Meanie-Extraction-and-Light-Resetting, Ma'am"?

If the last one's the case, I might just tell them to leave the Meanies there. I like company for my commutes. As long as they wouldn't go screwing with my stereo, we'd be cool.

And speaking of music. All together now... Everybody...

"We all live in a red 'Check Engine' light...
Red 'Check Engine' light...
Red 'Check Engine' light..."



Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I go into a complete dull stupor when a mysterious light comes on. Six weeks later, my husband will say, "Hey, how long has that light been on" and I'll say, "Oh, I don't know. A few weeks." And then he'll break out the manual muttering about how THAT can't be good and the next thing you know he's taking it to the mechanic and 5 million dollars later, all is well. I'm a total ostrich about these things.

Unknown said...

Nanny Goats- But doesn't the light nag? And annoy? And bob at the corner of your eye as you drive?

Me, I know it's there. I just need all of the planets to align at work to schedule the appointment and take the time off I need to fix it. :)

Chris said...

Yeah, I once had a Mazda 626 that I drove for over 150,000 miles with the "check engine" light on. I obviously didn't take it seriously.

Kathy said...

Oh, yeah. I got the submarine once too. Scared me half to death to read all the possible causes. I wound up having $900 worth of work done. Apparently it was "all of the above." I think they make cars trigger that light when you haven't been in for service in a while. Gotta keep someone in business. Crikey!

Jenn Thorson said...

Knucklehead- I have waves of not-caring interspersed with hyper-car-o-chondria- the paranoid irrational concern that there might actually be something wrong with it. Do I smell fumes? Did it drive a little rough there? Am I getting enough power? :)

Kathy- The thing is, I'd just had the car inspected and emissions tested only a few weeks ago. Perhaps there's a correlation there.

Darrell B. Nelson said...

I've got the weirdest "Check Engine" Light. It stays on ever since I got the car 5 years ago. It only goes out when the car needs an oil change. As soon as I change the oil it comes back on.
So it is sort of helpful in an inverse way.

http://howtobecomeacatladywithoutthecats.blogspot.com said...

Bwahaha! It really does look like a personal underwater exploration vehicle! One of the most useful things I learned from my son is that most often that light means you forgot to put your gas cap back on after filling up... always good to know.

Happy New Year

Berowne said...

When we got the new car and we settled in to start a ride, my daughter was terrified when suddenly an alarm began clanging. "Nothing to worry about," I said, worrying about it. It sounded very much as though someone on death row had escaped.

"Oh," she said, "the door's not closed."

"It is closed," I explained.

"It's not closed ENOUGH."

"Looks closed to me."

The death-row escape bell kept clanging. I opened the door and closed it again.

It hadn't been closed enough.

A new car means learning a whole new system of little red lights and clanging alarms.

Unknown said...

So I get into my car today, after several days of the Check Engine light and.... It went off. Just off. It's fine now. Happy. So was it the gas cap? Maybe. Or drier electrics? Possibly. Or planetary alignment? Why not. But it's fixed itself. Go fig.

Project Savior- That's hysterical! When you fill up your gas tank, does it read "E" too? :)

CatLady- I'm thinking it had to be the gas cap, too. But I'd gotten almost a week before it started it's warning shenanigans. Makes no sense, any of it. (Glad I'm not the only one who thinks it looks like a submersible!)

Berowne- Love the prison alarm imagery! That kind of noise is enough to scare the bejeebers out of you. "Duck under your desks! It's a bomb threat! Run to the fall out shelters!" :)

Leeuna said...

I just ignore the light. Pfffft! I figure it'll either go off or the car will blow up. whatever. Oh, and to fix that funny sound coming from the engine, simply turn up the volume on the radio. It works every time.

Shieldmaiden96 said...

That light came on in Bryan's old car when we were driving home from North Carolina. We both looked at it, shrugged, and resumed our conversation. It stayed on for the better part of nine years. Our old mechanic said, "ya know what I think isn't working? The check engine light."

Unknown said...

Leeuna- If we don't hear from you for any length of time, I guess we'll know what's happened. "It was the dashboard lights that got her!" :)

ShieldMaiden- Nine years! Ha. Yes, sounds like your sensor burned out. My dad had one that never went off and the mechanics could find no reason why. Of course, his horn would also go off randomly and his trunk would pop of its own choosing.

jay said...

Hahaha! I love this bit -

"VW Bugs will ask for floral-printed Band-Aids (ouchless) and a hug from the nearest maintenance man. Dodge Rams will only cry on the inside."


Yes, I'm with you, by the way. When something extra lights up in the Audi (which looks like a flight deck at night with it's thousands of little red and orange lights) we only know it's there because when it blinks on our peripheral vision catches it, but we have no clue what it is, or what it signifies. It might just as well be a personal submarine! And it might also be a glitch in the far-too-complex electrics.

Gloria Kelley said...

I just discovered your blog on a blog catalog post about why we blog. I love how you write and what you write about. Putting you on my bloglist. Keep up the funny stuff - I love it.

Mary@Holy Mackerel said...

I had that happen in our car, and we just ignore it. Sometimes it goes away. Once it was something about the gas tank cap not being rotated enough. Stupid cars.

Unknown said...

Jay- See, you make those throwaway lines totally worthwhile. :) PS- You know your Audi is cool by how very many lights it has... At least that's what I've gleaned from Top Gear! :)

Gloria- I thank you- I appreciate you stopping by!

Mary- I swear, you are so right-- everything is that stupid "gas cap installation error." I mean, I have at least THREE things that will come on because I didn't tighten the gas cap enough. That's just wrong!

chyna said...

Jason's old Z28 check engine light stayed on from the day he got it back from the mechanics after the engine had been replaced. yes replaced, maybe it just wanted us to check out the shiny new-ness of it. All I know is that he just slapped a piece of electrical tape on it. tada, all fixed. LOL

Honestly, that car had tinted windows (just a few degrees about limo tint) so that one light was blinding at night!

My car warned me once that there was a problem with the oil level, Jason took it in to have the oil changed and I had something like a quart left in it. Talk about the need for a good check engine light!!!!