You’re driving down the road, everything is OK, and suddenly the check engine light comes up. Probably the first question that will pop up is can you drive with the check engine light on?
Should you pull over immediately, can you safely continue driving, do you need to seek immediate help….all of these questions go through a driver’s head.
Hopefully, this article will answer these questions and help you do the right thing.
CAN YOU DRIVE WITH THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON?
The answer is yes, you can continue driving if there are no immediate signs of trouble.
If the check engine light comes on and the car is still driving normally without any obvious malfunction, continue your trip.
On the other hand, if you notice strange engine noises, other dashboard warning lights coming up, error messages on the dash, major loss of engine power, etc. pull over and stop as soon as possible.
In fact, the answer to this question lies in the good judgment and decision of the driver.
It may seem like an old-school method as it depends on the driver’s car knowledge, opinion, and senses. But let’s be honest: in most situations, it’s the first and maybe only thing you can do.
That is unless you have an OBD tool around the car which is pretty unlikely.
I’m mentioning this mostly due to the fact that the check engine light tends to come up for reasons that don’t dramatically affect the engine which means you can continue driving without any major consequences.
Can you drive with the check engine light on? Sometimes common sense is enough to give you guidelines on what to do next.
If you’re interested in the most common reasons for the check engine light, click here for a separate article on that topic.
HOW LONG CAN YOU DRIVE WITH THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON?
If there’s no sign of big trouble, you can drive probably hundreds if not thousands of miles or kilometers.
To be honest, I’ve seen people drive for years with this warning light on. Lots of drivers (since the car runs just fine) don’t take this seriously and see it more as an annoyance than as a serious warning.
On the other hand, if you do notice serious problems pull over and stop the car as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may cause serious damage to the engine or some of its systems not to mention the safety issue.
In some cars, when there’s a bigger problem, the check engine light will turn red or start blinking. If you see this, stop as soon as possible.
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE CHECK ENGINE LIGHT COMES ON?
Here’s a couple of things you can do:
- As mentioned, if the check engine light is accompanied by more serious signs of trouble (loss of engine power, engine not working properly, etc), pull over as soon as possible, turn off the engine and look for help.
- Try to make a brief inspection under the hood. Look around the engine bay and see if you can notice any obvious problems. These would be things like a loose air hose, loose clamp, loose connector, etc. Do this inspection even if the problem is more serious as it may give you a hint of what’s wrong. Also, you might get some idea of what you’re facing (future costs, time of repair, etc).
- If the problem is minor and accessible, try fixing it. You wouldn’t want to call road service, tow the car, and pay for all that because of a loose clamp or air hose for instance. Especially take a look if some recent repair has been done. Maybe someone left something loose, forgot to return some part, or else.
- This tip is a long shot but worth the try. If the car runs normally, try turning off the engine and leaving the car for about 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes the check engine light comes up because of a minor glitch in the system and may go away.
- Have in mind that if you manage to solve the problem, the check engine light may not go away immediately. It may take a couple of engine starts for the ECU to register that the fault is gone.
Regarding this topic, you can also read two other articles that may also help:
- How I solved the check engine problem for free by repairing a simple air leak
- How to reset the check engine light
When the check engine light comes up, you may feel a loss of acceleration.
Depending on the malfunction, the car may go into the so-called "limp" mode or "home" mode. This is a fail-safe system induced by the car’s ECU and can save the engine from further damage as much as possible.
When this happens, you’ll feel a considerable loss of engine power and acceleration usually accompanied by a limitation in the rev count. For instance, the car won’t be able to go over 2500 RPMs even if you press the accelerator pedal to the floor.
The point of the limp mode is to make the car driveable despite the malfunction so you can reach help as soon as possible.
If you have some previous knowledge about can you drive with the check engine light on, you’ll be aware that this can happen and you won’t panic.
Sometimes, when you turn the engine on and off, the limp mode goes away but will return soon if there is a serious problem.
Know that driving like this for a prolonged period of time is not recommended. The limp mode is usually a sign of more serious trouble so solve the problem as soon as possible.
Also, while driving in limp mode, try to keep a slower pace and don’t force the car. Especially, if possible, avoid things like overtaking.
Don’t neglect the check engine light problem. Even if there isn’t any immediate danger, try solving the issue as soon as possible.
If you’re on a road trip and your lucky enough that the car still drives normally, get to your destination and try to solve the problem. Don’t continue thinking everything is OK because the engine is still running.
Neglecting the problem may lead to more serious damage which is bad for safety and may mean big future expenses.
The check engine light is not there for nothing and something is wrong. The whole point of this warning light is to give a heads up on time.
If a brief visual and manual inspection shows nothing, you or a mechanic should hook up an car diagnostic scanner and see if there are any error codes.
So, learning about can you drive with the check engine light on may well come in handy in saving your car’s engine, not ruining your trip, or perhaps saving some money.