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Check Engine Light or MIL

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Some lights are more important than others

Cars and trucks come with warning and indicator lights on the dashboard. Some indicate normal operation, like the green arrows that blink when your turn signals are on, or the high beam indicator to let you know your headlights are on high beam.

Other lights warn of trouble: a condition you need to take care of. Some lights, like the oil pressure light require immediate attention. Others are less urgent: no need to immediately turn the motor off or get a tow truck or anything. The "Check Engine", or "Service Engine Soon", or "MIL" light is one of these "less urgent" warning lights. (MIL stands for "Malfunction Indicator Light") Here are some common MIL designs:


check engine light pictures     check engine light pictures     check engine light pictures     check engine light pictures
Click here to see more images of CHECK ENGINE lights


What turns the light on

When the computer senses a problem or malfunction from one of it's sensors it illuminates a light to warn the driver there is a problem.

The computer may go into a Limp Home Mode when this light is on.

Most of the earliest vehicles with computerized engine controls had an amber light which lit up with the words "CHECK ENGINE". This confused some customers, who thought it meant bad oil pressure, or high temperature, or something as serious. Some manufacturers changed the "wording" on the light to the less urgent sounding "SERVICE ENGINE SOON". Of course then people thought it meant to change their oil or something.

OBD II

In 1996 Federal regulations required manufacturers to have certain things in common with their computer controlled vehicles. These agreed-upon standards include universal data interfaces, trouble codes, and component terminology. These standards are called OBD I and OBD II. (OBD="On Board Data") OBD I was only used for a few years; most cars on the road have OBD II.

Because of this, many parts stores will read out the OBD II trouble codes free of charge. It also means your local independent shop can "keep up" with code scanning equipment more easily.

As to the standardization of terms, everyone has agreed to call the light which indicates a computer malfunction a Malfunction Indicator Light, or a "MIL" .

As to the wording on your dashboard, there will no doubt be different wordings. Some cars I've seen have an amber picture of an engine that lights up.

What if you don't know what a light on the dash means?

If you're not sure what a light means, you can use this rule of thumb: A red light is urgent, like the low oil pressure light . An amber light is less urgent. So if you have a "MIL" light on in your car, and it still seems to run fairly well, no need to stop immediately or call a tow truck. Just find out what trouble code has been set as soon as possible and correct the problem.

INTERMITTANT MIL LIGHT

On some cars the MIL light will go out when the computer problem goes away, or soon after. On others you must use a scan tool to turn the light off. Some cars can set an evaporative emission control code if you leave the gas cap loose: some codes are more important than others. If a MIL light goes out, the code will still be stored in the computer as long as the battery in the car stays hooked up. On some of the newer cars the codes stay in memory even if you remove the car battery.



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Thank you for visiting the ECONOMECHANIX WEB SITE. Please feel free to comment. We also serve the surrounding communities of Alachua, High Springs, Hawthorne, and Newberry! Gainesville has been my home since 1974, and I've loved Gvl and the Gators since I came here in the fall of 1974 to attend the University of Florida. I loved it so much I stayed and opened my car repair business. Originally it was out of the back of a 1963 Chevrolet wagon, but in 1977 a fellow mechanic and I opened an auto repair shop with actual walls, etc. I stayed in the same location for 26 years, and recently moved my operation to property I bought 15 miles east of Gainesville. I am doing most all the repairs myself now, having reduced my overhead from $1500 per month to practically nothing. I do work by appointment only. I mostly work only on my established customers cars, but I will occasionally take on new clients. E-mail me and I will either make arrangements to look at your car, or I will recommend you to someone who will.

George G. Scott, Jr.


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Auto, Car, and Truck Article List

A
ABS: Anti-Lock Brake Systems
ADVANCE: Car ignition timing
ALTERNATORS and Car Battery
AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSIONS
B
BAD CAR DESIGNS
BATTERIES: Auto, Car or Truck
BELTS AND HOSES
BEARINGS
BODY AND BUMPER REPAIRS
BRAKE REPAIRS: Car or Truck
C
Car Washing and Care
CARBURETORS:Car & Truck
CHECK ENGINE LIGHT
CLEANING: Engine Cleaning
CLUTCH REPAIRS: Car & Truck
COMPRESSION: Car Engine
COMPUTER CAR CONTROLS
CV JOINT OR CV AXLES
D
DISTRIBUTORS (IGNITION)
E
ELECTRIC WIRING REPAIR
ENGINES: Car & Truck
ENGINE CLEANING
EXPANSION PLUGS
F
FREEZE PLUGS
FUEL AIR MIXTURE
FUEL INJECTION: Car & Truck
FUEL PUMPS: Car & Truck
G
GAGES AND "IDIOT LIGHTS"
GASKETS AND SEALS
GLASS: WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
H
HEADS & HEAD GASKET
HOSES AND BELTS
I
"IDIOT LIGHTS" AND GAGES
IGNITION TIMING: Car & Truck
J
AUTO JACKS: lifting cars safely
K
L
LEAN "Car runs lean"
LIGHTS: WARNING OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Limp Home Mode
M
MIL Light
MANUAL TRANSMISSIONS
N
NO START: Car Won't Start
O
OIL CHANGES
OIL: What's right for your car?
OIL LIGHT ON OR GAGE LOW
P
PCV Valve
Q
R
RADIATORS: Car and Truck
RICH: Car runs rich
S
SEALS AND GASKETS
SERVICE ENGINE SOON LIGHT
SPARK PLUGS
STARTERS: Auto, Truck
T
THERMOSTATS
TIMING: IGNITION TIMING
TIMING BELT & TIMING CHAIN
TIRE REPAIR
TRANSMISSIONS: AUTOMATIC
TRANSMISSIONS: MANUAL
U
V
VACUUM ADVANCE
WARNING LIGHTS OR "IDIOT LIGHTS"
Car Washing and Care
W
WATER PUMP REPAIR
WINDOWS AND WINDSHIELDS
WIRING REPAIR
X
Y
Z

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