Have you ever stopped to think about the check engine light in your car? How does it work? How did it come to be? It actually has a pretty interesting history, which takes us back to the 1930s. Interested? Keep reading to find out more.

How do check engine lights work Now?

Before we dive into its history, let’s review some basics. A check engine light is a function of your vehicle’s on-board diagnostics system. It’s a computerized alert that lets you know if there’s a problem with your engine. Located on the instrument panel, it lights up in an orange or red color when triggered. Some check engine lights are depicted as an engine icon, and others will show up as an expression, like “SERVICE ENGINE SOON”. When the light activates, your car’s computer saves a fault code. This code leads our technicians at Brausen Auto to the source of your vehicle’s problem.

Where did the idea come from?

The precursor to the check engine light was called an idiot light (no joke), or warning light. Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit was the first manufacturer to incorporate these into their cars, doing so sometime in the 1930s. These lights were quite simple compared to what we have today. They only activated when a major issue or breakdown was imminent. The flaw in their design was that they provided drivers with no advance warning of a vehicle issue. Manufacturers discontinued idiot lights in the 1980s when more sophisticated diagnostics systems gained traction.

Manufacturer-specific check engine lights through History

In the early 1980s, some automakers were building vehicles with computerized engine controls. As this new technology became popular, the idiot light was eventually phased out. This is because the newer vehicles had built-in diagnostic systems that tracked engine issues. These diagnostic systems triggered a check engine light when a problem was detected. However, since there was no systematic use of fault codes back then, it took a lot longer to troubleshoot engine issues. Since each manufacturer used its own diagnostics system, getting to the root of the problem was a challenging process.

History when was the check engine light standardized?

In 1996, the government mandated the use of an on-board vehicle diagnostics system in all vehicles sold in the United States. This was done in an effort to reduce vehicle emissions. This new system was called OBD2. Since all new cars were required to have OBD2, a standardized system of fault codes was created. Because of this system, auto technicians can use scan tool technology. This lets them troubleshoot engine issues on any vehicle, regardless of the make or model.

Thankfully, idiot lights are a thing of the past. Compared to the 1930s, today’s auto technicians can do diagnostics in no time. Check engine lights have also come a long way. Instead of just letting you know that your car’s about to break down, they detect small issues before they intensify. This saves you both time and money on repairs in the long run.

The next time you notice your car’s check engine light, just be thankful it’s not an idiot light. Consider it your car’s way of letting you know it needs a little love, and give us a call. You’ll be glad you did.


What You Should Do When You See Your Check Engine Light

Check engine lights don’t make any one happy. But,when you see it light up,you need to know what to do. Nothing good can come from ignoring it. Today, we’re going to discuss the steps you should take when you see the check engine light on your dashboard.

Do I have to pull over?

If your check engine light is activated, it’ll show up in one of two ways. It’ll either be flashing or just lit up. If the light is flashing, it means you have a serious problem. You should pull over and seek help right away. If it’s just lit up, it means you have a more minor vehicle repair. It still needs to get resolved as soon as possible, but you probably don’t need to pull over.

Regardless of whether the light’s flashing or not, look around and take stock of the situation. Does something seem wrong with your car? Some telltale signs of a serious engine malfunction are engine smoke, strange noises, or loss of power. If any of these are happening, the safest decision is to pull over immediately. If possible, get your car towed to a nearby service provider for diagnostics.

How to troubleshoot a check engine light

Assuming you don’t have to pull over because of a serious issue, there are a few things you can do to address the check engine light. The first spot to check is your fuel cap. Oddly enough, a loose fuel cap can set off the check engine light. Take a look and make sure your fuel cap is screwed on all the way. In addition, look for any cracks in it. Tightening the fuel cap can be all you need to do to deactivate the check engine light and be on your way.

Another place you can check is the oil dipstick. Ensure that it’s seated properly. Also, the oil fuel cap, found on top of the engine valve cover, needs to be tightly secured. Following these steps can result in deactivating your car’s check engine light. Another option you have is purchasing an OBD2 scan tool. This device can read the diagnostic trouble code (DTC) that your car’s diagnostics system saved when the check engine light came on. All you need to do is connect the OBD2 scanner to the data link connector in your car. This is usually found underneath the driver’s side dashboard.

OBD2 Scanner

A high-quality OBD2 scanner costs around $50 to $100. Remember, these tools only read diagnostic trouble codes. The DTCs can point you in the direction, but they don’t tell you exactly what needs to be fixed. They can give you a pretty good idea of how serious the problem is. This information can help you decide how to move forward with repairs. Seeing the check engine light doesn’t mean you need to panic. Take a deep breath and try to relax. Assess the situation and come up with a plan. If the engine problem seems severe, it’s best to be safe and pull over immediately.

At Brausen Auto, our experienced technicians are here to help. We can diagnose and repair your vehicle in no time. You can ​request your appointment online​, or by phone. Give us a call at (​651) 633-4100 for our Arden Hills location, or (​651) 488-8800 for our Roseville location. We look forward to serving you.