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10 Jan


Why Your Check Engine Light is on and How Much it Will Cost You

January 10, 2019 | By |

It’s the first of the month; you just paid your rent, got done settling all your bills, and laid out your budget for the month. The last thing you need right now is to see your check engine light flash on. You immediately think to yourself “how much is this going to cost me?”. Like your typical car owner, you probably have no idea what this light actually signifies or how much it could end up running you.

A check engine light can be caused by a multitude of engine related issues, some more serious than others. It can be as simple as having to tighten your gas cap, to replacing a costly and vital component such as the ignition coils. The one thing you never want to do, however, is ignore what your car is trying to tell you.

If your check engine light does happen to come on, your options are limited. You can either buy a diagnostic tool to reveal the exact problem your vehicle has, or bring it to a mechanic. Diagnostic tools can be as cheap as $25 and will supply you the information you need to perform the needed maintenance yourself, whereas going to a mechanic will most likely cost you an arm and a leg. We’ve laid out the most common reasons a check engine light comes on and rough estimates on repair costs.

Loose Gas Cap

If you notice your check engine light comes on immediately following a fill-up, then chances are a loose gas cap is the culprit. The gas caps role is to prevent fumes from leaving the fuel tank while simultaneously correcting interior pressure. Thankfully, a loose gas cap is one of the most common reasons why a check engine light turns on and is definitely the easiest fix. Pull over to the side of the road (if it’s safe to do so!) and go to your gas tank to ensure the cap is fully tightened by twisting clockwise until an audible “click” is heard. If the light doesn’t go off after driving for 10 or 20 miles, ensure there are no cracks anywhere in the gas cap.

loose gas cap, check engine light

If there are visible cracks in the housing, then a replacement cap may be required. These can typically be picked up for as little as $15 at your nearest auto parts store.

Oxygen Sensor Failure

Another leading cause of that dreaded orange light is a malfunctioning oxygen sensor. Your car’s oxygen (O2) sensor is responsible for measuring the amount of unburnt oxygen that is in the exhaust system. At best, a faulty sensor can cause your engine to burn more fuel than intended – leading to decreased fuel economy. The worst-case scenario here would be the sensors causing damage to either the spark plugs or catalytic converter, both of which can be extremely costly repairs.

An average quality O2 sensor will run you about $175, which you will then need to take into account the associated labor costs.

Faulty Ignition Coil

A malfunctioning ignition coil will always trigger the check engine light, although this is only applicable for vehicles that use a petrol engine. Ignition coils generate electricity that the spark plugs need to ignite the fuel and air mixture in the cylinders of your engine. Seeing as diesel engines don’t have spark plugs or ignition coils (diesel engines use a compression-based ignition system) this doesn’t apply to them. Most modern petrol-based cars use one ignition coil per cylinder (meaning there would be 6 coils in a v6 engine).

faulty ignition coil

The price you’ll end up paying to fix this varies on how many cylinders your vehicle uses as well as labor costs for your geographic region. Pricing varies greatly seeing as different applications can take more time than others, but expect to pay somewhere in the ballpark of $300 all-in.

Mass Airflow Sensor Failure

Your vehicles mass airflow (MAF) sensor is responsible for monitoring how much air enters the engine. This is part of a crucial engine management system that balances and delivers the correct fuel and air amounts to the engine. It is SO important to stay on top of cleaning your MAF as without it functioning properly, your engine will breakdown over time and eventually flat out fail.

With an average replacement cost of $100 this definitely isn’t the most expensive reason for a check engine light being on. However when ignored, can quickly turn into a huge headache.

Regardless if it’s an easy fix or not, a check engine light is nothing to make light of and should always be dealt with as swiftly as possible to avoid further problems.