The Dreaded Engine Light

The yellow symbol appears. Soon after that, your mind fills with doom and dread.

If you’ve ever driven a car, there’s a good chance you’ve had the check engine symbol light up on your dashboard. It’s an awful feeling.

Unless you’re skilled at working on your car, the following thoughts rifle through your brain:

  • You need to get an appointment with a mechanic to figure out what’s wrong.
  • There’s a decent chance it’s not as simple as needing to add more oil.
  • No matter how trusted your mechanic is, it could cost a lot of money.
  • If you don’t have a trusted mechanic, you are going to feel ripped off.

The following is a little tip that may or may not help with any of those thoughts especially if you do not know how cars work. But I can assure you that most anyone can do this, possibly minimizing some of the pain described above.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of my latest hell.

A year ago, my engine light came on and the car was shaking as if the engine was about to fall out.

I called a tow truck and the driver convinced me to let him take it to his shop instead of the dealership I had planned. Once there, the mechanic told me that I was misfiring in one of the cylinders which is not a big deal.

But I had a bad feeling about this shop and I didn’t have options, mainly based on time as I was leaving on a long distance trip the following day. The problem – a bad ignition coil. In the end, I had a strong suspicion that the mechanic ripped me off. I didn’t feel they gave me good parts and that they overcharged me for them, no less.

After that fiasco, I called a friend of mine (AE) that loves working on cars. He had told me that there are these things called ‘code readers’ that tell you what’s wrong when a warning light comes on. He swore by them and I considered getting one for myself. However, a $70-90 price tag for such an item was not something I was willing to invest in at the time.

Flash forward a year. I’m driving along and my engine light comes on. The car starts to shake. Oddly, I didn’t immediately equate it to a misfire. Since I wasn’t far from the house, I was able to get it home.

I once again called my friend, AE. I explained the issue and told him that it was just like the problem from the previous year. Given that we were both very suspicious of the mechanic, he was betting a lot of money that the part they put in was faulty and that it was a simple fix.

If only I had a code reader to diagnose my problem.

AE then proceeds to tell me that I could go to an AutoZone and that they would loan me a code reader for FREE. If I could’ve gotten my car to AutoZone, they would’ve even read it for me but I wasn’t willing to take the chance of driving it 5 miles to the shop.

I took another car to AutoZone where they did what my friend said – they loaned me a code reader. I plunked down $140 (for the particular model they had) with the knowledge that I had a week to return it and have the money credited back to my credit card.

When I plugged in the code reader, there was no surprise that the error returned was a misfire in cylinder #2 – the same cylinder that was fixed the year before.

Luckily, I had a spare ignition coil that I promptly swapped in for the bad one and voila, no more error code. Problem solved.

If you’re still reading, I would highly recommend one or some of the following:

  • Make friends with someone that loves to work on cars that loves to talk when you have a problem.
  • Buy a code reader so you can at least diagnose problems quickly. Granted, not all are as small as mine but it can provide a considerable peace of mind that maybe even you can fix something small.
  • Go to AutoZone and borrow a code reader or better yet, have them read the problem for you. As it turns out, they loan multiple tools for you to use. It’s a fantastic service to customers and potential customers.





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