PhotoYou could be driving anywhere when your car's “check engine” light comes on, sending a shudder of exasperation through your body.

“Great, now what?” you might ask.

The light might signal significant trouble or it might be something minor. The only way to know for sure is have it checked out.

5 main reasons

According to Auto Zone, there are 5 primary reasons the light alerts drivers. One of the simplest is the gas cap is loose. Just tightening the cap may make the light go off and prevent the loss of fuel through evaporation.

The light could also indicate a faulty oxygen sensor (O2). Not getting it fixed could result in poorer fuel economy.

The check engine light could mean the catalytic converter needs to be replaced. If neglected the car could run hot, get reduced fuel economy and fail an emissions test.

The light could also mean the mass airflow sensor has gone out. Not replacing it could damage spark plugs and other engine sensors.

The light could also indicate your spark plugs or spark plug wires are at the end of their life. Not replacing them, according to Auto Zone, could eventually damage other engine parts.

Costs of repairs

While you might be relieved if the light doesn't portent anything major, it almost always costs something to find out what the problem is and fix it. CarMD.com, an automotive site, conducted a survey to find out where it costs the most and the least.

It found that drivers in Washington, DC paid the most – an average of $467.11. Drivers in Wyoming, on average, paid the least – $308.76.

"Many factors contribute to overall repair costs such as vehicle make and age, parts availability and cost, and hourly labor rates that are often beyond a car owner's control,” said David Rich, CarMD's technical director. “However, something everyone can control is how quickly they address check engine light issues when they arise."

A closer examination of the data shows the least expensive states have a higher percentage of 'quick fix' repairs that can be addressed in minutes, rather than major repairs that require days in the shop.

What it means

Rich says that suggests drivers in those states were more vigilant in addressing repair needs quickly. It could also indicate repair shops in the most expensive states managed to find more complicated issues, rather than the most simple fix.

The survey analyzed parts and labor needs data from nearly 100,000 model year 1996 to 2014 vehicles needing repairs in 2014. After Washington, DC, the most expensive states for check engine light repairs were Delaware, New Jersey, California and Connecticut.

After Wyoming, the most affordable states for the repairs are Montana, Nebraska, Michigan and Vermont.


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