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What is your first reaction when you see that Check Engine warning light appear on your dashboard? I have found that some panic, some question it, and others ignore it. Overall, I find that there is a lot of confusion about what a check engine light means, and unfortunately the automotive repair industry is mainly to blame. The consumer sees such a discrepancy in how the industry communicates with the public, that confusion is inevitable. Some places advertise they will diagnose your check engine light for FREE, while others ask for a substantial fee. What accounts for these differences, and what should you expect to have happen with a check engine light repair/service?

Here is what you need to know:

This service can only be performed correctly if the shop has invested in the right equipment, the right software and trained technicians with access to the right information to determine the cause of a warning light. The equipment and software must be updated every year, and that is done at a great expense to the shop owner. The technicians must go through training, at least 40 hours per year, in order to have the knowledge required to interpret the information accumulated from the diagnostic equipment. The information is available at an ongoing expense paid by the shop to manufacturers, on call services, and after market online services. The only information provided by the vehicle’s control unit is an error code with a definition, and this error code only points to a vehicle’s particular system. The technician must then determine what component or components within the system have malfunctioned. The repair can only take place after this step is accomplished. Anyone without the knowledge and equipment is just guessing at the correct repair. The danger of this guesswork is that if the cause of the warning light is not repaired correctly, additional damage may occur to other components in the vehicle. It is also good to know that when your check engine light comes on, it is telling you about a problem with your vehicle that is related to the emissions systems. Thus, if your check engine light is on, you will fail a Smog Test!

So, make sure that the facility you take your vehicle to for this type of repair has the ability to do it correctly. If the first step in the process (determining why the light came on) is not being charged for, it usually means that there has been no investment in the correct equipment, software or training, and the outcome of any subsequent repair may not be what you expect.

Donna McCord, Owner


Auto Repair
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