What “Check Engine” Light?

DSC_0005 How long can I ignore that pesky, little "check engine" light on my dashboard?

Come to think of it, I don't think that symbol means engine. If I squint, I think that symbol looks like a coffee machine. OK, "check coffee machine" done. Mission accomplished.

I have a long list of other chores that can't be so easily repressed. I need an hour to deal with all the insurance red tape for Ian's therapy. We have no juice boxes for lunches. Jonah needs to look like John Adams by tomorrow morning. Last night, he handed me a list of all the items that he must bring in tomorrow for their school presentation – "cranberry juice, choclate chip cookies [sic], a DVD player, a Dr. Suess movie." I need printer ink and a clue about what to cook for dinner. I need to make an appointment with Christie to reshape my caterpillar eyebrows. I promised the Foundation Committee that I would draft a letter to parents.

Not to mention the constant efforts to battle our haunted household.

Quel boring. 

If I squint hard enough at my todo list, everything goes blurry. Yes, I think that the words on the page are re-forming. It says something else. It says "check coffee machine." OK, that I can do.


25 thoughts on “What “Check Engine” Light?

  1. What does it say that I found myself reading your list, imagining how I’d handle each item? Scary.
    (Reminder to self: L’s list is not mine, however much it might play my list on tv.)
    Now if I find myself hunting down a John Adams costume, it,ll be your fault.

  2. On some cars the “check engine” light comes on when you’ve not changed your oil after 3K (or whatever you’re “supposed” to do), and won’t go off until you do so. The guys on car talk insist that for most cars, 3K is on the very low end of when you might need to change your oil, so if that’s it, it’s almost certainly okay to wait. If you’re hearing any funny noises or it’s driving weirdly, I’d get it checked sooner. I speak as someone who has ruined an engine (I mean, beyond repair) by letting a fairly minor thing lead to very major problems.
    As for dinner, what about hot-dogs? It’s seeming like hot-doggy weather in the NE these days.

  3. You might check your manual – there is also a weird-looking symbol that indicates the tire pressure is low. My sister called me while on a road trip so I could look it up. It turned out their tire was flat.

  4. Re: Matt’s comment – my car distinguishes between “maintenance required,” which shows up every 3K miles to tell me I’m supposed to get my oil changed, and “check engine,” which is in theory much more serious and indicates an actual problem. That said, on one of our cars, the “check engine” light comes on if the gas tank cap isn’t closed tightly enough. It also went away when we replaced the aging, feeble battery. So while I was taught that the “check engine” light meant that the whole thing might seize up at any minute, I don’t think it’s that dire.

  5. We have a tire pressure light. On the one hand, it is nice because it caught the slight drop in pressure from a slow leak several days before I would have noticed it otherwise. It also probably saves gas because proper tire inflation is what people who want to save gas keep mentioning. On the other hand, the tire pressure light is kind of a whiny, dictator bitch-light. Even if you’re only a couple of pounds shy, it just sits there with an exclamation point in a tire until you go get air in the tire. It does not care how cold it is or that you want to wait until you get below half a tank before going to the gas station.

  6. This morning, I got to see how readily a to-do list gets overtaken by events. Last night I had packed up my 5-year-old and my husband for a end-of-school pool party at a teacher’s house (two bags of stuff) and we had done our major pre-cleaner house prep. This morning I was planning to get everybody else out the door, get ready, and do last minute cleaner prep stuff (toss sheets in washer, deal with dirty dishes, deal with less socially acceptable trash, etc.), all by about 8:20. However, just before my husband left to take the older child to school, we discovered that the younger (the pool party child) had a fever, so I needed to keep him home, call the cleaning company to cancel and reschedule, dose him and unpack.
    This totally vindicates all the party-planning shirking that I’ve been doing for the last week. I’m very happy I didn’t promise to send some important item to the party, which is way, way out in the suburbs.

  7. My understanding, back when I owned a car, was that the “check engine” light related to the catalytic converter, and you never have to do anything until the earlier of (i) when the car is due for inspection or (ii) when your planetary conscience awakes.
    (For me, (i) generally came before (ii).)

  8. “On the other hand, the tire pressure light is kind of a whiny, dictator bitch-light. . . . It does not care how cold it is . . . .”
    That’s the problem with those things, an utter lack of judgment. I think the manufacturers need to get some cog-sci folks in there. Giving all information equal weight (low tire pressure by a couple of pounds, your engine is about to die if you don’t get your oil changed, or whatever) just screws with our minds, and has no positive effect.
    I ignore the check engine light. Our cars are 5+ years old and still run OK. But, I also ignore the empty gas light. You can drive about 10 more miles in my car, when that light is on. I think. Now, I’ll admit that part of the reason I can ignore those lights might be that when I announce to my dad (or my husband) that you can drive another 10 miles or so when the empty tank is on, they find an urgent need to visit the gas station.

  9. There’s an awesome book on how auto expertise went out of everyday people’s hands over time. I think I remember hearing that “check engine” came to cover a lot of different issues because of a proliferation of warning lights. (And apparently vary from car to car? Yeesh. Why didn’t my high school let me take auto mechanics!?)
    But man, those coffee machines are high maintenance. Makes me rethink going off my Star$ addiction.

  10. You can drive about 10 more miles in my car, when that light is on.
    BJ, my wife does that and I hate it. Here’s my idea. Just say “I’m busy, could you fill-up the car?”
    I won’t go past a gas station with less than 1/4 of a tank. I’ve spent too much time in too many rural areas and been stuck in too many long traffic jams. Also, it if is below freezing, letting the tank get that empty is a very good way to get ice in your fuel line.

  11. Ragtime- you beat me to the joke. While I was out, I thought of how funny it would be to have our obese governor wax my eyebrows.
    I really should do a post on salons in New Jersey. I just came back from getting my eyebrows waxed by Christie – the girl, not the chubby governor. Christie is a fountain of high speedgossip. She had to tell me the latest on the saga of living in her boyfriend’s mom’s basement. Her boyfriend is a Mercedes car salesman, and these are hard times, so it meant moving back in with his mom.
    “Oh, LauraMcKenna, I just can’t believe I’m still living with my boyfriend’s mom. She’s unbelievable. Now, she keeps sneaking downstairs and taking all my wine. She drinks all hers and then comes downstairs and drinks mine. Now, I need my wine. She should just go and buy her own wine. Did you see my new boobs. Aren’t they fabulous? They feel just like my old boobs. Touch them. Go ahead, touch them. Aren’t they soft, LauraMcKenna?”
    Everybody is a character there. Really deserves a blog post.
    In the meantime, I called Jimmy the mechanic who said that I could probably put off the car repair until tomorrow morning. I’m totally with bj on this one. If I stall long enough, I bet my dad will rush over and deal with it for me.

  12. “BJ, my wife does that and I hate it. Here’s my idea. Just say “I’m busy, could you fill-up the car?” ”
    Ah, but I actually do it (i.e. drive with the tank light on). It’s a risk I’m willing to take, and they don’t have to fill up the car for me. Also, I don’t drive much, or very far, and don’t usually have anyone else in the car with me, making my risks more reasonable. I wouldn’t do it if I were taking a cross-city trip with my kids somewhere far away.
    And, I just asked, my husband doesn’t hate it that he has to fill up my car for me to save me from myself. Oddly enough, he finds kind of endearing and manly. Mind you, he doesn’t do work around the house, or other gender-stereotyped things, so I actually believe him on this one.

  13. I think the check engine light for my life is on. I’m trying to remind myself that the convergence of end of the school year parties, events, etc., my getting a new job, and teenage angst going into more serious territory is not the end of the world and it will all be okay.
    We’re making Chinese artifacts for a fake archaeological museum, planning for a pool party of our own, plus a couple of more field trips. Trying to coordinate a remodel, plan our summer vacations and kid activities, and generally live life. Also, the inlaws are coming in a couple of weeks.
    And, our real check engine light is on.
    Sorry for the whine, just need a place to do it. 😉

  14. My steering column started smoking. Just … puffs of smoke. I took it to a mechanic who found nothing wrong, no wires shorted out. Since we got the car from my FIL when he moved into assisted living, and since this happened the day he died, we think it was some otherworldly thing. Though he never really cared all that much for the car. Now, if the tv remote had started smoking, that’d be another thing.
    Amy, you have to stop taking those kids’ temperatures. Think of it as their Check Engine lights are on, but you can still drive them another 10 miles.

  15. Sometimes the check engine light comes on if your gas cap is too loose. Seriously. Tighten the cap and see if it goes away.
    On the flip side, don’t ignore it. We were left stranded on vacation when the check engine light came on – it was only on for a day and figured we’d check it out when we got home. The van died on a very lonely hill.

  16. It’s almost always the oxygen sensor, or a PCV valve. Or I should say, it’s usually a preprogrammed warning that your car has passed 50k or 90k miles, and it wants you to check those two emissions devices (and others). Most of the time, the warnings can be ignored for as long as you feel lucky.
    Except for those rare times when it can’t. Some newer, fancy cars have a different warning that effectively says, “stop driving your car now, you’re going to kill it.” Like when the oil has suddenly gushed out. This happens almost never, and if it did, your engine would already have become a solid, smoking boat anchor.
    One could look around online to see if your car has an additional, more urgent warning light, or one could physically check the oil level for some assurance.
    And low fuel lights come on when 1/8 to 1/16 of the tank is left – a 10-15 gallon tank means around 1 to 2.5 gallons left. At 20 mpg., you’ve got 20-50 miles left.
    (I’ve only blown up one engine, and run out of gas less than 10 times)

  17. “I’ve only blown up one engine, and run out of gas less than 10 times”
    Hey, and I’ve run out of gas zero times. Suggests that my method is ideal. Perhaps I should get on deep rig drilling risk assessment, too. Well, perhaps not.

  18. That’s nothing. I once had a car that had no functioning reverse gear. I kept it at least a year in that condition.

  19. Fun thread… too bad I’m so late to the party. I mean, it’s over, I know.
    Anyway, I’m posting about this soon, but our Honda’s Odissey’s light has been on forever. It’s been thoroughly checked a couple times and they never found anything. Sometimes it turns off, then back on. We just ignore it. My in-law’s (now ours) super old Civic has the same problem. I hope what happened to LisaV & family doesn’t happen to us!!

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