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No simple matter to check engine
Do we really need a dashboard light that says check engine? Whats the point of this illuminated warning, and how did we get by without it for so many years?
Its quite alarming when it first goes off, particularly if youve never had a car with a check engine light. The first instinct is to slam on the brakes, pull over to the side of the road, jump out and run like crazy before the jalopy explodes. But when you seen no steam, smell no burning rubber, and note no liquids spewing onto the roadway, you start to wonder what the problem might be.
The owners manual wont tell you, but it does alleviate your fear. The manual suggests its no big deal, and you can wait until your next regularly scheduled service date to have it dealt with. Fine, but who schedules regular service dates? Most of us figure that if the car starts and keeps running until we turn it off, its OK. No need to pay a mechanic to tell us that.
But the check engine light is psychologically troubling and harder to shake than a rabid pitbull. Once it comes on it stays on, suggesting youre a lousy, uncaring car owner if you dont do something about it soon. What if some other person drives your car and sees the check engine light? That person will think youre careless, the kind of person who forgets about the kids at daycare until its time to tuck them in at night and the beds are empty. Soon the whole neighborhood will be talking about your irresponsible lifestyle.
Finally, I broke down and drove the car to the mechanic who billed me $40 and said the check engine light came on because the gas cap was not properly screwed on. What? I dont know how to screw on a gas cap? And I thought Id been doing it so well all these years.
A year later the check engine light came on again. This time I wouldnt be made a fool of. I checked the gas cap, checked the oil, checked the coolant, checked the transmission fluid, checked the cables and hoses, and all was fine. I turned on the car and expected to see the thanks for checking engine light come on, but there is no such light. The check engine light remained. It started to haunt me, Id see check engine on my computer at work and on the refrigerator door at home. I had no idea how else to check the engine. Was I supposed to take the cylinder head off and see if the pistons were working OK? I didnt know how to do that, and besides I was pretty sure it wouldnt work. Only a trained mechanic is capable of satisfying the electronic brain behind the check engine light.
This time I took the car to a different mechanic so I wouldnt risk being made a double fool of. After a few diagnostic tests, the new mechanic told me my gas cap was too loose. For another $40, the check engine light went out. How could I be such an idiot, I wondered, finally putting the blame on an imagined conspiracy between car manufacturers and mechanics to rip of the public with the ol loose gas cap ploy.
Another year passed and the check engine light is on again. My gas cap is so tight Ill never get it off. The car sounds good, Ive checked everything again, even the oil filter and air filter. Still, the light bothers me and theres no way I can make it go out. I cant take it to any mechanic on the island, because Im no doubt the laughingstock of every lunchroom. The $40 baby, they probably call me.
Theres only alternative left. Anybody want to buy a fine-running car with its check engine light permanently illuminated?