Many drivers don’t know the difference between a continuously illuminated check engine light and one that’s flashing. Unfortunately, a flashing engine light is a sign of a severe problem. Let’s look at why your engine light might be flashing and what you should do about it.
The First Rule
First, let’s talk about the blinking check engine light vs. a solid check engine light. A blinking check engine light tells you that something is wrong with your vehicle, and the issue detected by the car’s computer is a major one. The solid check engine light warns you of a less severe problem. Although neither should be ignored, take heed of a flashing light.
The first rule of thumb is if the check engine light is flashing, you should safely stop your vehicle and call a tow service to take the car to a mechanic immediately. Driving your car at this point could cause expensive (and sometimes irreversible) damage to the catalytic converter, exhaust system, and other parts of your vehicle.
What Does a Flashing Check Engine Light Mean?
Although there are several reasons why a check engine light might be flashing, the most common cause is an engine misfiring. Misfires can happen for various reasons, and we’ll highlight what those might be and why this might be happening to you.
What Causes an Engine to Misfire?
An engine must receive just the right amount of power from the vehicle’s cylinders to run optimally. Because this process requires perfect timing and “communication” from various parts, there are many reasons why a misfire might occur. Whether the cylinders no longer supply the right amount of power or there’s an issue of low compression, here are a few reasons why an engine might misfire.
- Low Compression – If even one cylinder of your car leaks air or fuel, a loss in compression begins. If the correct amount of pressure isn’t being generated through each cylinder, your vehicle can’t generate enough power to accelerate correctly, resulting in vibration in the cabin. Although the issue is within the cylinder, the cylinder isn’t always at the top of the chain of problems. All this can happen because of bad valves, a bad timing belt, leaky head gaskets, and holes in the vehicle’s piston.
- Ignition Issues – Improper ignition timing, worn spark plugs, and worn ignition coils can be why your engine is misfiring. These likely won’t be an issue if you keep up with general car maintenance. However, if you’re seeing a blinking engine light and haven’t brought in your vehicle for a tune-up, poor spark plugs are usually the culprit.
- Fuel to Air Mixture – fuel and air are the essential mixture for cylinders to run as they should, but it can be “too lean” or “too rich”. If it’s too lean—meaning there’s more air in the fuel mixture—results in backfiring and slow acceleration. A mix that’s too rich—meaning there’s too much fuel—can result in choking when accelerating, jerky movements, and overheating. Regardless of if the mixture contains too much air or fuel, faulty components like fuel injectors and the fuel pump are the likely issue.
Don’t Drive With a Blinking Engine Light!
As we mentioned before, it’s never a good idea to drive your vehicle if the check engine light is flashing. This indicates an emergency and does require immediate repairs from an experienced mechanic. Don’t risk further damage to your vehicle, especially if you’re experiencing vehicle misfires. If your check engine light has begun flashing or is consistently on, it’s time to come in for a tune-up at Master Muffler South Salt Lake. Contact us today for a vehicle diagnosis.