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The Car Guy: Some Insight Into the Dashboard Light

In this column I'll explain why it's always a good idea to get those dashboard lights investigated when they come on.

Once again, I have to postpone my follow-up coverage of the due to the weather (and a week of needed vacation). There is one more ride that I want to share with you, and because the pictures taken (by me) were horrible, I’ve had to reach out to schedule an appointment to get some good pictures. I expect to have a story about that last ride posted by next week.

So, here goes a test run of my . This week’s question was submitted by Mrs. Eleanor Ruch, who is a resident here in the Saucon Valley. She asked me if she should get her car checked out due to a dashboard light that looks like a “spark plug” being lit. This is a great question, and an often overlooked aspect of car ownership.

Thanks, Eleanor, for your question. Those lights on the dashboard were placed there by the vehicle manufacturer to inform the driver of any mechanical problems that the vehicle may be having.

The good ol’ days of just jumping in a car and not really worrying because they were built like tanks are over. These days, everything is electrical with a lot of sensors--oxygen sensors, crankshaft position sensors, camshaft position sensors, and the list goes on. In today’s cars, there is a sensor for almost everything. If any of these sensors are on overload (or faulty), they will send a signal to the car's computer, which in turn will make the dashboard light shine.

This does not mean that there is a major problem with your vehicle (even though that’s possible), and, the dash lights aren’t always on because of a sensor. Having said that, it's always wise to get these dashboard lights checked out. If you let a problem go for too long, a repair could wind up costing thousands of dollars as opposed to only a few hundred.

Here are a few ways to help prevent these lights from ever coming on:

  • Keep your tires filled properly (for cars with tire pressure sensors).
  • Check your engine oil regularly.
  • Always use the correct oil in the engine/transmission, etc.
  • Always put your gas cap back on all the way--usually you want to hear three clicks when you put it back on.

I can almost hear you now: “Really, the gas cap?” The fuel system on modern cars is meant to be pressurized. If the cap isn’t on all the way, the system loses pressure, causing it to malfunction. Your car will still run, but the fuel system won’t be as efficient. This is easily fixed by hooking the car up to a scanner, and sometimes it can even correct itself.

Of course there are problems that aren’t easily fixed, and potentially worse for your car (and wallet). These problems could cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. It is always a good idea to get your lights checked out as soon as possible to avoid any potentially expensive or dangerous problems.

Eleanor/Nell Ruch October 06, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Josh, sorry to learn of your not continuing your column for now. You are the main reason I click on The Patch!! As they say down south, "Hurry back."

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