Dr. Johnny’s Car Clinic: When the CEL comes on, make sure you answer it

Make sure you know your CEL. Not to be confused with your cell phone, the CEL I’m referring to, in car language, means your Check Engine Light. When your CEL lights up in your car, it’s not something you should ignore. This is your car’s way of telling you there is a problem with the emission control system.

The reason the Check Engine Light comes on can vary, but did you know that what triggers it is the result of a test your car had to pass? All vehicles in the U.S. have to pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own federal test procedure. This test was designed to create the conditions that will make your CEL turn on. If this light does come on, it also indicates that your car wouldn’t pass an emissions test.

There are four common scenarios that will trigger your CEL.

First, the CEL flickers, and/or turns on and off. Pay attention to when it comes on, whether it’s while driving in the city or on the highway. When you see the light, watch how your vehicle performs. Is it different in some way? Does it drive differently? If that’s the case, then you need to get your car to your service technician as soon as possible.

Secondly, your CEL comes on and stays lit. You may not notice a difference in the way your car performs, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. In this case, it’s an indication of a problem and that your emission system is on what we call “back up mode” or “limp home mode.” It’s likely that our car will continue to function, but you could very well get yourself into a situation where your car won’t start or will die altogether. Before this happens, you should get your car to your service technician as soon as possible.

Thirdly, your CEL is on all the time and you now notice problems in your car’s performance. In this situation, you definitely need to get your car to your service technician right away, as this means there is a serious problem. If you are not close to your service technician’s garage, it’s best to simply pull over and have your vehicle towed. You don’t want to be in a situation where your car suddenly stalls or stops, as you’re risking further damage to your car, but more importantly, your safety.

Lastly, you’re driving when your CEL comes on and steadily blinks. You’ll notice this light will flash when you accelerate. In this case, it’s likely that your emission’s system has a serious problem that is making the engine misfire, which in turn causes damage to your catalytic converter. Your catalytic converter could be overheating, even to the point that it can cause a fire under the hood.

This is very dangerous! This is one of those times when as soon as you notice your CEL doing this, pull over immediately and get your vehicle towed for repairs and a thorough inspection.

Your CEL is a safety feature for you and your car. Pay attention to it when it’s lit so you can protect your car, and most of all, yourself.

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Johnny Nocera has been on the radio airwaves for more than 27 years in Southwest Florida with “Dr. Johnny’s Car Clinic.” The show now airs on WGUF 98.9 FM every Saturday from 9-10 a.m.. He also owns, along with his sons Jr. and Jimmy, Supreme Auto and Collision located in downtown Naples, and has been in business for more than 37 years. You can contact him via e-mail at drjohnnys@aol.com.

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