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The CHECK ENGINE LIGHT is on! What should I do?

Check engine light on!

Inside view of catalytic converter with melted ceramic structure

There are two types of check engine lights: solid and flashing. A solid check engine light, in most cases, is something fairly simple. As long as the engine is starting, accelerating and the transmission is shifting normally, you can continue driving it. Make an appointment at a reputable shop to have it checked out.

If you have a flashing check engine light, you should pull over and get it towed

If you see a flashing check engine light, your engine has a serious misfire issue that is harmful enough to damage your catalytic converter. If you back off the pedal and the flashing stops, you can limp to the nearest shop and get it checked out.

But if you can’t get the flashing check engine light to stay steady, you should pull over and call a tow truck.

What can happen if you keep driving with a flashing check engine light?

The catalytic converter is designed to burn off excess fuel and oil. When an engine misfires, the excess raw fuel flows into the catalytic converter.

Most catalytic converters run at 1,000°F to 1,400°F. During a misfire the catalytic converter can run at temperatures up to 2,200 degrees. That’s hot enough to melt the ceramic structure inside the converter, and that’s a very expensive repair.

Typical catalytic converter replacement cost

Once converter temperatures reach the melting point, the converter is permanently damaged and a replacement catalytic converter can cost over $3,000. That’s in addition to the cost to repair the misfire problem that caused it to overheat.

That’s why it makes more sense to have the vehicle towed than to keep driving with a flashing check engine light. A tow is a lot cheaper than a new catalytic converter.


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