These days, it’s easy to take technology for granted. Especially when it comes to car features. Consider, for instance, the check engine light. Where would we be without it? Probably stranded on the side of the road somewhere. All joking aside, it has a pretty interesting story, with the history dating all the way back to the 1930s. Today we’re covering a brief history of this handy invention, so buckle up and enjoy.

How exactly history affects how the check engine light work?

Before diving in to history, let’s go over some of the basics. For those of you who don’t know, a check engine light is operated by your car’s diagnostics system to tell you when something’s wrong with the engine. It usually appears on the dashboard and is typically red or orange. Depending on your vehicle, it’ll either appear as a phrase, like “SERVICE ENGINE SOON”, or as an image of an engine. As soon as a malfunction is detected, your car’s diagnostics system does two things. It triggers the car’s check engine light, and it saves a diagnostic trouble code (DTC). DTCs are used to guide our experienced technicians at Parents Autocare to the source of your vehicle’s malfunction.

History of the Check Engine Light

This history seems pretty straightforward, right? That’s all thanks to the fact that vehicle diagnostics systems were standardized back in history in the mid-1990s. In 1996, the federal government issued a mandate saying that all new vehicles had to be equipped with OBD2. OBD2 is an on-board vehicle diagnostics system that is designed to detect fuel emissions. As a result of this standardization, DTCs also became standardized. These days, technicians can use a scan tool to identify the DTC to help them locate the source of a vehicle malfunction.

How has the check engine light evolved in history?

In the 1980s, before OBD2 technology, each automaker used their own diagnostics systems and fault codes. There was no standardized system in place, which made things very complicated for auto technicians. The diagnostics process took ages because there was no system used across the board.

The predecessor of the check engine light is the idiot light (actual name), which was a tell-tale that warned of imminent vehicle fault. They were first used by the Hudson Motor Company of Detroit, Michigan. Since idiot lights were binary switches, they activated only when there was a major problem with your car. Because of their limited function, they were eventually discontinued in the 1980s. This was around the same time that computerized diagnostics systems became more prevalent.

Technology over time

Thankfully, our technology has come a long way. Your check engine light typically alerts you of a problem before your car breaks down on the side of the road. Since check engine lights are triggered for a variety of reasons, they often make us aware of engine issues before they become major. This saves you both time and money in the long run.

That wraps up our history lesson on the check engine light. The next time you notice it, we hope you think about how far it’s come since the 1930s. Consider the check engine light as your car’s way of letting you know that she needs a little TLC, and give us a call.


8 Reasons Your Car’s Check Engine Light is On and What You Need to Do About It

It always happens when you least expect it. You look down at your dashboard, and see that your check engine light is on. Although you might want to just ignore it and pretend like everything’s fine, your engine problems won’t magically disappear. The check engine light can turn on for a number of reasons. Below are 8 of the most common causes.

1. Battery

If your check engine light is on because of your car battery, it’s a sign that the battery isn’t charging as it should. Modern car batteries last for 5 to 7 years and are maintenance-free. If it’s faulty, your car’s diagnostics system will detect the low voltage.

2. EGR valve

The EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve gets opened or closed by your car’s computer to control vehicle emissions. If your car isn’t well-maintained, this valve can get clogged by carbon build-up. This is another reason you could be seeing your car’s check engine light.

3. Vacuum leak

Car engines have lots of vacuum lines. Since they’re made out of rubber, they tend to stretch out or crack over time. Your check engine light will turn on if this happens. It can take some time to find the source of the leak, but vacuum lines are inexpensive and easy to replace.

4. Loose or missing fuel cap

Your fuel cap seals off your gas tank so nothing can get in and no fumes can come out. If the fuel cap is missing or cracked, your check engine light will turn on. Driving without a fuel cap will lead to poor fuel economy and increased emissions. Replacing the fuel cap is a minor repair, as long as it’s not put off.

5. Catalytic converter

Your engine’s catalytic converter isn’t something you hear about often. It’s not something that needs routine maintenance, but if you have other engine problems, it can get clogged. The catalytic converter’s job is to change carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. If it’s damaged and can’t function properly, your check engine light will turn on.

6. Spark plugs and spark plug wires

Spark plugs and spark plug wires give your engine power by lighting up the fuel and air combination in the combustion chamber. If these parts don’t work, it can result in your engine not running. This is a minor repair as long as it’s addressed in a timely manner. If it’s delayed, it could cause damage to other parts of your engine, like the ignition coils, oxygen sensor, or catalytic converter.

7. MAF failure

Your check engine light could be on because of an issue with the MAF (mass air flow) sensor. This detects the amount of air that’s in the engine so that enough fuel is added. Putting off a repair on your MAF sensor can lead to trouble with your oxygen sensor, catalytic converter, or spark plugs.

8. Oxygen sensor

A faulty oxygen sensor could also cause your check engine light to turn on. This sensor ensures there’s enough oxygen in the engine. Like some of the other engine components we’ve discussed, putting off a repair on the oxygen sensor can cause damage to other parts.

These are some of the most common reasons your check engine light is on. Responding to the check engine light by scheduling an inspection is one of the best things you can do for your car. Doing this saves you time and money on more extensive repairs in the long run.

If your check engine light is on, schedule your appointment with Parents Autocare by calling us at (612) 827-3838.


What Should You Do When Your Check Engine Light Turns On?

You just hate to see it. The check engine light. What do you do now? The check engine light can make you aware of a variety of problems, from minor repairs to major overhauls. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it! Keep reading to find out what you should do when your check engine light turns on.

Do I need to stop driving?

Deciding whether or not to pull over is the first decision you need to make when you see the check engine light. Here are the facts. Your check engine light will appear on your dashboard either as flashing or not flashing. If it’s flashing, it indicates a major engine problem. Oftentimes, the flashing check engine light alerts you of an engine misfire. If this is the case, you should stop driving and pull over as soon as you can. If the check engine light is not flashing but is illuminated on the dashboard, it means you have a non-emergency issue. It’s most likely safe to keep driving, but you still need to have your car inspected as soon as you can.

Regardless of how your check engine light is illuminated, observe your vehicle’s performance. Do you notice anything out of the ordinary? Loss of power, strange noises, and engine smoke are all signs of major issues. If you experience any of these, stop driving and pull over right away. Not doing so could cause irreversible damage to expensive engine parts. If you can, get your car towed to a nearby service provider.

How can I fix the check engine light problem myself?

There are a few things you can do that may resolve your check engine light issue. The first spot to check out is your oil dipstick. Your check engine light will turn on if the oil dipstick isn’t seated properly. A loose oil filler cap can also activate the check engine light. You can find this on top of the engine valve cover. Check here to make sure the oil fill cap is tightly secured. Another place to examine is your gas tank. A loose or faulty fuel cap can also switch the check engine light on. Make sure the fuel cap is tightened all the way, and check it for any cracks. This could deactivate the check engine light, sending you back on the road.

OBD2 Scanner

An OBD2 scanner is a helpful tool for troubleshooting engine issues. When it’s connected to your car’s data link connector, it reads the DTC, or diagnostic trouble code, associated with your check engine light. This can help you narrow down why your check engine light was activated. OBD2 scan tools can cost $100, but they give you a pretty good sense of how serious your car issues are. But, since they only tell you the DTC, they don’t paint the whole picture. Even so, having an idea of the situation can help you make decisions when it comes to repairs.


There’s no need to panic when you see the check engine light. Instead, stay calm and come up with a plan. Remember, if it’s an emergency, the smartest and safest thing you can do is pull over. No matter what your vehicle needs are, Parents Autocare is here for you. Our experienced technicians can handle anything, getting your car back on the road in no time. Give us a call at (612) 827-3838 to schedule your appointment today. We’ll see you soon.