Check engine light on - how far can I drive

njteaNovember 27, 2005

This a.m. I went out and started the car, 2004 Passat, 22,500 miles - initially, it had a rough idle but that ceased. However, the check engine light came on. It's Sunday - and I've got to be someplace 40 miles away at 1 p.m. Can I drive the car?

(Also, VW manual shows check engine light with a "lightening bolt" going through the engine - the light that shows up on my display does not have the "lightening bolt" - is that a different warning?)

FYI, the same sort of thing happened very shortly after I got the car - really rough idle, check engine light on. The dealer told me to have the car towed in for service, which I did. After the car got to the dealer, they told me I would have to pay for towing and what work they had done 'cause the light was not on when the car got into the shop and they couldn't find anything wrong. I told them to check with the tow truck driver who had felt the rough idle. Dealer then said I would not have to pay.

Just in case, this a.m. I took a picture of the display in case this happens again.

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Don't know about your car specificly. Generally speaking, dash lights that are yellow are warnings that something is not working, but you are ok to drive untill you get it fixed. Red warning lights means find a place to stop now before serious damage is done, or in chase of a charging system failure, before the battery goes dead. The yellow check engine light means an engine management system componant is out of spec or failed to do what it was supposed to.

If it's an item that controls air/fuel mixture or spark timing, the computor goes into what's called limp mode (so you can limp back to the shop with it). In this mode, the engine runs at predetermined settings till it's brought to the shop for diagnosis and repair. Some cars run ok like this. Some run a little rough. IMO, if that's all it is, it's ok to take your 40 mile trip in it. The dash lights I've seen that had a lightening bolt going through it were charging system lights.

IMO, the dealer screwed you twice. If he told you to tow it in under warranty, they should have paid the bill. The first time is when they sold you a VW:)

Bottom line, if it's the yellow check engine light, or service engine soon light, or what ever, it should be ok to drive. Sounds like you have an intermittant problem anyway so maybe it will be out the next time you start it.


    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 10:58AM
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Thanks for input - I'll drive today and not worry about it - will call the dealer tomorrow.

"IMO, the dealer screwed you twice. If he told you to tow it in under warranty, they should have paid the bill. The first time is when they sold you a VW:)"

jmo, they didn't charge me - but only after a challenge, i.e., talk to the tow truck driver.

Actually, this has been a good car - 1000x better than the Subaru I had before it!

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 11:43AM
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Sometimes the indicator lights look different in different countries. For example, in Canada the brake system malfunction light has an exclamation point inside what looks like a drum brake, but in the U.S. the government does not think we're smart enough to figure that out, so they insist on the word "BRAKE." Maybe your manual is used in all English speaking countries, which could account for the difference in how the light looks in there versus what you see on the dash.

You probably had a misfire which set a code and triggered the light, but now it's done with and the car is running fine but the code is still set. I do not know what it takes for a VW's computer system to shut the light back off; with many of them, if you have so many start-run-shutdown cycles where the problem does not occur again, the light will go back off.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 3:42PM
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We found out once check engine light was on because gas cap was not on tightly.It was hard to get off so I left it loose.This was in an explorer thats all that was wrong,

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 6:05PM
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Oh, oh - maybe you were right, jmo.

I called the dealer this a.m. - 4 times before I got connected to service - the other times my calls all went through to "Business Development" even though I had asked for service.

First question I'm asked: Have you put gas in the car recently?

Response: Yesterday.

Service: Maybe the gas cap is loose.

Response: I put the gas in after the light came on.

Service: You have to drive about 60 miles before the light goes out. If it's not out by Wednesday call us back.

I've put about 75 miles on the car since putting gas in yesterday. Maybe I'll just eat the cost and take the car to my local guy to have him tell me what's going on.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 1:33PM
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So often the advice handed out by whomever answers the phone at a dealership is wrong. I am sure there's someone there who actually knows how your car works, but you probably can't talk to him or her.

The computer does not look at miles driven in determining whether to keep the light on or turn it off. It looks at "cycles." A cycle is a trip that begins with a cold start, continues until the engine is warmed up, and possibly includes other factors as well such as attaining a certain minimum speed or idling for a certain number of seconds. Your light will go out after your car runs a certain number of of cycles without the fault recurring. If you go out and start the car and drive it 500 miles before shutting it off, that's one cycle. And if you take 7 short trips where the car never cools down between trips, that might not count at all.

So you can see that it may take a few days for your driving to include the right number of trips that the computer will accept as valid cycles.

Bottom line: Drive it a few more days. If the light's still on, take it to the dealership and tell them to fix it. It's part of your car's emission control warranty, and they are required by law to fix it. I can understand them telling you to wait some, though, because often the light does go out on its own, and it's a savings of your time and theirs to wait a few days to see if that happens.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 4:16PM
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OK. I have a 2001 Ford Escort. The car runs like a top. Just after I bought it from an individual the service engine soon light came on. It has stayed on until I had the car to an independent mechanic to replace the heater fan motor due to a leak that shorted out the motor. When I picked up the car, the engine light was out. Then, after a few days driving around town, it came back on.

I have asked different people and have been told different things. I've heard about the gas cap theory. I can't get my gas cap any tighter. In my area, the Ford auto shops are to be avoided, as they are so costly. I already had one bad experience. I figure if my mechanic had noticed any major problem he would have told me.

I've driven the car now almost a year with the light on. I don't have a lot of money to spend. No other warning lights are on. The car runs fine.

Would you just ignore it, as many have advised me to do?

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 10:07AM
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You can look around for unplugged wires, vacuum or air hoses. To find out what's the matter with it, someone really needs to pull the codes and diagnos it. Any comment anyone would make beyond that as to whats the matter would be a complete guess, with about a 99% chance of being wrong.

Could be nothing pertaining to the engine running well at all. Could be something keeping the engine from going into closed loop. That being the case, it may or may not run fine that way, but be creating more air polution than it needs to. Should have had your shop guy look at it while it was in there. He might not have charged anything for the diagnosis since he already had it. Probably would have charged no more than $60 if he did.

If you don't have to do the DEQ testing, I guess it's up to you whether to repair or not since it's running fine. I drive probably 25 miles of freeway every morning. Not that unusual for me to see someone driving by with that yellow check engine light glowing in the dark. I've been one of them, but I've never let it go forever. I'm sure some do.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 11:42AM
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all cars in the us built after 1997 have a computer that records the fault code, autozone and others will read the codes for free and tell you what is bad and what is needed to fix it. it may just be american cars, but I belive it is all us sold cars.
driving forever without even finding out what the code is sounds kinda dumb to me. the gasoline efficiency alone is worth me finding out what the problem is.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2006 at 10:30PM
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vstech, I read your page and see you run a computer company.
Does it bother you when people keep pushing gimmics, instead of dealing with their computers and software in a professional manner? Free code pulling at AZ, and others is a gimmic, it is not real diagnostics. Pull a code, and slam a part has less than a 50% chance of being successful on the easiest of codes. I can't even begin to count the number of cars that have had hundreds of dollars worth of parts thrown at them because someone pulled a code, and threw a part instead of diagnosing the circuit. The last one had three O2 sensors replaced, for a blown fuse. Now was one or more of those O2 sensors actually bad? We will never know, but using the old fable of the fox and the grapes, they must have been getting ready to need to be replaced anyway right?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 1:12PM
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John, you should open a school training mechanics on how to properly do diagnosics...
I agree with you on this AZ deal, nothing is free, they have to sell parts, matters not if the original part was good, or just dirty or bad. ..
So much waste...

    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 3:13PM
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Ouch! I just reread my post and see how you two interpreted it. my point in the post is for the responder that just ignores the CES light and keeps driving for years with it on. I of course do not think AZ can possibly replace a qualified tech inspection. but it is better than driving forever with an unknown problem.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 10:59AM
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Thanks, guys. Someone else today just told me this happened to them whenever they got a dose of bad gas. My friend then put in Premium quality gas and the light went out. Next time I get the oil changed, I'll ask the mechanic, but after all the other $ I spent on this car to get new tires, new fan motor, after the leak ruined it, etc. I do not even have an extra $60 now to put on a diagnosis.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 1:49PM
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Have to agree with John G. don't do that too often but it
happends. I put a code " reader " on my wifes car. Gave
typical 02,out of range, and P.F.E. code. That is B.S. i know that is wrong. Put a code puller on it and got a transmission code. 2 - 3 shift taking too long. That i know is right because you can feel it and see it on the tach. If it is not diagnosed right you just throw parts at it until it is fixed or your out of money. She has an A.X.O.D. transmission and they are famous for a cracked
piston in 2 gear. must have done 50 so far. I guess hers is
next. How many O2 sensors and P.F.E.'s do you put in there
to put that light out ? Just my input.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 3:53PM
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hi, i have a Lexus IS 200
recently i have had a full system exhaust put on along with a induction air filter. after 3 weeks the malfunction light comes on, i take it back to deal to get fixed, they book it in to get fixed,then i was told by the mechanic that it needs a lamba sensor on, but even if they put it on the engine light will still apear, they told me... its because you have a big exhaust and air filter, so the car is taking more gases in and releasing it, so it is above the standard for the car that is why the light has come on. they told me it is still okay to drive around and that it will do no harm to the car, because of that reason.
when i take the petrol cap off, it kind of steams and makes a noise, any help would be great, have been told leave it for 2 weeks and bring car back.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 11:48AM
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You and the shop have both ventured down a path you should not have taken. If the shop really knew as much as they should about today's computer controlled cars, they would not have advised you to just keep running it, because if the check engine light is on, it basically means the car's computer has detected a problem where the car is probably polluting the air more than 1.5 times (or more) than the FTP limits. The fact that you have a different air cleaner, and exhaust all by themselves didn't cause that to happen directly. But I can tell you, I'd probably look at your vehicles situation, perform some base investigating of the failure, then the odds would be high that I would turn you down as a customer. It's one thing to fix a broken car, one that has a natural failure from it's base design. But repairing one that is altered simply has too many variables to allow for any normal diagnostic path. Simply said, the Lexus service manual does not have any segments that say with code P0XXX perform this set of tests, and with code P0XXX and this vehicle modification(s)perform another set of tests.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2007 at 9:37AM
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Hi I have a 2001 volkswagon cabrio.. my check engine light came on sunday night so we took it to a shop on monday so they could plug it into the computer and 7 codes came up. I don't know what any of the codes mean but i just want to know if i should completely avoid driving it until i get it looked at?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2011 at 10:04AM
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I have a Toyota Matrix 2004 and my check engine light is on (kind yellow/orange) while I am in vacation. I am 9 to 10hrs away from my city and I called my mechanic who said was fine to drive that far. However I went to a local mechanic and he has to order the part and change it . I wont be back in time to work on Monday. Should I risk to drive?

Please, Help me!!!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 6:13PM
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