Your car's check engine light is the front end of a surprisingly complex diagnostic system. All modern cars use a special computerized diagnostic system called OBD-II. This system monitors many complex sensors spread throughout your vehicle and stores diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) when it detects a problem. An illuminated check engine light means you have one or more active DTCs.
Surprisingly, you often cannot judge the severity of a problem just from a check engine light. Other symptoms, such as overheating or unusual noises, are more important for determining if you have a critical automotive emergency. However, one way your car can alert you to a more serious issue is a flashing check engine light.
What Causes a Flashing Check Engine Light?
A steady check engine light can result from any number of problems, from major engine issues to a loose gas cap. However, your check engine light will only blink when your car detects a misfire. If you take your car to a shop or auto store, you'll usually discover diagnostic code P0300 indicating misfires on multiple cylinders. You may also have more specific codes for individual cylinder misfires.
Note that misfires are a symptom and not an underlying problem. Misfires occur when your engine doesn't get one of the ingredients it needs to fire fully. These issues can occur due to problems with timing, insufficient fuel, internal mechanical problems, or many other problems. You'll usually also notice your car running very poorly.
What Should You Do When Your Check Engine Light Flashes?
As always, the most important thing to do in any automotive emergency is to ensure your safety. A misfire can be a serious issue that can cause substantial damage to your engine or other components. Still, you should never stop on the road or pull over into a location that would expose you to dangerous traffic.
Instead, a flashing check engine is serious enough that you should pull off the road as soon as you can do so safely. Once you find a safe location, turn your car off and wait for a tow. Since misfires may indicate serious trouble, you should avoid driving your car further until you know the underlying problem.
What Is Causing Your Misfire?
Unfortunately, a flashing check engine light alone isn't much of a clue to the underlying issue. Since many problems can cause misfires, you may be dealing with a serious issue in your car's ignition system or a minor maintenance problem like severely worn spark plugs. Regardless of the cause, driving with a misfire can cause serious engine wear or even damage your catalytic converters.
The best way to address a misfire is to have a qualified auto repair shop investigate and diagnose the problem. An experienced technician will do more than read the error codes; they will use various sophisticated diagnostic tools to locate the underlying problem. This thorough diagnostic approach ensures you will fix the root cause of the misfire and keep it from returning.
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19 June 2023
After trying in vain to fix my car for a few months, I realized that I needed to hire a professional. I was tired of dealing with repairs that I was unfamiliar with, and I knew that I needed to get some help. I started looking around for a great auto mechanic, and even though one business was more expensive than others, I decided to work with them. They worked hard to fix my car, and I was really pleased with how great of a job they did. This blog is all about investing in proper auto service so that you don't have to deal with problems in the future.