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5
Warning Lights

A "Check Engine" lamp can signal a variety of issues.

©iStockphoto.com/Somatuscani

If your car is working properly, these are what Audra Fordin of "What Women Auto Know" calls "hello, good morning" lights. You fire up the engine and the dashboard lights up like carnival. This is the car's computer checking everything out. One by one, each of the lights turns off and you're ready to drive.

If they don't turn off, though, that's bad. Either very bad or slightly bad, depending on which light remains lit. These lights are connected to sensors that monitor everything your car does. If something seems out of whack, the computer will use these lights to tell you what it is. It can't use its words; it's not KITT, you know.

The lights you'll probably want to pay the most attention to are:

  • Check Oil/Oil Level Low
  • Oil Pressure Low
  • Check Engine

The "Check Engine" lamp is perhaps the most troubling of lights because it could mean so many different things, from "you didn't screw the gas cap on tightly enough" to "look out for pistons flying through the hood and into the stratosphere." The easiest way to find out what this light is telling you is to hook your vehicle up to a scan tool. This diagnostic tool looks a little like an oversized calculator and plugs into a communication port inside the car. After you instruct it to perform the scan, it "speaks" with your car's computers to find out exactly what's prompting the light to turn on.

You can purchase your own tool from an auto parts store for less than $100, but then what? You're probably not going to put on your coveralls and crawl under the hood yourself. Instead, visit a service station, where a technician will use the scan tool to identify the trouble.

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