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OBD (Hint – That Little Check Engine Light on Your Dash)

Wondering what that “Check engine” light on your dash means? This has to do with on-board diagnostics (OBD), and we explain its benefits and answer common questions below. If your light turns on, please download and complete the below “Driveability Sheet for Customers” forms and bring them in with your vehicle. Let’s work together to save you time and money!

Driveability Sheet for Customers

What is OBD, and what are its benefits?

OBD stands for “on-board diagnostics,” a computer-based system built into all model year (MY) 1996 and newer light-duty cars and trucks. OBD monitors the performance of some of the engines’ major components, including individual emission controls. The system provides owners with an early warning of malfunctions by way of a dashboard “Check Engine” light (also known as a Malfunction Indicator Light or MIL, for short). By giving vehicle owners this early warning, OBD protects not only the environment but also consumers, identifying minor problems before they become major repair bills. When you turn on the ignition, the “Service Engine Soon” or “Check Engine” light should flash briefly, indicating that the OBD system is ready to scan your vehicle for any malfunctions. After this brief flash, the light should stay off while you drive as long as no problems are detected. If so, you’ll be glad to know that your vehicle is equipped with an early warning system that could save you time, money, and fuel in addition to helping protect the environment!

What does it mean if the light turns on while I’m driving?

If the light comes on and stays on, the OBD system has detected a problem. Your vehicle might have a condition that wastes fuel, shortens engine life, or causes excessive air pollution. If left unaddressed, these conditions could also damage your vehicle and lead to increasingly expensive repairs. For example, OBD can identify a loose or missing gas cap (which wastes fuel and contributes to smog) or engine misfire (which can lead to severe or permanent engine damage). if the light stays on, there is no cause for panic. The vehicle is just telling you to seek attention soon. When you reach your destination, make sure the gas cap is not loose or missing. Always turn off your engine when refueling. If the light does not go out after a few short trips following gas cap replacement or tightening, have your vehicle serviced by a qualified repair technician soon! Delaying assistance could lead to more expensive damage.

What does it mean if the light is blinking?

If the light is blinking, a severe engine problem such as a catalyst-damaging misfire is occurring and should be addressed as soon as possible. You can still drive safely, but should minimize your time on the road. Try not to drive the vehicle at high speed or with excess weight (such as towing or carrying heavy equipment).

What will my technician at Japanese Motor Works do when I take my vehicle into the shop?

Ask your repair shop if they employ trained OBD technicians and are “tooled up” with a scan tool designed for their car or truck. Japanese Motor Works does! All modern repair shops or dealerships should have an OBD scan tool specific to your make of car or truck. At Japanese Motor Works, we have more than 10! One of them is best suited for your make of car, and we have the know how to determine this! Japanese Motor Works technicians have the proper tools and will know best how to diagnose your vehicle. Japanese Motor Works technicians will connect the correct scan tool to your vehicle’s computer (usually through a connector under the dashboard) and download information that can help to pinpoint the problem. We then print this information for you and save this data as part of your service history- kind of like what a doctor does. The technician can then repair the vehicle based on manufacturer recommendations. OBD actually helps repair technicians do their job more quickly and reliably, helping you avoid unnecessary repairs and trips back to the shop.

Will the repair be covered by warranty?

Warranty coverage varies depending on components and individual manufacturer warranty provisions. In most cases, however, responding sooner rather than later is likely to minimize the individual owner’s repair liability. The CAA requires an 8-year or 80,000 mile warranty on the major emissions control components such as the catalytic converter, and a 2-year or 24,000 mile warranty on other emissions control components.

What should I do if the light goes out before I take the vehicle to the shop?

Usually, nothing. If the problem that caused the light to come on is addressed, the OBD computer will turn the light off. This is not an indication of a faulty OBD system. In fact, the system is doing its job by verifying that a problem temporarily existed but has since been corrected; perhaps a loose gas cap was tightened or a fouled spark plug was cleared. Your vehicle needs no special attention unless the light comes on again.

What else can I do to make sure my vehicle is running well and to minimize its environmental impact?

Today’s vehicles are highly sophisticated and efficient. OBD helps to ensure these vehicles are running in top shape, but you still need to maintain your vehicle according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Keep up with routine maintenance and keep an eye out for your Check Engine light. Always turn off the engine before refueling and always make sure the gas cap is securely tightened. You’ll save money on fuel and repairs while helping to do your part to protect the air you breathe. In addition, driving as little as possible by combining trips, carpooling, walking, biking, or using public transit are all things you can do to help minimize vehicle pollution.

Peter L. Haughton
CEO/ Shop Foreman
Japanese Motor Works, Inc.
ASE CMAT L-1
Acura, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota
Master technician

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