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If you have been amongst the driving automotive group for any length of time, chances are you have encountered that pesky "check engine light". While slightly mislabeled, the check engine light doesn't really mean to open your hood and check to see if your engine is still in there, but it refers more to how well your vehicle is running and more specifically, if the powertrain has a malfunction causing the engine to release more emissions than is allowed by the EPA. We all remember following a car at one time that was belching all kinds of smelly smoke, and the intent of the EPA was to drastically reduce this. Like it or not, it is also mandatory that among other things, the check engine light must not be illuminated on cars and light trucks from 1996 to current in order to successfully pass New York State's yearly emissions test (some diesels, heavier trucks and new cars up to 2 model years old are exempt).

So now what, my check engine light is on, what do I do? Obviously, call us to make an appointment to have the issue resolved, but let's break this down a little more. If the check engine light has come on, your engine's computer has detected a problem and has stored a trouble code. Even if the check engine light goes off by itself, the trouble code will remain stored in the computer's memory for a significant amount of time. There can be literally over 1,000 different reasons why the check engine light can come on in vehicles with the most advanced systems, and unfortunately the light won't glow any brighter if the problem is more severe. There is one exception to this, and that is if the check engine light is flashing. Damage to your catalytic converter can occur if the problem isn't corrected soon when the check engine light is flashing.

Some auto parts stores have tried to offer a helping hand by reading and providing the trouble codes for free of charge. Obviously they sell parts, so the theory is that an untrained parts store clerk will read the code, make a determination as to "which part" is causing the code, and sell you the part in an attempt to resolve the problem and to save you money. Fortunately, their guesses and subsequent selling of wrong parts or giving wrong advice didn't go unnoticed by New York State, and their policies have had to be changed to try to protect the unsuspecting consumer. In our opinion, New York State didn't go far enough, and should outlaw this practice completely. Having untrained parts store people giving advice on computerized engine controls is like me trying to fix the space shuttle!

Here at B&H Automotive, we have since the beginning of opening our doors offered a free, friendly computer scan to retrieve powertrain trouble codes. No appointment is necessary, and the codes will be reviewed by one of our staff immediately to assess the urgency or to see if something simple can be done to rectify the situation.

If an appointment is necessary to properly diagnose the problem, rest assured that you are in good hands! We have 10 different factory scan tools, proper and on-going training, and subscriptions to many different manufacturer's websites to get the latest and greatest diagnostic information. We embrace technology, not shy away from it, as this is the direction everything is clearly going. We leverage all resources and the result is that your car gets fixed correctly and in the least amount of time. And time is money. Your money!

On a similar note, sometimes check engine lights cannot be fixed without reprogramming your vehicle's powertrain computer. Over time, manufacturers have found that software issues or calibration issues need to be addressed as not every situation can be foreseen by automotive engineers during research and development. Likewise, engine performance or transmission performance issues which don't set trouble codes are sometimes only correctable by downloading new software directly from manufacturer service websites. We can safely say that no shop in Central New York has more capability with regards to multiline factory-level diagnostics and repair than we do. While no one independent repair shop can "do it all", no one can do more than us! If your shop keeps telling you that they can't fix your car and that you will have to take it to a dealer, give us a call first. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Q. If my check engine light comes on can I still drive my car?
A. As with any warning light, your car's computer is trying to warn you of something. In this case, it is warning you that your powertrain isn't performing correctly. Reduced fuel economy, increased emissions and poor performance are often associated with an illuminated check engine light. While you can still drive it, it would be beneficial to keep your car operating in peak performance by getting the problem resolved as soon as possible.

Q. My check engine light was on, and it went off by itself. Is there still a problem?
A. Possibly. The best thing to do in this situation is to let us scan your computer (free of charge) and document the code. If the same code returns, then we can go further. If it never returns, then it was an intermittent problem.

Q. My check engine light is flashing and my car is running rough. Is that bad?
A. Yes, this is the bad one. If the check engine light is flashing that means your engine is misfiring such that your catalytic converter can be damaged. Unburned fuel is entering directly into your catalytic converter, which eventually can and will cause it to melt down internally. Sometimes reducing the load in which the engine is under will allow the check engine light to temporarily stop the flashing so you can get to your destination safely. The best advice I can give is to give us a call and we will tow your vehicle in to avoid possible damage to your catalytic converter.

Q. My check engine light is on and I was told it was nothing important.
A. This is a common occurrence, and I'm not sure why. True, there are instances when driving your car with a check engine light on doesn't seemingly affect anything, but the problem with doing that is you are running the risk of a false sense of security. If the check engine light is on for one problem that isn't too serious, another problem of a more serious nature can occur but there is no way for you to know. The light won't glow brighter if there is a more serious problem!

Q. My check engine light is on and my car won't pass New York State Inspection. Now what?
A. First and foremost, don't wait until the end of the month that your inspection is due to resolve the problem! That puts a lot of unnecessary grief on all involved! Make an appointment earlier in the month to fix the problem, because your computer will need time to test each emissions system on board your vehicle in order to meet New York State's scan-based emissions criteria. Most of the time, all you will need to do is to drive your vehicle AFTER repairs are made for the computer to re-test the emissions systems. While some would suggest a 50 or 100 mile drive is sufficient for the computer to "be ready" after clearing the codes, in reality sometimes it takes just 15 minutes to "be ready" and sometimes it can take a week or more. There are so many variables, including daily temperatures, how much fuel is in the tank, whether the air conditioning is on or not, driving habits, types of terrain (hilly or flat), stop and go driving vs highway driving, how long the car sits (cold starts), etc, that it just best to try to remember to start the repair process as soon as possible. As many of our clients know, we are happy to check to see your computer's "status" after a check engine light repair. Usually we advise you to drive your car as you normally would for several days, or if your car sits a lot, we recommend driving it as much as possible, and check back in no appointment necessary. If your computer is "ready", we will perform the re-inspection on the spot and we waive the re-inspection fee if the check engine light was repaired by us.

Q. My car is overdue for New York State inspection and the check engine light is on. Now what?
A. This gets confusing. In this situation, you MAY qualify for a 10-day extension. If your vehicle's inspection is overdue and all of the safety items pass during the safety portion of the inspection, and the only thing preventing the emissions test from passing is that your vehicle's computer hasn't tested and passed enough of your vehicle's emissions systems, then you qualify for a 10-day extension. After an emissions repair, the code is cleared by either disconnecting the battery or by using a scan tool. By design, the computer's memory is erased and it needs to test and pass enough of your vehicle's emissions systems. Again, this is accomplished by merely driving your vehicle, and 10 days is usually sufficient time. We cannot stress enough that under no circumstance can we issue an extension when any safety item fails. This changed at least 10 years ago.

Q. My check engine light is on with a gas cap code or evaporative emissions system leak code. I've replaced my gas cap and make sure it's tight. No one else can fix it. What do I do? My inspection is almost due and I know I need to get this fixed.
A. If you are old enough to remember, back in the 50's and 60's (and earlier!) being around a car would also mean smelling a lot of raw gas fumes because the gas tank vented directly into the atmosphere. The powers that were decided that wasn't too good for the environment and laws were enacted that required auto manufacturers to design gasoline vapor recovery systems into cars starting on cars destined for California in the late 60's and the rest of the states by the early 70's. These vapor recovery systems basically consisted of a charcoal canister to which the vapors would be vented to and stored, and a purge valve which would allow the engine to draw in and burn these vapors under the right conditions. Systems evolved over the years, but the basic operation remained the same. Fast forward to 1996, when the EPA decided that not only should vapor recovery systems remain in place, but also mandated that each auto manufacturer to place on board a system to monitor the integrity and functionality of the evaporative emission system. There seems to be as many different systems to accomplish this as there are cars on the road, but again they all do basically the same thing, and that is to make sure that the evaporative emission system is working properly and that there are no vapor leaks. There are a few things for you to know here. Obviously, make sure you put your gas cap back on properly after getting gas! Contrary to the old myth, your check engine light will NOT come on if you are refueling with the engine running (obviously we don't recommend this anyway for safety reasons!). If your check engine light comes on a day or two after refueling, you should make sure the gas cap is tight. If it's not tight, you should tighten it, but it could take many more days before the computer gives the "all clear" sign and turns off the check engine light. I have been studying and repairing evaporative emissions system problems/codes on seemingly every make and model since their inception on 1996 vehicles. Some are easy to fix, some are pattern failures, and some are very tricky to diagnose properly. Many times there is a problem with the system, and not an actual fuel vapor leak. Again, here at B&H Automotive proper diagnostic equipment and many decades worth of expertise go into each repair, which means getting your vehicle fixed properly without spending hours upon hours on needless diagnostic charges.

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