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Check Engine Light - Has this happened to you?

Updated on July 6, 2009

Driving Home

My wife and I were driving home from a sporting event for one of our children when our "check engine light" began that eerie glow that brings palpitations to your heart. If you are anything like me (someone who knows enough about things under the hood to get yourself in trouble) then you know that anything to do with electronic sensors and the engine computer control module is waaaay beyond your ability to resolve independently.

Well this simple event set in place a chain of events that I'll attempt to depict for you below. The intent of my sharing this "adventure" is that perhaps some of our experience and the associated learning may be of benefit to you.

We have a fantastic shop where we take our vehicles for service. We take them there primarily because we trust the mechanic and shop owner. They have treated us well for a number of years and they have serviced most of our vehicle issues during that time. Anyway,... back to our experience.

We called the shop and got a service appointment for later that week. The light had come on Tuesday evening and the earliest appointment available was for that Friday morning. Well,... Friday comes and we take our car into the shop. Mid day on Friday we get word that they have diagnosed our problem. The recommended service isn't something that could be done that afternoon. The one issue we have with our service shop is that they are not open on weekends. So,... in order to get the repair completed we needed to leave the car there over the weekend.

Well,... part of our adventure is that we had scheduled to take our car on a trip to transport our daughter and a number of her friends out of town to a girls camp that following Wednesday morning. Wouldn't you know that these things ALWAYS happen when you're about to go out of town. Better to have them happen I suppose before than during the trip! :-)

Well,... suffice to say that the mechanic ran into "problems" as they got into the repairs. The part that they ordered came in but was not the right part. They finally got our van put back together and delivered it to us Tuesday evening just before they closed for the day. Nothing like cutting it close huh?

Well my wife picked up the van and drove directly out to the high school to pick up our son and guess what,... the "check engine light" came back on about 10 miles into the trip. By the time that happened, the shop was closed, we were scheduled to leave the next morning at 7:00am (well before the shop opened again) and here we were in about the same situation as we had been before.

Round Two


Okay,... that's about the time that my mind went into serious over drive. As I contemplated what we might be able to do about the situation,.... I realized that I had seen an advertisement for AutoZone where they will evaluate your vehicle to tell you why your check engine light is on in the first place. Well,... I wish I had done that in the first place to understand what the original issue was. :-)

So by the time I get home from work and can go to AutoZone it's about 8:00pm. I have found the staff at AutoZone to be very knowledgeable, informative and extremely helpful! My experience this time was no exception.  The clerk that evening was very friendly and helpful.  She quickly performed the analysis and was able to tell us that the problem was a Mass Airflow Sensor.  Furthermore, she let me know that the repair was relatively easy to complete and something I could do myself.

I proceeded to purchase the part and took it home to install,... after about 30 minutes of work disassembly, I was down to the part where I was ready to remove the actual problem sensor and put the new one on.  Next problem,....  :-)

Tamper Resistant Screwdriver

If you don't know what a tamper resistant screwdriver is here's an image for you.
If you don't know what a tamper resistant screwdriver is here's an image for you.

Tools, Tools,... but not the right ones!

 Well,... as I mentioned before, I know about enough and have about enough tools to get myself in trouble.  That's about the point I was at in my repair job.  Thankfully I again recalled that AutoZone has a tool loaner program as well.  So,... back to AutoZone, problem assembly in hand.  The tool that i needed was a special tamper resistant star headed screwdriver.  I learned that fact again from the helpful AutoZone clerk!  They quickly pulled a driver off their shelf and let me use it to remove the sensor and replace the new one right there on their counter.

All's Well that end's well,... Right?

 Well,... the point of my sharing this adventure with you is this.  The next time you have a check engine light come on, think first about the fact that AutoZone is fantastic about checking that sort of thing and giving you some idea about what the real problem is.  In fact I'd suggest that even if you don't plan on doing the work yourself, it would be helpful for you to have that analysis in hand when you take your car to the mechanic.  You would at least have the knowledge to learn if your shop is trying to get you to do more than you might need to have done.

Second,... for those of you doing your own work, remember that AutoZone loans tools and that you might not have to actually purchase that tool that may never be used again!  I'm not sure about you, but that's a real bonus for me!  Save your money for those tools that will be used again and again.

Finally,... realize that you might actually be able to complete a repair on your own with a little determination and wilingness to try.  The clerk at the AutoZone was helpful in that regard as well.  She gave me some pointers that went a long way towards making the repair job a much easier prospect.  I've found that they are pretty spot on when they say, "This is a repair that you can handle if you want to try", versus, "This is a repair that requires special (translated "expensive" ) equipment and/or tools.

While my experience was not enjoyable, it reminded me of how helpful this business is and that I'm capable of doing quite a few of my own repairs!  What's even better?  I'm driving my van again and it's running GREAT!


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