Have you ever taken time to stop and think about the history of check engine light in your car? Probably not. These days, it’s something we take for granted, but it wasn’t always that way. Today, we’re covering exactly how this handy invention came to be. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

History of how it became to be in Current Vehicles

Before we dive right in, let’s go over a few things. A check engine light, sometimes called a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL), is operated by your car’s on-board diagnostics system. It’s a light that alerts you of a problem with your vehicle’s engine. It’s usually found on the dashboard and has a red or orange color. Some check engine lights show up as an expression, like “SERVICE ENGINE SOON”, whereas others will look like a small engine icon. As soon as the light is triggered, it saves a fault code, or diagnostic trouble code (DTC). This code helps our skilled technicians at Kremer Services identify the root cause of the malfunction.

Idea for the Check Engine light in History

What a useful function, right? But where did it come from? The answer dates back to the 1930s. The predecessor to the check engine light was called an idiot light (real name). This was a warning light that alerted drivers of an urgent vehicle malfunction. The Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan was the first automaker to use idiot lights. They started including them as a feature sometime in the 1930s. Since idiot lights were binary, they only switched on when there was imminent danger. They gave no advance warning of an engine malfunction. As cars became more sophisticated, these lights were eventually discontinued in the 1980s.

Manufacturer-specific Designs through History

Around the same time, automakers started manufacturing vehicles with computerized engine controls. However, all automakers used their own computer systems, and nothing was standardized. Every manufacturer used its own system of DTCs as well. With all these unique systems, it took technicians forever to diagnose vehicle issues.

History when it was standardized

This problem existed until the mid-1990s, when vehicle regulations came into play. In 1996, a new, on-board vehicle diagnostics system was created. The government mandated the use of this emissions-driven system, called OBD2, in all new cars bought and sold in the United States.

Since all new vehicles had OBD2 systems, it resulted in the standardization of DTCs. Now, all cars have the same computer operating system and the same fault codes. This made vehicle diagnostics a lot faster for auto technicians. Nowadays, scan tools can read the DTC that activated your car’s check engine light.

Luckily, technology has come a long way with the check engine light. These days, auto technicians can quickly detect a fault with your engine by using a scan tool. In fact, check engine lights often detect minor vehicle issues before they become problematic. This saves money and time on repairs in the long run.

So, the next time you see the check engine light in your car, consider how far it’s come in history. Think of it as your car’s way of letting you know it needs some extra attention, and give us a call. You’ll be glad you did.


Your Check Engine Light is On – What Now?

What should you do when your check engine light turns on? This warning can indicate a wide range of engine troubles, from minor fixes to major repairs. The worst thing you can do is ignore it. Keep reading to learn what steps to take when the check engine light illuminates.

Do I need to pull over?

The first decision you need to make when you see the check engine light is whether or not you should pull over. To figure out what to do, let’s discuss some basics. When you see the check engine light, it’ll either illuminate as a flashing or a not flashing light. If the light is flashing, you have a major emergency or an engine misfire. If the check engine light isn’t flashing, it’s usually safe to keep driving as long as your car’s performance seems normal. Although you can’t delay repairs forever, you don’t need to pull over.

Regardless of how the check engine light looks, turn your attention to your car’s performance. Do you notice anything out of the ordinary? Things like loss of power, engine smoke, or strange noises are signs of a major vehicle malfunction. If you’re experiencing any of these, pull over right away. If you keep driving with a major engine problem, you risk irreversible damage to expensive engine parts. When possible, get your vehicle towed to a service provider for diagnostics.

Can I troubleshoot the check engine light myself?

Let’s assume your check engine light isn’t flashing. Is there anything you can do before you bring your car in to get serviced? You bet. There are a few minor reasons your check engine light may have been triggered, so you’ll want to check these places first. One place to look at is the oil dipstick. If this isn’t seated properly, it can activate the check engine light. The same thing goes with an unfastened oil filler cap, which is located on top of the engine valve cover. Checking these two spots can deactivate your check engine light and send you on your way.

Another place to check is your gas tank. Believe it or not, something as small as a loose fuel cap can also trigger the check engine light. Make sure the fuel cap is tightened all the way. Also, be sure to check for signs of damage. A cracked fuel cap can turn on the check engine light as well.

OBD2 Scan Tool

If you’re looking for a way to learn more about what’s going on inside your engine, you may want to consider purchasing an OBD2 scan tool. This handy gadget reads the diagnostic trouble code, or DTC, associated with the engine fault. The DTC gets saved by your car’s diagnostics system when the check engine light is turned on. To use the OBD2 scanner, connect it to your car’s data link connector. This is usually found beneath the dashboard on the driver’s side.

OBD2 scan tools can cost up to $100. Although they can give you an idea of how serious your car problems are, they don’t paint the whole picture. But, they can provide important information that can help you move forward with addressing repairs.

When you see the check engine light, don’t stress. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and assess the situation. If you think you might have an emergency, or if the check engine light is flashing, pull over right away.

When you need auto maintenance and repairs, Kremer Services is here for you. We can diagnose and resolve your check engine light issues in no time. Give us a call at (651) 455-1604, or ​request your appointment online​ today. We’ll get you back on the road in a jif.