I reckon there are a lot of people driving around with their “check engine”, “service engine soon”, “lambda” or simplified engine caricature light on. They may have no intention in ever fixing the problem that is keeping that light on.These people may have been told why the light is on or they may have surmised (googled it).
What we hear at the shop is “that light is always on”.” My car runs fine. Don’t worry about.” It is often difficult to sell the repair that will turn that light off. Often the repair will not be as difficult or expensive as one might think.
An orange engine light that is aglow indicates that your vehicle is likely polluting the atmosphere at a rate of more than 1.5 times that which it was designed to.
Excess pollution many times is associated with burning excess fuel. Noticeably higher fuel costs will many times force the customer to get the vehicle repaired.
What about the situations where fuel mileage has not changed? As far as the customer is concerned that light is only a nuisance. All of us mechanics have slipped behind the wheel of a vehicle where this light is covered by black tape, maybe a sticker, or just maybe some keepsake strategically placed to block the orange glow.
As your vehicle ages, one common problem that turns that light on is a loss of catalytic converter efficiency. In a previous article I discussed the operation of this emission control device. Suffice to say it is a device that does some final cleaning up of your vehicle’s exhaust.
The converter takes carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides and turns them into water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen.
The operation of your catalytic converter is monitored with oxygen sensors. Some fancy mathematics is required to measure its function or lack thereof. Believe me your vehicle’s manufacturer went to a great deal of trouble to measure its operation. They absolutely would like to keep that check engine light off.
When the check engine light is on for this reason, (P0420 is the code we mechanics banter about) provided your exhaust system is sealed correctly and your oxygen sensors or air fuel ratio sensors are operating correctly, then the exhaust coming out your tailpipe is not as clean as it should be.
Living next to a smelter makes us well aware of the importance of emission control systems.
When things aren’t going well “on the hill” we all suffer the consequences. Government regulations along with industries’ technological advancements have been very beneficial to those of us that inhabit the Kootenays.
Many of us would not hesitate to criticize industry and their perceived lack of concern for our environment but before pointing fingers we should make sure we are at least doing our personal best to keep the air clean. A new catalytic converter is usually a significant expense but clean air benefits us all. Turning the light out is doing your part.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org