Where to get a "check engine" light read?

check engine light flickr runrockprincess ccA. asks via Twitter:

Where can I find out what my check engine light is about, without paying through the nose?

This is a good thing to know because:

1) The check engine light can indicate a whole range of problems, some of them serious.

2) Sometimes the problem is a simple as the gas cap not being on tight enough. So if you can get someone to read the problem for a few bucks, you can fix the problem without spending a bunch of money.

Got a suggestion for A.? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: Capital Region Recommended Mechanics

photo: Flickr user @RunRockPrincess (cc)


I haven't had to do this for a year or so, but any Advanced Auto Parts does (or at least did) offer this for free. One time it was just a gas cap problem for me. Bought a new one right there, problem solved. Good luck!

Places like Auto Zone/Pep Boys will usually do the scan for free. If the vehicle is running fine, the old school method is to disconnect a battery terminal, let the computer reset itself, reattach terminal and see if the check engine light stays off (but beware that you can't pull this trick before an inspection - stations need to verify at least 100 miles without the check engine light being on).

You can actually get it checked for free at placed like Autozone or Pep Boys. (Call ahead, sometimes their meters are broken.) You go in, ask for the meter, they hold your driver's license while you go out and check your own code (so you don't steal the meter, I think), then you can hit the internet when you get home and see what the code means and how much the repair will run you (or if it's something like the gas cap, in which case driving it for about 100 miles will make the light turn off by itself.)

This has saved me a garage fee a number of times.

Go to Autozone. You can actually borrow a code reader for free (trade your license for the reader and do it in the lot) and do it yourself. Lets you figure out what the code is, see if you can fix it yourself, and lets you be prepared when you go to the garage.

Advance Auto Parts usually has a code reader behind the counter that you can borrow and look up what's wrong yourself in the parking lot. It's easy and free.

Any auto parts store like AutoZone or NAPA will check it for Free. They use a diagnostic scanner to see what problem code is causing the check engine light. Hopefully you just have an emissions code from not tightening your gas cap well after the last fill up.

Best Ask AOA ever!

Hey thanks everybody. I was sure that SOMEPLACE would do this stuff without a fee. (Before I moved to ALB, my cousin was my mechanic so I got spoiled! And never learned good info like this.)
I heard a KABLAM! when I went over a bump, so I suspect something's knocked loose. Will find out soon enough!

Thanks AOA!

A local (Delmar based) company has created a product which will remotely notify your chosen mechanic of a check engine light and what the code is. It also does a whole host of other things like keeping track of your gas mileage, where you drive, and even helps train you to drive more efficiently & safely.

Full Disclosure: I work for this company.

We're launching our product this summer: http://carmalink.com

Go to Hurks transmission old school mechanic just trying to make a living. Chains like pep boys and Valvoline are always trying to make a mint off of persons that aren't knowledgeable about mechanics!

With my Jeep Grand Cherokee, if I turn the key from off to accessory 3 times the code shows up in my odometer. Try using Google to see if there is a method to do this with your vehicle.

What kind of car? How does the vehicle run (lack of power, rough running, etc...?) Do you still hear a "kablam" over bumps?

Fact 1: AutoZone will do it for free. And let them as most of you won't know what to do with the meter anyway.

Fact 2: You do NOT need to buy a new gas cap if the code is telling you the gas cap is the culprit. Unless of course you've lost your gas cap, in which case you need to pay more attention when getting gas. Some cars like my VW require that you "click" the cap 5 times when closing it.

Fact 3. Most auto mechanics no matter how well you know them (even if they are related to you) are going to try and screw you. That's sadly just the way it is. You are very wise if you do your research before going to the mechanic so at least your knowledgeable about what is going on with your car. Also know the difference between OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and non OEM parts. Most mechanics will gouge you on both. So it's best to know what the parts actually cost.

Fact 4. You can indeed pass an inspection by removing the battery terminals which will turn off the check engine light. Though you must learn how your computer cycles. For my VW it's 19 miles and 5 starts. Meaning the car must be driven at least 19 miles before it can be tested and cannot be started more than 5 times or the check engine light will come back on.

Dear Carmalink: Sounds too much like "Big Brother" type software. Now go away.

I went to Harbor Freight and bought a meter for $30. Your friends will love you too once they find out you have one.

if its an older non-obd2 car you can use a paperclip to get the flash codes.
If you want to have your own scanner for the future...and have a smart phone or tablet with bluetooh...buy the torque app for 5.99 and get a good cheap usb obd2 dongle from newegg.com for 14.99 shipped. mine works great.

if you dont want to go to autozone...buy a friend a beer that has one. we all like beer

Not related really, but I'd say my check engine light has been on more often than off over the course of time I've had my car...

Usually the code is vague and a pain in the neck to determine exactly what's triggering it. Can't somone invent a better system?

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