Engine Warning Light – What It Means and What Next

One of the many warning lights on your dashboard is a small icon that looks like a car engine. This is the engine warning light – otherwise known as the engine management light (EML).

In some cars, rather than the engine icon, the EML might be a message, such as “check engine”.

When you start your car, the engine warning light will usually flash on, alongside all the other dashboard warning lights. This is a normal process and absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s when the engine warning light stays on that you need to take action.

What Does The Engine Warning Light Mean?

If the engine warning light stays on, it basically means that part of your engine isn’t working like it should. Many things can cause the engine warning light to stay on. This could be anything from a simple loose fuel cap to more complicated issues with your engine.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  1. Loose fuel cap – A simple fix you can do yourself! If your engine warning light stays on, check your fuel cap. If it’s loose, tighten it. Too much air in your tank can upset the flow of fuel. This is why a loose fuel cap might spark the engine warning light.
  2. Air and Oxygen – If there isn’t enough oxygen in the system, your engine won’t run as well as it should. So your car has two systems in place to regulate the amount of air flowing through the engine. These are the mass airflow sensor, which measures the amount of oxygen going into the system, and the oxygen sensor, which measures the quality of the oxygen as it leaves the system. If there’s a problem with either of these systems, you could get performance issues.
  3. Emission issues – These are much more serious problems. Modern vehicles have numerous systems to reduce the levels of harmful substances in exhaust fumes, such as the catalytic converter and the particulate filter. If any of these systems get too dirty, they’ll be less effective at doing their job. In more serious cases, they could even cause the engine to overheat.
  4. Fuel issues – If your fuel cap’s nice and tight but your engine warning light stays on, then there might be a more serious issue with your fuel system. You could have a blocked fuel pump, for example, or a blocked fuel injector.

Can I Drive With My Engine Warning Light On

It depends. In most cars, the dashboard warning lights are colour-coded. Whether you’re safe to drive depends on how serious the issue is – which will be denoted by the colour and type of warning light you’re seeing on your dashboard.

Here’s a breakdown of the different colours and what they mean:

Amber Engine Warning Light
If the light is amber or orange, then it means you need to get your car to a garage as soon as possible. If you get a continuous amber warning light in the middle of a journey, then you should be able to finish your journey. But after this, avoid driving until you can get your car checked. And if you need to drive to the garage yourself, then drive slowly.

Flashing Amber Engine Warning Light
This usually means that something in your engine has misfired. You’ll probably be able to tell that something is wrong, as your car will judder and your engine will likely sound much rougher than usual. If you drive for too long with a flashing amber engine warning light, you might cause serious damage to the engine. So drive slowly to a garage if you can, or else pull over and call for help.

Red Engine Warning Light
As always, red means danger. If you see a red warning light, then it means there’s something seriously wrong with your car that needs immediate action. So stop driving – pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so, and call a garage immediately.

Check your car’s manual for more information on how the system works in your specific make and model.

One thing to remember: Your car will automatically fail its MOT if you have any sort of warning light on your dashboard. So, if you have an MOT coming up, make sure you address that warning light long before your test.

The Engine Warning Light in the Driving Theory Test

Are you a learner driver preparing to take your driving theory test? If so, it’s worth knowing about dashboard warning lights. Some questions in the test ask you to consider what you’d do if you saw certain warning lights come on while driving.

For example, you might get this question:

While you’re driving, a warning light on your car’s dashboard comes on. What should you do?

  1. Deal with the problem later, when you’ve more time.
  2. Ignore it – it’s probably just an electrical fault.
  3. Check for issues as quickly and safely as you can.
  4. Continue driving if the engine sounds OK.

Now that you’ve read this post, you should know that the answer is C: If your engine warning light comes on, you need to get your car checked as soon as possible.

There are many more questions in the theory test about dashboard warning lights. Many of these questions concern the ABS warning light. Head here to read our full guide to the ABS warning light, which includes a summary of all the possible theory test questions.

Don’t Get Caught Out!

So, to conclude, if your engine warning light stays on, whether it’s amber or red, it usually means you’ll be headed to a garage before long.

This is when you’ll probably be glad of your car insurance. Comprehensive car insurance could cover you for repairs should you choose to make a claim, while optional breakdown cover will ensure you won’t be stranded for hours awaiting rescue.

At Go Girl, we specialise in giving new drivers comprehensive cover at an affordable price. Head here to get a free quote online in minutes.


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