Check Engine light on a 1996 Dodge Caravan.

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You’re driving down the road and as you stop at a stoplight, the dreaded “check engine” light pops on. You get that sinking feeling in your stomach and you cringe at the potential repair costs.

You shouldn’t worry yet though – many times, it’s something that can be fixed for less than $10. It’s really just a warning for potential problems, and as people have started to hang on to their cars for a longer period of time, proper maintenance has become even more important. In fact, according to automotive data firm R.L. Polk, the average vehicle on the road is now 10.6 years old, a pretty large increase over 8.8 years 10 years ago.

Here are the five most common causes of the “check engine light” and what you can expect to pay to fix the problem, including parts and labor:

1. Loose or missing gas cap

This is by far the most common cause of the dreaded “check engine light” – and since it only costs a few dollars to replace a gas cap, it’s also the cheapest to fix.

2. Faulty oxygen sensor

The car’s computer uses the oxygen sensor to measure the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust (and it also measures the amount of gas in the tank). If it’s not working properly, your gas mileage will drop because the car’s computer is getting incorrect information. It’s on the cheaper end of the repair spectrum, costing less than $200 to fix.

3. Misfiring spark plugs

Your spark plugs ignite your fuel inside the engine. If they’re misfiring, your fuel economy will drop and you’ll lose engine power – you could also potentially damage your catalytic converter. ┬áIf you replace the spark plugs yourself, you’ll be out around $10. If you pay for a mechanic to do it for you, it will cost you around $300.

4. Malfunctioning mass air flow sensor

This sensor monitors the amount of air that the engine gets, which determines how much fuel is delivered. If it’s not working properly, you’ll notice less engine power, surges during acceleration, and a decrease in gas mileage. Repairing the mass air flow sensor will cost around $375.

5. Broken catalytic converter

Your catalytic converter is the part of your exhaust system that converts the harmful gases caused by engine combustion into less harmful emissions. According to CarMD, catalytic converters generally don’t fail unless a related part (like your spark plugs) fails – so it’s important to stay on top of your maintenance schedule. Replacing your catalytic converter will cost up to $2,000, so it’s worth taking the time to prevent.
The most important take-away from this article is to ALWAYS check your gas cap whenever your engine light comes on. Most of the time, the light comes on because your gas cap isn’t tight, and you can save an embarrassing trip to the mechanic with a twist and a few clicks. If you’ve got an older car and you find yourself spending more and more to keep it running, come see us at Hallum Motors. We’ve got the most affordable used cars in the Memphis area, and we go the extra mile to make sure that all of our customers are served with the highest level of customer service possible. Call us today at 870-739-4944 or drop by and see us – we’ll help you find your next dream ride!