What Does It Mean When The Check Engine Light Flashes?

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Most drivers have been confronted with a flashing engine light at one point or another. While some may ignore it and choose to attend to the problem at their convenience, others get filled with a unique sense of dread and immediately take their car to a shop.

Many people know something is wrong when the Check Engine light comes on, but what about when it's flashing? What does it mean? And is a solid light better than a flashing light? We will answer these questions and more in this article. Stay with us!

Why Do You Have a Check Engine Light?

Apart from the conspicuous hardware, a vehicle has a system of sensors. The sensors monitor the components that come in contact with the car's onboard computer. The computer receives signals from the sensors and analyzes them. It then goes on to make any changes it deems necessary. When faced with a problem it cannot correct, the computer lets you know through the light that illuminates on the dash.

The Check Engine light signals that the onboard diagnostics system has detected a malfunction in the car's ignition, fuel, emissions, or exhaust systems. The signal can be triggered by something as severe as a faulty catalytic converter or a simple problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor. With an OBD II scanner, anyone can access the fault code logged in by the onboard computer.

What Does a Flashing Check Engine Light Mean?

The Check Engine light comes on, along with other dashboard warning lights, for a few seconds when you start your vehicle. If the yellow light stays longer than a few seconds and starts flashing, you know there's a problem. Some vehicles may have a red or orange light instead of a flashing yellow light. A flashing service light indicates a more severe problem than when the light only stays on. It could flash intermittently or continuously.

Intermittent Flashing

The vehicle's problem may come and go. A problem like this is called a soft or intermittent failure and can cause the Check Engine light to flash, stop, and flash again. This is because the problem only occurs under certain conditions. For instance, a broken wire or loose connector that keeps connecting and disconnecting when a vehicle moves over bumps on the road may cause the Check Engine light to flash for periods.

Continuous Flashing

The Check Engine light flashes continuously when the vehicle has a critical problem, which can cause severe damage if neglected. Usually, continuous flashing occurs when there's a misfire or at least one of your cylinders isn't properly going through the combustion cycle. This could mean that your car is building up unburned fuel and excess heat.

Besides increasing the risk of a fire starting, this condition can also cause serious damage to the exhaust system or catalytic converter. Never ignore a flashing Check Engine light, as it might result in a small problem escalating into a larger and much more expensive one.

What Causes a Flashing

Engine check light on car dashboard

What Causes a Flashing Check Engine Light?

There are several reasons your Check Engine light could be flashing. However, the most common cause is an engine misfire. Here are some of the possible causes of a blinking Check Engine light:

  • Misfires in at least one cylinder
  • Faulty engine sensors
  • Faulty spark plugs and coils
  • Bad injectors
  • Exhaust emission problems
  • Overcharging problems
  • Faulty EGR valve
  • Faulty crankshaft/camshaft sensor
  • EVAP trouble codes
  • Internal engine problem

What Makes an Engine Misfire?

Your Check Engine light tells you when your engine is compromised. Heedlessly driving with such an engine can lead to more serious and costly problems. We've listed some things that caused a flashing Check Engine light. We mentioned that the most common cause is an engine misfire, and we will explain why an engine misfire might be occurring.

An engine has to receive the correct amount of power from your vehicle's cylinders to run smoothly. An engine misfire may occur if one of the cylinders cannot supply power. Many misfires are caused by the following:

  • Ignition problems. Spark plugs and ignition coils often endure regular wear and tear, which can lead to bad spark plugs that aren't providing sparks to the cylinder or improper ignition timing. Regular maintenance and replacement of these components are crucial to avoid these problems. They may be the reason your Check Engine light is flashing.
  • Fuel Mixture. For your car cylinders to operate smoothly, they need a balanced mixture of fuel and air. If there's an imbalance, it could result in slow acceleration. Too much air could cause backfiring, and too much fuel could result in overheating and jumpy running.
  • Low Compression. The precise balance of fuel and air will create the correct pressure in your cylinders. An air or fuel leak will reduce the pressure and result in low power, slow acceleration, or your car jerking.

Can You Drive Your Car with the Check Engine Light Flashing?

Although you can probably drive with your service light flashing, we do not recommend doing so. If the engine light is on and there's no change in your vehicle's performance, you may continue driving until you get your vehicle to a repair shop. However, you should drive cautiously and get the issue fixed by a professional mechanic as soon as possible.

If you spot a blinking Check Engine light, it is imperative that you pull over immediately. Continuing to drive can result in more damage and you could end up damaging essential components, such as the expensive catalytic converter. Besides damaging essential components, you would also be driving under dangerous conditions and putting yourself at risk.

Conclusion

Now that you understand what a flashing Check Engine light means, we trust that you will make all the right decisions moving forward. Regular maintenance of your vehicle's components will help you avoid costly repairs. You should ensure your spark plugs and ignition coils are good, change your fuel filters, and ensure the fuel injectors aren't clogged. These measures can help prevent engine misfires and, by extension, keep your Check Engine light off.

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