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What Does Your Check Engine Light Mean

When your car's check engine light illuminates your dashboard, it's usually accompanied by a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The light could be a minor issue, such as a faulty gas cap, or it could mean something more serious, such as a misfiring engine. In many cases, it means that you'll be visiting the car dealer to repair the issue and get the light turned off.
The check engine light — more formally known as the malfunction indicator lamp — is a signal from the car's engine computer that something is wrong.
Automakers started standardizing their systems with 1996 model-year vehicles under a protocol called OBD-II, which instituted a list of diagnostic trouble codes and mandated that all cars provide a universal connector to access this information. The connector is usually located under the steering column and is relatively easy to access. Before 1996, carmakers had their own engine diagnostic systems, primarily to ensure their cars were compliant with EPA pollution control requirements.
Check engine lights come in orange, yellow or amber, depending on the manufacturer. If the light begins flashing, however, it indicates a more serious problem, such as a misfire that can quickly overheat the catalytic converter. These emissions devices operate at high temperatures to cut emissions but can pose a fire hazard if faulty.

Deciphering the Code
Some drivers may confuse the service required or maintenance required light on the gauge cluster for the check engine light. These warning lights are unrelated. The service required light just means the car is due for an oil change or other routine care. It is not an indicator of trouble like the check engine light is.
Your local mechanic can usually diagnose the problem for about $75. But there's a way to preview what the problem might be. Do-it-yourselfers can buy inexpensive code readers from an auto parts store or online that connect to the onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and search for the code's meaning on websites such as Engine Light Help. Modern systems will display the code in an app on your smartphone.
How to Turn Off the Check Engine Light
Most code readers will allow you to turn off or reset the check engine light. But this action alone does not actually repair the underlying problem. In many cases, the light will simply come back on later.
Mixed Signals
But even with the code and its meaning in hand, a do-it-yourself interpretation can be a little tricky — even if you are mechanically inclined, said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for Edmunds.
"My wife's car started running poorly, and there was a check engine light. My code reader detected a code for the cam angle sensor. I thought about buying the sensor and installing it myself. But if I had, I would have wasted time and money because it turned out that the sensor was fine. Instead, mice had gotten under the hood and had chewed some of the wires leading to it," said Edmunds.
What Could Cause the Check Engine Light to Come On?
CarMD, an automotive telematics company, published a list of the 10 most common check engine codes in 2018, along with their estimated cost of repair:
1. (tie) Replace ignition coil(s) and spark plug(s) 
1. (tie) Replace oxygen sensor(s) 
3. Replace catalytic converter(s) with a new OEM catalytic converter(s) 
4. Inspect for loose gas cap and tighten or replace as necessary 
5. Replace ignition coil(s) 
6. Replace evaporative emissions purge control valve 
7. Replace mass airflow sensor 
8. Replace evaporative emissions purge solenoid 
9. Replace fuel injector(s) 
10. Replace thermostat 
Occasionally, the check engine light comes on when nothing is wrong with the car, said Steve Mazor, chief automotive engineer for the Auto Club of Southern California. It could be a temporary problem caused by a change in humidity or other factors. In such cases, the light should go off by itself after a short time.
Don't Ignore That Light
Mazor says that some people freak out when they see the check engine light. "They just put a piece of black tape over the dashboard light and keep driving," he said. But Mazor adds it's important to address problems indicated by the light promptly. Ignoring them could lead to larger, costlier problems later.
If the light comes on, Mazor suggests the driver should check the gas cap. A loose gas cap sends an error message to the car's computer, reporting a leak in the vapor recovery system, which is one aspect of a car's emissions system. If the fuel cap is loose, tighten it and continue driving. Even so, it will take some time for the light to go off, he says.
What should you do if the check engine light comes on and it's steady rather than flashing? The most obvious answer is to get the engine checked by a mechanic. But many people do nothing, perhaps fearing an expensive repair bill. Some drivers with older vehicles may want to squeeze out as many remaining miles as possible without visiting a service garage. But before they can pass their state's vehicle inspection, they have to get the light turned off. And a state inspection is a good motivator for dealing with the problem.
As Dan Edmunds points out, the system is primarily designed to continuously monitor a car's emissions system over the life of the car. However, he notes, "The engine and the emission control system are so interlinked that the health of the emission control system is a good indication of the general health of the car's engine."
Good Backup Plan
Mazor says that even an inexpensive check engine code reader could be useful for car owners, even if they aren't mechanically inclined.
"If the mechanic gives you the same information, at least you know they are going down the right road," he notes. Edmunds agrees, adding that a code reader provides car owners with one more data point to help them talk with their mechanic and avoid costly or unnecessary auto repairs.

Originally Published on Edmunds.com
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A Subaru expert shares ways to keep your vehicle i

Here in Camden, New Jersey, at Subaru of America headquarters, our employees are under a stay-at-home order, like many others throughout the country. While we’re not driving, we don’t want to forget that our vehicles need a health and wellness check as much as we do. Much like people, cars don’t like to sit for extended periods of time, so here are a few tips for maintaining your car while we all practice social distancing to keep everyone safe. 

Learn About Your Vehicle 

We’ve heard all about your newly acquired bread-baking skills during this shutdown, but while you’re waiting for your latest loaf to rise, take some time to read your Owner’s Manual.
Owner’s manuals may not make exciting reading, but they’re packed with valuable instructions, information and warnings. Get acquainted with your Subaru, and learn what those buttons do and what those dings and dongs are telling you. Learn all the nifty features you didn’t even know about and how to customize settings for vehicle personalization. 

Clean It Up

Now that you’ve binge-watched everything on Netflix, take the time to give your Subaru some love. Get outside, enjoy the nice weather and clean your car (at an appropriate social distance from your neighbors, of course). It may seem counterintuitive to clean your vehicle when you’re not driving it, but it’s a satisfying job and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Insects, tree sap and bird droppings left on the car can damage the paint, so wash them off using a light detergent. Do not use strong soap or chemical detergents. Make sure to clean the wheels and underside of the vehicle to get rid of dirt and the last remains of winter salt. For added protection, give the car a coat of wax.
Vacuum and clean the interior of your car and find that missing french fry hiding under your seat. While it probably still looks fresh from the fryer, it isn’t a good idea to eat it.
The interior of your Subaru is surprisingly water- and airtight. If you leave it sit for an extended period with the windows closed, you’ll probably notice that the air inside has gotten stale. After you start the car, turn on the air conditioner for a few minutes with the recirculating button turned off, and roll down the windows to let fresh air flow throughout the interior.
Clean the glass inside and out, and don’t forget the mirrors.

Keep Critters Out

The bonus of keeping the interior of the car clean is that it’s less attractive to critters like field mice (bad) and squirrels (worse). We’ve even seen small animals get inside vehicles used daily, and they can wreak havoc.
Squirrels can get under the hood and make a mess with leaves, stuffing them in every available nook and cranny, or chew through wires. That’s particularly an issue when the vehicle is left outside, but it can even happen indoors.
You’d also be shocked at how many photos we’ve seen online featuring rodents that find their way into dog food stored in the garage and then squirrel it away (See what we did there?) in the airbox that houses the air filter. If you have dogs, store their food away from the car.

Maintain the Engine and Transmission  

A vehicle can generally sit for weeks with no problems, but you’re better off driving it a couple of times each month. Taking a vehicle out for a drive and getting it fully warmed up gets the fluids moving through the engine, transmission, brake and steering hydraulic systems and climate control system. It will also ensure that the battery recharges.
If it’s not possible to drive, let the engine idle for about 30 minutes outside, making sure it gets up to normal operating temperature, as indicated when the blue thermometer on the instrument panel turns off or when the needle is in the middle of the range for models with a temperature gauge.
The acceptable length of time to let the engine idle may be bound by local laws and regulations. Check your local rules before idling for an extended period. If you can’t go for a drive, practice your parallel parking skills. 

Top Off the Fuel Tank and Check the Oil  

If you can get out, a good destination for a drive is a gas station. Topping off your fuel will help prevent moisture from accumulating in the tank. While there, you can check your oil level and tire pressures and fill both if needed. 

Keep the Battery Operating  

When a vehicle sits, its battery will slowly lose charge over time, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with the battery. Keyless entry, memory seats, radio memory functions, the security system and many other features of your Subaru vehicle draw tiny amounts of power even when it isn’t running.
As with the other engine functions, it’s best to drive the car to charge the battery, but you can let the vehicle idle for 30 minutes once a week as an alternative. To help the battery fully charge, don’t just rely on the daytime running lamps that come on automatically; turn the headlamps to the “ON” position. (If you're idling a Crosstrek Hybrid, be sure that the vehicle is in the “Ready-ON” position.) Refrain from unnecessarily cycling the ignition on and off and locking and unlocking doors – doing this will activate the vehicle’s computers, straining the battery’s stored energy since the computers can take up to 20 minutes to shut down.
And as mentioned above, the acceptable length of time to let the engine idle may be bound by local laws and regulations. Check your local rules before idling for an extended period.
If the battery is completely dead, you may need a jump-start or to have the battery charged before it can start the engine. If the vehicle requires a jump-start, it is suggested that one hour of driving or idling might be necessary to provide enough charge to start the vehicle again without jump-starting it. 
Don’t Forget About the Tires

While starting up a vehicle occasionally is aimed at keeping the battery and drivetrain healthy and operational, it’s also important to consider your tires.
Start by checking your tire pressures, as tires can slowly lose air even without a puncture. There is a label inside of the driver’s door opening that lists the recommended tire pressures for your vehicle. If you can’t make it to a gas station and don’t have a compressor, a bicycle pump can be used to inflate your tires.
When a car is parked for an extended period, the weight of the car is pressing down on the same spot on the tires, which can lead to flat spots that you’ll be able to feel when you drive. Driving the vehicle will bring the tires up to their normal operating temperature and help get rid of any flat spots.
If you can’t go for a drive, just back out of your spot, turn the car around and back in. That will rotate the wheels enough to prevent the weight of the car from resting on the same parts of the tire.
Park Properly   

Close all doors and windows, and for automatic or CVT-equipped cars, make sure the vehicle is in park. For keyless access and push-button start cars, make sure to store the key fob more than 7 feet away from the car. The key fob generally needs to be within 7 feet for the car to recognize the key, but a little added distance doesn’t hurt. For traditional key-operated cars, do not leave the key in the ignition.
Use the Parking Brake the Right Way
The parking brake is operated by a cable or an electric motor that clamps the rear brake pads or shoes to the brake rotor or drum. If you’re leaving the vehicle for a long time, the parking brake can cause the brake pads to adhere to the rotor or drum surface, especially following periods of rain or high humidity.
If you’re going to drive the vehicle periodically, you’ll disengage the parking brake anyway. But if you’re not, cycle the parking brake off, move the car slightly and set it again, making sure that you don’t walk away from the vehicle at all while it’s running.
Stay Safe
Engine exhaust gas contains carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas which is dangerous, or even lethal, if inhaled. Never run the engine in a closed space, such as a garage, except for the brief time needed to drive the vehicle in or out of it. Avoid remaining in a parked vehicle for a lengthy period of time while the engine is running. If that is unavoidable, use the ventilation fan to force fresh air into the vehicle.
We’re Here for You
Giving your vehicle some love during this time by following these steps will help keep it maintained and ready to go when you’re able to drive again and plan your next road trip.  

This article was originally published in SubaruDrive.com
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What is an ASE Certified Mechanic

An ASE Certified mechanic is a mechanic who has fulfilled the voluntary requirements for certification by the US National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Mechanics who have ASE certifications are generally viewed as better candidates for employment by companies that hire these workers, such as auto body shops, car dealers, and bus yards. Certification can also be reassuring for individual consumers who want to ensure that their vehicles receive work from competent, highly professional mechanics.

To become ASE certified, a mechanic has to demonstrate at least two years of work experience and pass at least one specialty test. ASE testing is offered twice a year to candidates who are interested in certifying. When a test-taker passes the test, he or she becomes an ASE Certified mechanic, with a requirement to renew every five years. Mechanics can take tests in a wide variety of systems, such as heating/cooling systems, brakes and suspension, or drive train.

Mechanics can also pursue Master Certification. An ASE Certified Master mechanic has taken a series of subject tests to demonstrate competence in an array of vehicle systems. This certification is offered for automotive, collision repair, engine machinist, medium-heavy truck, school bus, transit bus, and truck equipment areas of specialty. Each area includes a number of exams that must be successfully passed by the candidate in order to achieve this status.

Going to an ASE Certified mechanic can ensure that a car gets the service it needs from a technician who has demonstrated commitment to professionalism, continuing education, and proper training. The mechanic backs his or her services with a commitment to ethical practices, which distinguishes mechanics with this certification from those who lack formal certification. Having certification does not necessarily mean that a mechanic will be better or more skilled than one who does not, but it does mean that he or she has met a minimum standard of practice and takes the work seriously.

ASE certifications have been offered since 1972, and it is becoming increasingly standard for mechanics to have them in order to work. Consumers should be aware that, even if only one mechanic in a shop is certified, the shop may display the ASE seal. Consumers can always ask to see the specific certifications held by mechanics in the shop, which will list the names of the certified mechanics and their areas of specialty.

Originally Published on WiseGeek.com