Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Beware of the Scary Check Engine Light

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Beware of the Scary Check Engine Light

Article excerpt

I was driving last week and, to my horror, the check engine light came on. I pulled over, put the car in park and slowly banged my head against the window.

For those of you who drive brand-new or even sort of new cars and have never experienced this, it is a Very. Bad. Thing.

The check engine light is like going to the doctor and having him look you in the eye and ask you whether you have made a will.

The check engine light is like your wife asking you to sit down for a serious talk and you notice a suitcase packed by the door and the plumber in his van outside with the engine running.

Just the sight of the check engine light is enough to produce heart palpitations. It's a little symbol that looks like an engine, glowing angry red. The message? Your engine is about to melt down into a heap of gleaming, steaming metal, so you should pull over as soon as possible, gather up all your personal belongings, clean out the glove compartment, unscrew the plates and walk home. Later that day, you should report your car stolen.

For those of us who drive older cars, every day is a possible "check engine day." Once you get north of 100,000 miles on the odometer, you're living on borrowed time. I passed 100,000 miles about 60,000 miles ago. If my car was a person, it would be so decrepit that on its birthday, extended family would throw a huge party and alert the local paper because, well, you never know if it will be the last one.

A big part of the stress is that your car - unlike newer ones that know what artist is singing the song on the radio, exactly how many miles to empty and when you need an oil change - absolutely refuses to tell you what's wrong. It just flashes that scary glowing engine symbol. It's like the "Lost in Space" robot waving its floppy arms and shouting "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" without ever getting around to saying what that danger might be. …

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