The check engine light is on: Can I continue driving?

Check engine warning light on the dashboard
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An illuminated engine light can scare many drivers, especially if they have not encountered this warning light before. Since its color is orange, you have to be careful.

In this article, we will briefly examine why the check engine light is on, whether you can continue driving, and the different shapes of the check engine light, as this warning light can vary depending on the manufacturer and model of the car.


The check engine light is on when starting the engine

When you turn the key in the ignition, you've probably already noticed that various warning lights on your car's dashboard light up. Among them, you can also find a check engine light. All warning lights, including the check engine light, should go out right after you start the car.

It is, therefore, typical for the check engine light to be on when starting, and there is no problem. This occurs if the warning light stays on continuously shortly after starting or lights up while driving.

The check engine light is on while driving

If the check engine light is on while driving, there is a problem. The question is - what is the problem? There are various issues why this warning light is on, from really minor to very serious.

In most cases, you can continue driving even with the check engine light on, considering it's business as usual for your car. No other warning lights are on, and there is no smell of fuel in the interior. However, you should be careful in case of engine oil leakage.

A drop in engine oil can also cause the check engine light to come on. Whatever the cause, you may not feel the change at all, and it's a good idea to check the engine oil level just to be sure. If necessary, of course, add engine oil and only then continue driving.

In any case, the fact that the car behaves normally and you do not feel any changes does not mean that the illuminated check engine light does not indicate any problem. This must be resolved by visiting a repair shop as soon as possible.

When do I have to stop driving with the check engine light on?

In addition to losing engine oil, there are other cases when you should immediately stop driving and turn off the engine if the check engine light is on. These are the following:

  • The engine vibrates excessively

  • The engine goes into emergency mode

  • There is an excessive smell of fuel in the interior

  • The red coolant light also lights up (the engine is overheating)

  • It also lights up oil light (lack of oil or low pressure)

Therefore, if one of the mentioned situations occurs, pull over immediately and turn off the engine. You'll then need to call a tow truck since you probably won't be able to fix the issue.

What malfunctions does the check engine warning light indicate?

As previously mentioned, an illuminated check engine light can mean a whole range of different problems. We covered possible malfunctions in our previous article in detail and will briefly summarize them here.

Summary of possible malfunctions when the check engine light is on:

This is not a complete list, but the most common malfunctions. In addition, the engine control unit can be a problem and an utterly unrelated trifle, such as a malfunctioning sensor or sensor.

The check engine light and its different shapes

Check engine warning light

The shape of the check engine light varies by manufacturer and model. You will often come across the engine light, which looks like the one in the main picture. There are also variations, often with text in the middle or below the warning light.

Check engine warning light

In the case of variations with the text, it is often the Check or Check engine, which surprise-surprise means you should check the engine.

Check engine warning light

A check engine light with a lightning icon can be confusing, but it is the same warning light, and the problem may not be just the electronics (as the lightning icon may indicate).

Check engine warning light

The check engine light, which contains only text, is found mainly in models for the US market.

For a list of different check engine light shapes, see the gallery for this article (click on one of the images below the main image).

Frequently Asked Questions About Check Engine Light

1. Can I continue driving when the check engine light is on?

A lit check engine light always indicates a problem while driving. So it depends on whether it is a severe problem. In most cases, you can continue driving.

However, if the car behaves unusually - the engine vibrates excessively, there is a loss of power, and some other warning lights also light up - it is necessary to pull over and turn off the engine. When continuing to drive, a service visit should be considered.

2. How to tell if an illuminated engine light indicates a severe problem?

In some models, the check engine light may flash while driving. Even if it does not flash, a severe problem is usually indicated by the car's behavior. Excessive noise, vibrations, power loss, or other illuminated warning lights can mean that the problem is serious. In this case, stopping driving and turning off the engine is necessary.

3. Could a low oil or coolant level also be a problem?

Yes, the check engine light can come on in both cases. Since these serious problems can cause overheating or even engine seizing, you must stop the car and turn off the engine immediately. It is possible to top up the fluids and continue driving, but the problem may be their leakage, so you must visit a repair shop as soon as possible.


An illuminated engine light while driving should not be ignored, even if the cause does not appear to be serious. The problem can be caused by excessive wear of some components and higher fuel consumption. Ignoring this problem can end up costing you more than its quick solution.