Last Updated on December 31, 2022 by Bernard Juchli
That blinking indicator on your dashboard saying “Service Engine Soon” means your car needs a bit of a check-up. The light is an indicator that something is wrong with your car engine, and it usually comes on when your car’s computer detects a problem.
The good news: don’t panic or get confused when you see this indicator, even if you do not have any experience or any tools in your car. Besides, the service engine soon light is not as bad as it seems.
Let’s find out what the service engine soon light means, the common causes, and how to fix it.
What does it mean when my car says service engine soon?
The service engine soon light indicator means that there’s a problem—that ranges from minor to major—with your car’s engine or electronics. However, some car manufacturers have check engine lights in replacement of service engine soon. So, depending on your car, you could get the service engine soon light when your engine has a minor problem.
The check engine light could also mean that your car’s engine is due for services such as spark plug replacement or oil change. Some of the problems that trigger the service engine soon light are easily fixed, while others may require the attention of an auto mechanic.
Cause of service engine soon
There are specific situations that cause your service engine soon light to come up, though, these vary by manufacturer. As mentioned earlier, some of the causes are quick fixes which you should be able to fix yourself without third-party assistance. Now, let’s see the common causes of the Service Engine Soon light below.
1. Loose fuel tank cap
When the fuel tank cap is not tightened, it not only lets in dirt and grime but also allows fuel vapors to escape, thereby causing a loss of fuel pressure. The vapor can cause an error in emission systems, thus triggering the service engine soon light to come up.
To this end, you are better off tightening your fuel tank cap to not only make the light switch back off but also to avert any mishaps while on the road.
2. Service is due
The service engine soon light comes up when there is a problem with the car’s engine. And this problem is an indication that your car’s engine needs servicing.
Your car was due for service all along, your engine just didn’t give off a problem. It is best to service your engine periodically to prevent it from suddenly breaking down, or from a bigger problem.
3. Contaminated gas
You don’t see the gas before it’s poured into your tank, which means you could buy contaminated gas without knowing. A contaminated gas causes your service engine soon light to come up—Cars.com. Depending on the severity of the contamination though, your car may need a new fuel tank, fuel injectors, or even a new engine.
4. Malfunctioning oxygen sensor
When your oxygen sensor has a problem, it triggers the service engine soon light to come on. This problem causes your car to not run correctly. Although you can continue to drive relatively fine with it, after a while, it can lead to more fuel consumption and damage to the catalytic converter. It’s advisable to replace your oxygen sensor soon to keep your car in good shape.
5. Wire and spark plugs
Worn/failed spark plugs, coil packs, or spark plug wires can trigger the service engine soon light to come on.
As a spark plug wears out, its wires begin to have tiny cracks which can allow a burst of electricity to escape rather than travel from the tip of the spark plug to the electrode. This can cause your car to misfire and then trigger your Service Engine Soon light.
6. Low fluid levels
Your car can begin to register low-level oil, coolant, or brake fluids as errors even when nothing is wrong with your car. This causes your service engine soon light to come up. If you found that low fluid level is the reason why your car is giving that light, reach out to your mechanic as quickly as possible for a refill or change, as the case may warrant.
How can I fix service soon light?
At least, by now, you know the triggers of the service engine soon light. But what do you do when the light comes up while you are driving on the road as you are most likely not to have any diagnosis tools with you? Let’s find out below:
a. Check your repair manual
First, check your repair manual for what the Service Engine Soon light means on your car model. This is because the reasons why the light comes up vary by manufacturer.
b. Check all fluids
Check all the fluid levels, including the engine oil level, brake fluid level, wiper washer fluid, automatic transmission fluid, and coolant level. To check the automatic transmission fluid, you need a dipstick. Do not insert something else to minimize damage.
c. Tighten your fuel tank cap
This could be the reason you are getting the Service Engine Soon light, and until you tighten it properly, it won’t go off.
d. Check for the last schedule
When last did you get your car’s engine serviced? Check your service history manual and see if your car is due for service. Call your authorized dealer if you have a digital service manual, or see if you can find information on your dashboard.
If all your efforts are big yielding, the best thing to do is to drive your car to an auto shop to read your car’s trouble code memory. You can also do this yourself if you have an OBD2 spanner. Also, check your Engine Control Unit (ECU) for stored trouble codes.
Can I drive with the service engine soon light on?
Yes, you can drive with a service engine soon light on as what triggered it might not be that serious or dangerous to your car. This is based on the color of the light as each one means a different thing.
a. Yellow light
When the Service Engine Soon light is colored yellow, it means your car has a minor issue that you should be able to fix yourself or at a close-by auto shop with minor efforts.
b. Red light
When the light is colored red, it means what triggered is serious and needs to be examined and fixed as soon as possible. In this case, you’re advised to switch off your car engine and get it towed to the nearest mechanic shop for inspection and repair.
Can service engine soon light turn off on its own?
In most cases, the engine light will turn itself off after successfully fixing the problem that triggered the light in the first place. However, if the light remains on after that, it means the problem still exists and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Most of the time, when the service engine soon light comes on, it’s an indicator that one of the vehicle’s systems such as ignition or engine timing, fuel injection, or emission control is malfunctioning. None of these should be treated with a kid’s glove as they have the potential to develop into not serious or complex problems if not repaired as soon as possible.
Overall, it’s advisable to take your car to an auto mechanic for a check-up and fix.
Is service engine soon an oil change?
Oil is one of the leading factors that triggers the service engine soon light to come on. Getting your oil or filter changed should put the light off.
However, there may be other reasons—such as the ones highlighted above—why your car is giving off the service engine soon light. Be sure what the trigger is before you find a solution as a wrong move could be detrimental to your vehicle.
The service engine soon lights only an indicator that something minor (or major) is wrong with your car and needs fixing as soon as possible.
Do not panic when your car gives off that warning light. Rather, follow the tips described in this article to get minor issues solved.
In the case of a more complex issue—which you’ll know by the color of the service engine soon light—tow your vehicle to a mechanic’s shop for a more professional fixing before it becomes detrimental to your car.