Problem Light

Most vehicles nowadays have a check engine light that’s supposed to light up when your car is about to explode. The theoretic underpinning of the light rests on two axioms: the driver is too stupid to realize when something is wrong with the car, and the driver is too stupid to understand what is wrong with the car. When it lights up, you’re supposed to take the car to a mechanic so they can reverse the polarity of the neutron flow (or whatever it is they really do) so that it works again.

(I’ve been led to believe that certain space stations have a similar feature.)

Some cars, mine included, also have a “Maintenance Required” light (or technically “Maint Req’d” since they don’t want to have to dedicate a third of the dashboard to it) that serves no other purpose than to nag you when some internal timer triggers. Seriously. The dealer sets it to go off when you’re supposedly due (in the chronological sense) for your next service.

Given that some check engine lights are labeled “Service Engine Soon”, unless you’re intimately familiar with your car’s manual, you could easily mistake one for the other.

Guess which one of my lights came on recently?

Luckily, instead of running (i.e., driving) to the nearest garage, since everything seemed to be going fine and the timing was suspiciously close to three months after the car’s last major service, I borrowed a engine diagnostic code reader thingy from a coworker. Unluckily, it didn’t seem to work with my vehicle. That is, I’m pessimistic enough to assume that the “E” message stood for “Error” and not “Everything’s OK”.

Fortunately, I had the insight to RTFM and realize that everything was in fact OK, since it was the nag light instead of the “your car a splode” light I thought it might be. So now I’m just staring down a fake warning light while driving instead of risking my life every time I turn the key.

I mean, more so than normal, given some of the drivers around here.

Plus, as a bonus light-that-looks-bad-but-apparently-isn’t, you know that disk activity light on your computer? Well, the one on holly (my former desktop PC turned home-brew Tivo and named after Holly) has been on 24/7 for, oh, about a month now. The hard disk itself is behaving normally, however; if you listen, you can tell it’s not actually grinding away any more than a hard disk normally does, so it’s just the light itself that isn’t working.

So apparently, the moral of the story is, ignore dangerous-looking warning lights and you’ll be OK. It’s a moral we can all live by. Hopefully.

5 Responses

  1. I would say the moral is, if you see dangerous lights, don’t pull into Wood Street Parking garage. Seriously, just ask SOG.

  2. My car has a magic handshake you can do to turn off the nag light. Also when I took it in for an oil change, they turned it off for me.

  3. I like your moral but I am afraid some nuclear engineers may read this post and take your moral to heart.

  4. Way to RTFM, Paul. And serious props to tracking down that reader device, rather than paying a professional.

    Also: ignoring lights really can work well!

  5. Actually, it’s a pretty good strategy for nuclear applications too. If there’s no problem, then that’s that. If there is a problem, no one will be left alive to blame you. It’s a win-win!

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