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Dear Driving for Dollars,

Every once in a while, my check-engine light comes on, but the car always seems to be running fine and after a bit, the light goes off. Is this something I really need to worry about, or can I just mention it to my mechanic the next time I take the car in for an oil change?

— Mr. Swanson

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Dear Mr. Swanson,

It’s probably not a serious issue yet. Just the same, I would make an appointment with your trusted mechanic and ask him or her to run diagnostic tests on the car’s onboard computer. It may have stored a code (or codes) providing information on the problem, even if the light isn’t currently on.

According to a study by CarMD, ignoring this warning sign can result in what should be a simple fix becoming an expensive repair. A check-engine light can indicate many different things that can cost less than a dollar to fix but can reach hundreds or thousands of dollars if they’re ignored.

While your check-engine light could be indicating something as simple as a loose gas cap, it also could be an indicator of a failing computer sensor, spark plugs, ignition coils or other problems, so head to your mechanic and get a diagnosis.

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To see what you might be in for, read Top 10 check-engine-light car repairs.

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