Check engine nudge

No signal is more perplexing than a car’s check engine light. Is my gas cap loose or is my engine about to die? If your car cries orange a lot, you might be relatively unfazed by the bright light. Oh, is that thing on again?

Based on conversations with friends and some time spent looking through online car forums, it seems that Subaru has linked the check engine light to the cruise control on the popular Outback and Forrester (and possibly other models). When the light illuminates, the cruise control is disabled. In order to regain cruise control, the driver has to take the car to a mechanic who can diagnose any potential engine problems. Why has Subaru settled on this design? To encourage preventative care? To boost the profits of its service centers? Both?

Addendum: In late-model cars, serious engine problems are usually foreshadowed by a blinking check engine light.


  • Donnie

    It would be nice if there was some more information than “Check Engine”. If they are going to enforce this, they have a responsibility to actually tell you what the problem is at no charge.

    It should be simple to have a USB port on your car to dump a little text file into your iPhone or laptop or thumbdrive that actually tells you what is wrong.

  • Kirk

    These systems might be useful, but instead are manly ploys to drive revenue for dealers.

    Example 1 – I asked my Lexus dealer to turn off the “oil change” reminder light on a 2008 car. They say they cannot. When I take the car to the local oil change place, they cannot turn off the light for lack of codes. Result – go back to the dealer or stare at the light foroever.

    Example 2 – low tire pressure light comes on, erroneously. Does the light turn off when I try to make it happy by letting air out of tires and then reinflating them? Of course not. So, back to the dealer, again.

    In short, as Donnie suggests, we have potentially useful features made pointless/unfair by manufacturer’s making information only to dealers. This ploy is especially appalling as we watch dealer networks shrink and consolidate into local area monopolies.

    I’d expect Subaru to be sued some day unless it prominently warns that features the buyer paid for and owns will be terminated because someone at Subaru decided to play this little game.

    The Nudge needed here is one that causes the car companies to stop these games and sell cars with information open to all. It might alos help stop used car fraud if computer was was open and available.

  • mister ed

    You can buy the code readers for fairly cheap these days, avoid having to take it to your mechanic to figure out what is going on.

    For example –

    For $49.99 it lets you read, and even reset the warning lights.

  • mister ed
  • ccguy

    On the 2005 Subaru Outback, the Check Engline light coupled with a Blinking Cruise Control light meant the loose gas cap. BUT this info was never published by Subaru. You had to talk with a mechanic or check for postings online to find that out. (And I never tried using the Cruise Control the two times this happenened to me in the four years I owned the vehicle–so it may or may not have disabled the Cruise Control.)

    The first time this happened the mechanic said to ignore the light and that it would take about 70-100 miles for the diagnostic to reset itself. Talk about creating a counter-productive mindset/set of behaviors… What if the car REALLY had a major engine problem during that same 70-100 miles? (Dumb design element in what was a very, very well-engineered car.)

    The second time this happened I figured out that if you disconnected the battery, the diagnostic immediately reset itself. (Of course, then you had to reset the clock and all the pre-sets for your radio stations…)