The check engine light is an essential indicator in your vehicle’s dashboard. It serves as a warning system to alert you when there is a potential engine or emissions system issue.
When the check engine light illuminates, it means that the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system (OBD-II) has detected a problem. This system continuously monitors various vehicle sensors and components to ensure they operate within specified parameters. The check engine light is triggered if any irregularities or malfunctions are detected.
But what does it mean when the check engine light is flashing when accelerating? If the check engine light is flashing, it means there’s something wrong with the engine. It’s wise to pull over immediately and switch off the engine. However, if the check engine light flashes when accelerating with white exhaust smoke, it’s a sticking fuel injector.
What is Check Engine Light?
The check engine light, also known as the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL), is a warning light on a vehicle’s dashboard designed to alert the driver to potential issues with the vehicle’s engine or emissions system. When the light comes on, it indicates that the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system (OBD) has detected a problem and has stored a corresponding trouble code.
The check engine light can be triggered by various issues, including problems with the engine’s sensors, ignition system, fuel system, emission control system, or other components. It can indicate minor issues, such as a loose gas cap, and more severe problems that require immediate attention, such as a misfiring engine or a failing catalytic converter.
When the check engine light illuminates, it is important to have the vehicle diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible. Ignoring the light or postponing repairs could lead to further damage to the engine or emissions system, reduced fuel efficiency, or even potential safety hazards.
1. Faulty Fuel Delivery System
If there is a problem with the fuel delivery system in your vehicle, it can trigger the check engine light and cause various issues with the engine’s performance. The fuel delivery system is responsible for supplying fuel from the tank to the engine, ensuring the correct amount of fuel is delivered at the proper pressure.
Here are a few common problems that can occur with the fuel delivery system:
Fuel Pump Failure: The fuel pump is responsible for pumping fuel from the tank to the engine. If it fails or becomes weak, it can cause fuel delivery issues, such as insufficient fuel pressure or inadequate fuel flow. Symptoms may include difficulty starting the engine, engine misfires, or loss of power.
- Clogged Fuel Filter: The fuel filter prevents contaminants from reaching the engine and should be replaced periodically. If the fuel filter becomes clogged, it can restrict fuel flow, leading to poor engine performance, hesitation, or stalling.
- Faulty Fuel Injectors: Fuel injectors are responsible for delivering fuel into the engine cylinders in a precise spray pattern. If they become clogged, worn, or malfunctioning, they may deliver too much or too little fuel, resulting in rough idling, decreased fuel efficiency, or engine misfires.
- Fuel Pressure Regulator Issues: The fuel pressure regulator controls the fuel pressure in the fuel delivery system. If it malfunctions or becomes stuck, it can cause incorrect fuel pressure, leading to engine performance problems or fuel leakage.
- Vapor Leaks: Fuel vapor leaks can occur in the fuel lines, connections, or fuel tank, causing fuel odor, decreased fuel efficiency, or even a potential fire hazard. These leaks should be addressed promptly.
2. Faulty Ignition System
When there is an issue with the ignition system, such as a misfire or a faulty ignition coil, it can lead to incomplete combustion in the engine cylinders. This can trigger the ECU to detect a misfire and activate the check engine light. In some cases, if the misfire is severe or if it occurs repeatedly, the check engine light may flash instead of remaining steadily illuminated.
3. Faulty Engine Sensors
Engine sensors play a crucial role in monitoring various parameters such as engine speed, temperature, airflow, oxygen levels, and more. When a sensor malfunctions or provides inaccurate readings, it can trigger the ECM to interpret the data as a problem, leading to the illumination of the check engine light.
In some cases, when the ECM detects a severe issue, such as a misfire that could potentially damage the catalytic converter, it may cause the check engine light to flash instead of remaining constantly lit.
Faulty engine sensors can exhibit various signs depending on the type of sensor and the specific problem it has. Here are other common signs that may indicate a faulty engine sensor:
- Poor Performance or Reduced Power: Faulty sensors can cause a decline in engine performance. You may experience a loss of power, sluggish acceleration, or difficulty maintaining speed.
- Rough Idling or Stalling: A malfunctioning sensor can disrupt the air-fuel mixture or timing, leading to rough idling or even stalling of the engine.
- Increased Fuel Consumption: If a sensor that measures air intake or fuel delivery is faulty, it can cause the engine to run rich or lean, resulting in increased fuel consumption.
- Difficulty Starting the Engine: Some sensors, such as the crankshaft position sensor, play a vital role in the starting process. A faulty sensor can make it challenging to start the engine or cause extended cranking times.
- Irregular Transmission Shifting: Faulty sensors that are responsible for monitoring transmission parameters may cause erratic shifting or difficulty in shifting gears smoothly.
- Abnormal Exhaust Emissions: Engine sensors help monitor and control emission levels. A faulty sensor can lead to abnormal exhaust emissions, such as black smoke, excessive emissions, or a strong smell of fuel.
- Poor Fuel Efficiency: A malfunctioning oxygen sensor (O2 sensor) can provide incorrect feedback to the ECM, causing poor fuel efficiency and potentially triggering the check engine light.
4. Damaged Catalytic Converter
The catalytic converter is an essential component of a vehicle’s exhaust system and is responsible for reducing harmful emissions. If the catalytic converter becomes damaged or clogged, it may not be able to perform its function effectively, resulting in increased emissions.
Modern vehicles have onboard diagnostic systems that monitor various components and systems for malfunctions. When the catalytic converter is not functioning properly, it can trigger a fault code, activating the check engine light. Acceleration often places additional stress on the catalytic converter. If it is already compromised, the increase in exhaust flow can exacerbate the issue and prompt the check engine light to come on.
5. Issues with the Spark Plugs
Spark plugs are vital to the operation of your car’s engine because they provide continuous electrical power. Thus, if the spark electrode develops a defect, such as becoming worn or failing, it will not produce sufficient flames.
When the vehicle is accelerated, for instance, the engine requires more sparks to consume fuel in the chamber where combustion occurs. If the spark plug is damaged, there will be delays in the combustion effect, resulting in misfiring of the engine and engine shutdown. In this case, the dashboard will display a blinking check engine light.
Other signs of failing spark plugs include:
- Engine misfires: One of the primary signs of failing spark plugs is engine misfires. You may notice a rough or uneven idle, hesitation or stumbling during acceleration, or a lack of power. This occurs when the spark plugs fail to ignite the air-fuel mixture properly.
- Poor fuel efficiency: Failing spark plugs can lead to incomplete combustion, causing reduced fuel efficiency. If you find that you’re getting fewer miles per gallon than usual, it could be a result of worn-out spark plugs.
- Difficulty starting the engine: When spark plugs become worn or damaged, it can make starting the engine more difficult. You may experience extended cranking or multiple attempts to start the vehicle.
- Rough engine performance: If the engine feels rough or vibrates excessively while running, it can be an indication of faulty spark plugs. You may feel the vibrations through the steering wheel or the entire vehicle.
- Engine misfiring during acceleration: When you press the gas pedal for quick acceleration, a failing spark plug may cause the engine to hesitate or misfire, resulting in a loss of power.
- Poor throttle response: Worn-out spark plugs can cause a delay or sluggishness in throttle response. The vehicle may feel unresponsive when you press the accelerator pedal.
- Increased exhaust emissions: Failing spark plugs can lead to incomplete combustion, resulting in increased emissions. If you notice black smoke or a strong smell of unburned fuel coming from the exhaust, it may be a sign of faulty spark plugs.
A flashing check engine light during acceleration is a warning sign that should never be ignored. Ignoring the issue or continuing to drive aggressively can result in severe engine damage, costly repairs, and potential safety hazards. By understanding the possible causes and taking immediate action, you can prevent further complications and ensure the longevity of your vehicle. Remember, when it comes to the check engine light, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Hi I’m Marshall based in 1478 Doctors Drive Santa Monica, CA. I’m your DIY Car Repairman with more than 5 years experience in automobile repair, a skill I learned from my old man.
I started this blog to share my experience on both simple and technical aspects of your car.