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Emissions Alert: Your Check Engine Light

By Mat Carlile

We all want to keep our cars running well and our emissions low, particularly during the summer ozone
and winter PM2.5 seasons. If your vehicle was built in 1996 or later, you get some extra help keeping your emissions in check from the on-board diagnostics (OBD) system that came with your car. The OBD system monitors the performance of your engine components. If your Check Engine light comes on and stays on, the computer in your car is telling you that your emissions controls aren’t working properly and may need to be repaired.

The Summit County Health Department has teamed with the Division of Air Quality on an Emissions Awareness campaign to let people know that the light on their dash is telling them there’s a problem with their car’s emission controls. The Health Department has been spreading the word in the community through social media, public service announcements, radio interviews, mailers, fliers and bookmarks.

Repairs for malfunctions can range from tightening or replacing your gas cap to taking your car to a qualified mechanic for service. Most repair shops (and some auto parts stores) have a small, hand-held scanning tool available that they connect to your vehicle’s computer—usually located under the dashboard—to download information that can diagnose the problem. The information from the OBD system helps mechanics identify the malfunction and the kind of repair that’s needed.

Some areas of Utah have mandatory vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs that
periodically test vehicles to ensure that they are operating as designed. If the test identifies a problem with a particular vehicle, the owner must repair the vehicle before it can pass.

If your check engine light comes on, don’t wait until your vehicle inspection rolls around to fix it. Every day you drive your car with your Check Engine light on, you’re adding pollutants to the air we breathe and you may be causing damage to your vehicle that could result in even more costly repairs down the road.

To learn more about the benefits of OBD systems, warranty coverage for your emissions-control system, and how good car care can keep our air clean, check out the EPA’s OBD page.
Mat Carlile

I have worked with the Utah Division of Air Quality for 10 years. I have a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Brigham Young University. My wife Carrie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in June. We have four children. I love reading, investigating history, traveling, and playing basketball, volleyball, football and ultimate Frisbee.

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