Check Engine Light vs Maintenance Required: Key Differences

Check Engine Light vs Maintenance Required: Key Differences

24th May 2017

 Car speedometer with illuminated check engine light and warning indicator on the dashboard

Most modern-day vehicles have two different lights within the dash: a maintenance required light, and a check engine light. Some drivers assume they are the same, believing their car needs servicing when either of these lights activates. However, the maintenance required light is entirely different than the check engine light. To learn more about these two lights and what they mean, keep reading.

Maintenance Required

The maintenance required light, also known as service required light, is triggered strictly by mileage. Different automakers have different standards for when this light activates. A car's maintenance required light, for instance, may activate once every 10,000 lights, at which point it will remain on until it's been manually deactivated.

The purpose of the maintenance required light is to encourage drivers to take their vehicle in for regular scheduled maintenance, such as oil changes, spark plugs, new tires, etc. 

Normally, automotive specialists will reset the maintenance required light when servicing your vehicle. If they don't, however, you can reset it yourself, though the steps to resetting the maintenance required light varies depending on the make and model vehicle.

Check Engine Light

The check engine light, also known as the service engine soon light, is different in several ways. First, it does not activate based on mileage, but rather it activates when a specific fault is identified somewhere in the vehicle. If your car begins to overheat, for instance, the check engine light may activate, indicating that you should pull over immediately.

If your check engine light activates, you'll need to use a special "code reader" to identify the underlying problem. Most auto parts stores carry these code readers, which they'll use free of charge to find out what triggered the check engine light in your vehicle.

Alternatively, you can buy a coder reader instead of borrowing one from the local auto parts store. Code readers have become pretty cheap over the years, with many drivers viewing them as a smart investment, especially if you own multiple vehicles in your family. With a code reader, you can quickly and easily identify the cause of your check engine light.

Common causes of the check engine light include:

  • Faulty gas cap
  • Bad catalytic converter
  • Overheating engine
  • Low oil pressure
  • Bad oxygen sensor
  • Bad mass airflow sensor
  • Worn spark plugs or wires
  • and more...