I Learn Something New And I Don’t Die

I turn on my car and this comes on.

What are you trying to tell me car? I can't READ YOUR MIND!

I stare at it. What part of the car is this trying to explain? Is it the battery? Is it a Snork? If it IS a Snork, what is AllStar Seaworthy trying to tell me? That there’s an underground colony of small creatures who wear clothing that never gets wet? Or is it a yellow three-eyed space aliens from Pizza Planet? Is my car telling me to see Toy Story 3?

Although we are already late to preschool also known as my three hours of down time except oh wait I have a second child, I decide that the grown-up thing to do is find the car manual and LOOK IT UP. And since I’m the only grown-up in the car, I flip through and finally resort to the INDEX. (This is also where I wish I could just feed an image into Google and get an answer. Because LOOKING THINGS UP is so 1990.)

It’s the CHECK ENGINE LIGHT. HOLY CRAP!

And then I remember the random letter yesterday about a Mazda recall. Something about power steering. And death. (I may or may not be exaggerating about the power steering part. Or the death part. But one is DEFINITELY true.)

So I call Scott. Because I’m pretty sure that I’m supposed to be freaking out and possible not driving my young children around BECAUSE THE CAR WANTS ME TO THE CHECK THE THING THAT MAKES IT GO. AND EXPLODE.

Scott’s all HOLY CRAP!

He calls the dealership then he calls me back.

Scott {calm}: Have you gotten gas for the car recently?

Me {confused}: No.

Scott {disappointed}: Well, if they gas cap is loose, the check engine light comes on.

Me {exacerbated}: OOOOOkay, I’ll check it.  But I seriously did not get gas yesterday.

Scott {matter-of-fact}: It’ll take 24 hours for the light to reset.

Me {shocked}: We don’t take it in?  What about THE RECALL?

Scott {annoying. or annoyed. I can’t remember}: The dealership said the check engine light has nothing to do with the recall. And they don’t have the parts for that anyway. So we should tighten the gas cap and see if the light goes off.

Me {sarcastic}: Tomorrow.

Scott {confused}: What?

Me {accusatory}: I’m supposed to drive my young children around in the hopes that light FOR THE CHECKING OF THE MOST VITAL AND BAFFLING PART OF MY CAR is off in 24 hours even though the gas cap hasn’t been touched in many days.

Scott {quietly}: Yup. Also, if the check engine light starts blinking, pull over immediately and call a tow truck.

Me {freaking out}: WHAT?

In review:

  1. A Snork on your dashboard is the check engine light.
  2. It means nothing or your car is going to explode.
  3. It will turn off on Sunday for the same reason it turned on.
  4. No one has any idea what those reasons are.

Now you know what to do.  Which is nothing but wait for possible fiery death.

But at least you don’t have to call the dealership.

You’re welcome.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

18 thoughts on “I Learn Something New And I Don’t Die

  1. You’re cute. So funny that you had to check the manual to find out what the “check engine” symbol was! And I love that you took a picture of it! 🙂

    Glad everything seems to be okay. I don’t think you’ll blow up. Hopefully it was just a loose gas cap and everything goes away by tomorrow! If not, you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to get the dealership to check it with a computer. Then it could be something, or it could still be nothing. And they’ll just clear it. And charge you for it. Pooey.

  2. My car is a complete mystery to me. It’s the one area where my husband knows that if anything is to be done, it’s up to him to get it done. Car=Man Job. I change light bulbs and take the trash out and even kill bugs, but dammit, the car is a man job.

  3. Check engine lights are to mechanics like ear infections are for doctors. CHA-CHING! We had the best mechanic in Charleston that told us basically your check engine light will come on 90% of the time (not if you’re overheating etc. then that would be a problem) so you’ll take it to the dealership and all they will do is turn it off and charge you a boat load of money without anything wrong with your car. Glad you are safe and not blown up. It is scary. I had a Blazer that had a constant radiator issue so I was either pulling over to add water or praying constantly I wouldn’t get fried.

  4. In this day and age when cars have computers that run the whole show, you’d think they could design a system that says, “Your gas cap is open.”

    Not atari-style aliens on your dashboard that you don’t know what to do with.

    I’m holding out for the cars where you just punch in your destination and then pop open a book.

    1. I agree! Mine will count ominously count down the miles before I need to put gas in the tank, but when the check engine light comes on, it doesn’t even change colors!

  5. A couple of months ago, my brakes felt a little funny. I thought, THAT’S not good, I like having a car that stops when I want it to. The car the FORCED MY HAND by overheating into the stratosphere that very afternoon. The car, possibly, knows me a little too well and it was NOT taking any chances that I might be cavalier about the breaks.

    Why was the car so insistent on getting into a garage immediately? Because I had NO BREAKS AT ALL.

    None. Apparently I was stopping the car with the power of positive thinking.

    So, it is possible that if something is REALLY WRONG your car will know. They’re like animals that way. They’ll just curl up in a ball until the vet…er…the mechanic comes.

  6. –>My land rover and before that VW jetta used to have the check engine light come on all the time. They charged anywhere from $75 to $125 each time just to hook up the computer to get the code for what was wrong.
    He’s right, if it does start flashing then that’s when it’s Really Bad.
    ~deb

  7. If you have an Advanced Auto Parts store nearby, they will “read” the code and tell you exactly what the problem is. Usually it is nothing important…

  8. Yours flashes? Now that’s just handy. Mine just hangs out, glaring at me until the whole car starts to shake and rattle and I realize I might just be driving it to death. At that point, the only thing I can do is take hubby’s truck and leave him the car to deal with.

  9. Happened to me one time. I called the dealership to see what I could do or what it meant. they told me the gas tank thing (and that it would take up to 24 hours to go off). I thought they were BSing me cuz I hadn’t gotten gas for over 3 days but I did it and within an hour it was off! Hope it works for you!

  10. ah yes, we have recently experienced dashboard-symbol induced maternal car panic ourselves! $800 later and a two-day car vacation (i like to think of the mechanic as it’s personal car spa, given the luxurious expense involved) and we’re good to go. So much for no more car payments.

    But for an hour or so as I drove with mysterious dashboard symbols staring me in the face (overheating car, temperature in the CODE RED zone…AKA busted coolant tank and melted hoses, not to mention the flashing battery symbol…AKA dead alternator), I likewise had to whip out the users manual as i drove down the highway with small, innocent children in the car, wondering if we were all about to die and/or if i should open the windows becuase isn’t that the smell of something important melting and maybe we’ll all have brain damage from the melting plastic fumes even if we don’t all go down in the inevitable flashing-battery-code-red-explosion before i make it to the mechanic to drop this death trap off and save us all ??????

    My husband laughed when he saw the manual in the front seat (me: “what? it was clearly hot… I thought I just needed to add water or something logical along those lines”… yeah, hours later, what did the mechanic first do? ADD WATER …and some other oily stuff, but that’s, you know, irrelevant…)

    I second the previous comment that your computer-freaking-ized dashboard should tell you EXACTLY what the problem is, along with a little cost estimate for repairs (so you’ll know whetehr or not to just hop out and let it explode)

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