Car Corner
Worthless Warning Lights

May 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

Last month my car’s "Service Engine Soon" light came on. I thought this was odd since the car ran fine, and I just changed the oil about two weeks before.

So I starting thinking about a couple of things I know are "wrong" with the car. First, the speed sensor in the tail of the transmission needs replacing. When the car is very warm the speedometer dips and bounces around a little. I am pretty sure it is due to the plastic gear in the speed sensor. It is probably worn, but not completely ruined. The speedometer works well enough almost all the time. But this problem started happening about a year and a half ago. It should not be causing the Service Engine Soon light to come on.

Second, my "ABS INOP" light comes on from time to time. Basically meaning the ABS is inop-erable. It will stay on when I start the car once in a while. Turning the car off and back on again clears it up. I semi-regularly check the function of the ABS and it works fine. In fact, it works quite well. Better than some other ABS cars I have driven. Due to the fact that the light stays on at start up makes me think there is a problem with a sensor more than a problem with the functioning components of the ABS.

None-the-less, this has been going on for almost two years. I have avoided taking this to a dealer because it will probably cost a fortune for almost nothing to be done. When the car was new the ABS INOP light would flash. It took three trips to the dealer to determine the third brake light bulb was burnt out. Under warrantee this is just annoying, when I am paying the bill it is inexcusable. Once again, I don’t see how this could cause the Service Engine Soon light to come on.

The car has a little over 51K miles on it. I assume this light is something that should come on shortly after 50K miles to get me to take my car to a dealer for servicing. What a rip off. All they will do is basic maintenance like change fluids, check belts & hoses, and adjust a couple of things. Oh yea, and change me an arm-and-a-leg.

This is all stuff I can do myself, and are part of normal maintenance for a car. There is no reason I need to have the car display a warning unless it is running poorly, or there is a specific malfunction. Much less a warning that requires a dealer to turn it off.

A much better approach would be a "maintain engine light" that provides specific interval information such as change oil, change coolant, rotate tires, etc. A display like this would be valuable, and it should be reset-able by the owner.

Does anyone know of a manufacturer that provide a more intelligent "service engine soon" light that doesn’t require a dealer to read or reset? Tell me, and I will put them on the top of my list for my next car purchase.

Also, if anyone has a 1993 GM car and knows how to turn of this ridiculous light off, please let me know.