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Your Service Engine Soon Light or Check Engine Light Comes On; What Happens Next?

service engine soon light

After miles and miles of use, your car’s engine light has finally come on. You haven’t felt anything strange in the way the car is handling, so you’re a little concerned. The next step is to take your car into a mechanic so they can properly dissect the real problem and how to fix the issue. There are numerous reasons an engine light could go on – some answers require more serious fixes, and some answers are relatively simple. We will be focusing on what to do when your service light comes on, and more specifically, how to respond to this if you own a BMW or a Nissan.

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What is my “check engine” light?


The check engine light is also known as the malfunction indicator lamp, and its job is to do exactly what it is named – to indicate any problems or malfunctions with the engine, or anywhere else in the car that is connected directly to the engine. This light is found above the steering wheel in the instrument panel in almost all vehicles. The symbol resembles an engine, and is typically lit-up in orange or red when there is an issue.


The engine light generally has two different stages according to the severity; steady, which indicates just a minor issue, and flashing, which indicates you should immediately stop driving or get to a mechanic as soon as possible. When the light is illuminated, it simply means that something is wrong with the car – it can be as minor as a loose gas cap after filling up your tank earlier.


Wait, is that different from the “service engine soon” light?


Yes, although many people get confused for thinking the lights are one-in-the-same. The service engine light typically comes on as a reminder to bring your car in for service. Numerous manufacturers can include a mileage countdown on the car, which will then automatically set-off the service engine light to alert you to bring your car into your mechanic.


If your service engine light comes on, a lot of times it could be related to either the air filter, the cabin filter, or the oil service. Despite the check engine light coming on for some serious issues, the service engine light generally comes on for just a reminder – it doesn’t indicate any malfunctions or damaged parts of your car. This means that you can bring your car into a mechanic at your earliest convenience, and the technicians will be able to identify what reason caused the light to turn on.


The service light will differ from the other symbols that illuminate your dashboard. The light will usually display as words, instead of the various symbols that usually pop-up. You may see “SERVICE DUE” or “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” either in red or yellow depending on the car. It will be pretty easy to tell when you get a reminder to service your car, since this is generally the only reminder that contains words instead of pictures to describe the ‘problem’ with the car.


Okay, my “service engine soon” light is on. What do I do now?


Since the service engine light doesn’t require immediate assistance, you can be a little more lax about this issue than the check engine light. However, there could be some minor issues with your car that you may want to get resolved sooner than later. Your fuel tank cap could be loose, you may have a low level of a fluid, or you might have some exhaust emission issues. Despite these being relatively small issues, it is still best to go through the best course of action to accurately diagnose and treat the service engine light.


If you feel comfortable checking the car yourself, there are a few steps we would recommend trying before servicing your vehicle. First, you should check your repair manual in your car in order to decipher what exactly the service engine light means in your specific model. Next, check all fluid levels in your vehicle – this includes fluids in the engine, brakes, wipers, and coolant. After you determine whether or not the fluids are a problem, check that the fuel cap is properly tightened. Turn on your engine and listen closely for any noises that seem out of place or irregular. Lastly, check your service manual to see when your last service was done, and see if this could be an automatic reminder for a service.


What does my “service engine soon” light mean for my Nissan?


All cars react differently to various situations that are happening internally and externally on the car. One common explanation for the service engine light coming on in a Nissan car is the gas cap coming loose. This can happen after you fill your tank up with gas, and do not properly screw the cap back on tightly enough.


After the gas cap is knocked loose, it will take numerous cycles before the light will go out. The internal mechanisms will need to realize that the system is okay, and then it will run the evap system self-test. The ECM, or the engine control module, makes sure that your vehicle is running at the best performance level possible. It manages the vehicle’s air-fuel mixture and controls the emissions.


Once the ECM is able to see the specific conditions necessary, it will then run the test. You can then check with your local auto store and see if they are able to clear the memory for you – and fortunately, most places do this for free. If you want to be more independent, you can pick up a code reader that will essentially perform the same task as the auto worker.


Another possible reason for the service engine light is low fluid levels. You should make checking your fluid levels for the engine oil, brake fluid, windshield fluid, and transmission fluid a top priority. After you have checked all of the levels, you should inspect your car for any leaks.


Once you have diagnosed the issue, or if you are having trouble deciphering what is wrong, you need to determine if the problem is a serious one or not. If you are unsure, or the service engine light is flashing, you should stop driving immediately, or try to get to your nearest service center. The technician will be able to monitor your car with a computer to determine what exactly is wrong, and check with your owner’s manual to confirm.


What does my “service engine soon” light mean for my BMW?


BMW’s are different from most vehicles in that they are able to self-check for any issues and problems that may arise during the use of your car. Since the BMW is highly aware about the status of the vehicle, if a light comes on in your car, you should pay attention to it – it came on for a reason.


The service light will come on to make the driver aware of the car needing to be serviced or repaired for an issue. Despite many drivers immediately assuming the worst, the light can come on for more minor issues that won’t cost too much money. Even though it might be minor, you should still get your car looked at as soon as possible to prevent any more damage.


Before you start worrying about the potential problems, the first step is to look in your owner’s manual. BMW gives ample solutions to various issues, ranging from fluid flushes to oil changes. There are also guidelines from the manufacturer about how to keep your vehicle running in optimal condition. If you check the manual for tips and suggestions on how to deal with a service engine soon light, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re taking the best approach possible for your specific vehicle.


Some explanations for the light coming on may be that the gas cap is not screwed on tightly enough. This can cause the light to turn-on because the vehicle is assuming there is an issue within the emissions system. The light can also be linked to spark plugs, wiring, oxygen sensors, and fuel injection systems. If one of these issues is the reason the light turns on, you will definitely need to take your car to an automotive center as soon as possible.


We recommend finding a source that is trusted for their expertise and very familiar working with the BMW brand. This way, if you go into the shop for an easy fix, such as needing more fluids, you can already be there in case there is a more serious issue. If you’ve already had your car looked at by a trusted mechanic who is familiar with BMWs, then you won’t have to worry about moving your car again, finding another mechanic, or diagnosing the problem on your own.


My problem isn’t serious. How do I reset the “service engine soon” light myself?


If you are 100% certain that the service engine light came on for a loose gas cap or another minor issue, you can reset the light yourself. In order to start the process, you have to dismantle the service engine light in your car. You can either use the scanning tool or you can disconnect your car battery. The most efficient way, and the easiest, is to use a scan tool.


Before you begin the process, you should ensure that you know the correct information about the status of your car, and the mechanical properties. After you have been well-versed on the inner workings of your vehicle, you can purchase or borrow a scan tool. You will be needing an OBD System – for cars that are usually 15+ years old, you will need the OBD System, and cars within 15 years can use the OBD-2 System.


After you have obtained a scanning tool, you need to find the interface within your vehicle. We recommend checking under the driver’s seat, the left side of your dash, and under the hood, near the engine. If you can’t find the interface, it should explain it to you in the owner’s manual.


Once the interface is found, you should connect the tool to the interface, and turn it on. The tool will display a code, which you should make a note of. After you jot down the code, you can use the erase function on the scanner to remove the code. Click on ‘check engine light’ or ‘service engine soon’ and then click ‘erase.’ Disconnect the tool from the interface, and then restart your car to make sure this job did the trick.


You still want to keep the piece of paper where you wrote down the codes, in case the problem occurs after restarting your vehicle. You can use the codes to diagnose the issue in the future.


Fix the Problem Yourself or Visit a Mechanic?


Although some of the check engine light issues and service light problems may be minor, some drivers and car owners may not want to take the risk of diagnosing and fixing the issue themselves. After all, if you are not able to properly determine what is wrong, you may never fix the problem – and that could lead to a host of other issues down the line.


For those who are uncertain about their fix-at-home abilities, or for those who are not well-versed in the language of cars, we recommend taking your car to a dealership to check the “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” or “Check Engine” light – this way you can have your car properly repaired, the light turned off, and drive away feeling confident and care-free.




Overall, your car is an important tool in your daily life. Your Nissan Altima takes you to and from work everyday. Your BMW is your only vehicle for getting around for your entire family – so you need to make sure it stays in high-quality shape. Realizing, diagnosing, and treating the “SERVICE ENGINE SOON” and “Check Engine” light warnings that pop-up on your dashboard ensures that your car will have a long and healthy life – and that you will be safe and confident while driving.





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