2000 Mazda Protege with check engine light

Here goes … My daughter has a 2000 Protege and for the last month or so, the check engine light has been coming on. About a week ago, she went somewhere, turned off the car, and then when she got back in several minutes later, the car wouldn’t start. She waited a while and it finally started.

Last weekend though, it died and wouldn’t start at all! Her dad (who is an airline mechanic but still should know enough about cars) put a diagnostic tool on it while the check engine light was on and the code given was “catalytic converter.”

Well, nobody believes that. I posed the question on a Mazda board and answers range vary between fuel and ignition. I tend to go with fuel as the answer but since her “professional” (ahem … yeah, right) dad will be the one to fix it, he’s not entertaining any other solutions than the (did I mention $400) catalytic converter.

She put in some fuel injector cleaner when filling up her gas tank last night and things are running fine for now and the light is off.

Would it make sense that a hot start, with low fuel, would act like that? She says she hasn’t been putting in but a few dollars’ worth each time she needs gas because she’s been a little low on funds. Said she has almost run out of gas a time or two …

Any opinions or suggestions would be much appreciated.

A CEL (check engine light) is just a kid in class waving her hand trying to get you attention because she has the answer. You need to have the codes read again and get the exact code. Some places will read them for FREE. Try Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts. Get the exact code not just their translation into English and post it back here. It likely will have a format like P1234.

She’s probably got a problem, and it’s probably not the catalytic converter. Problem is that it could be just about anything. Has the Check Engine Light cleared on its own? If so, there isn’t much that can be done unless and until the problem comes back. If the code is still there, have her drop by Autozone and get the code read out. Write down the code number, not just the English Summary. Some of the English Summaries are less than useful sometimes.

Be aware that sometimes, the error codes in the computer are rather weakly coupled to the actual problem. Occasionally, they are totally unrelated. Some cars throw codes and turn on the CEL from time to time for no apparent reason and not all problems generate codes. It’s possible for a no code generated problem and a spurious code to both show up at the same time although that’s not usually the case.

She might want to carry enough cash to get herself home if/when the car dies again.

You might check on the Mazda boards and find out if there is a manual way to read out a simplified problem code for that vehicle via dash light blinks or the odometer. Some cars have them. Some don’t. (No I don’t know why all cars don’t have them. It’s just a matter of a little more code in the car’s computer). If the Protege has such a capability, print out the instructions and check the kid out on how to do it. Have her keep the instructions in the glove box. Getting that code may be useful if the car dies again.

I really appreciate your responses! I have forwarded it all to her and she’ll be relaying it to her dad. He did call and admit that he doesn’t think the cat is the problem – some folks at work he was talking to mentioned “blah blah COIL blah blah” … we await his next opportunity to go over and take another look at it. Meanwhile, the code information is very helpful and I’m going to urge her to go somewhere and try to get the numbers.

It would be so much easier if she lived closer to me!