2004 Galant Check Engine Light

I loaned my car to a friend for 2 days. While driving, she allowed it to run out of gas. The check engine light came on as soon as gas was put into the tank and has never gone off. I now need to get inspected, but afraid it will not pass. Someone said to put “Garanteed To Pass” in the gas tank. I have never had any problems with this car. I am the original owner, and I keep the oil changed and the filter clean. The car runs perfectly with 120K miles! What should I do? Please HELP!

Go to an auto parts store, such as Auto Zone, Advance Auto, O’Reilly, or (possibly) Napa, and ask if they will check the car’s OBD system for stored trouble codes. This is a free service that many auto parts stores provide, in the hope that you will buy the parts necessary for fixing the problem, from them.

Then, come back to this thread, and post the code(s), which will be in a format similar to P0123.
Once we know the codes, we can likely provide some specific help.

In the meantime, I think it is very possible that the problem relates to the evaporative emissions system, which may have had a short-term problem as a result of the gas outage. Given sufficient driving cycles, the light just may turn itself off, and resolve the problem for you, but–in the meantime–find out what trouble codes have been stored by the car’s OBD system.

If the gas cap was left loose after she filled it with gas, that would set the check engine light.

Go check the gas cap. If it’s loose, tighten it. Then disconnect the battery ground cable for a minute, and reattach it. That will turn off the check engine light, and if ti doesn’t come back on, the loose gas cap was the problem.

PS–if a loose gas cap is not the reason, your friend may have damaged the catalytic converter by running out of gas, in which case you’ll need a new cat. But first check the gas cap and have the codes read as described by VDCdriver.

These are the codes I got from AutoZone:
P0421 & P0431

Both of those codes indicate problems related to the catalytic converters (you have two, IIRC).
However, rather than simply having a mechanic throw very expensive parts at the problem, you should be aware that these codes can come up as a result of an exhaust leak, or as a result of a bad electrical connection to your O2 sensors.

I suggest that you have a competent mechanic put the car up on a lift to check the condition of the exhaust, as well as the condition of the O2 sensors. I also suggest that you question your friend very carefully about exactly what transpired when he/she drove the car. Is it possible that they ran over something on the road that damaged the exhaust and/or the O2 sensors? Somebody who is irresponsible enough to run out of gas may also be irresponsible when it comes to how they drove your car.

Incidentally, “competent mechanic” means NOT going to a chain operation like Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Pep Boys, or AAMCO. Go to a well-reputed independent shop in your area for the best chance of getting an honest diagnosis and a reasonable repair bill.

Thanks so very much for your quick and expert assistance. I will take your advice. Have a great day!

Those codes could have been caused by a lean operation as the tank was almost drained and was probably offering up as much air as gas to the engine for a while, which confused the ECM and might make it think there is a cat problem, when there wasn’t. The CEL may go away after driving some more, but it may take a week or more of driving. Worth a try anyway.

Re the inspection, it varies by state, but here in Calif turning off the CEL by disconnecting the battery – well it may turn of the CEL light – but it still wouldn’t pass emissions testing. The car’s computer knows the CEL was on, and it remembers that, even when you disconnect the battery. The inspection station computer here in Calif will ask the car’s computer if the battery’s been disconnected, & if so, then the inspection station guy will tell you there is a ECM initialization procedure pending, and to come back later, when it is completed. They won’t test a car with anything pending in the ECM. Otherwise, instead of fixing what needs fixing, folks would just disconnect their battery before going to the emissions test.

George makes a good point, so it might be a good idea for Dave to wait a few days before taking the car to a mechanic. Just be sure to drive the car during that period of time, as a certain number of “drive cycles” are necessary to clear codes that are no longer active. As long as the CEL is lit steadily, and is not flashing, it is safe to drive the car.

However, if the CEL does not turn itself off after a few days, then you really need to take the car to a good mechanic.