"Check Engine" light on...should I care?

Just to clarify:

'89 Accord with 215,000 miles, driven only about 400 miles/month. Poor student unable to afford major repairs, seriously thinking about ditching car altogether–leaks transmission fluid and oil and seriously rusted.

I’ve heard that the “check engine” light usually refers to emission controls…and here in Illinois cars older than 1996 are excused from emissions testing. So I wonder if I should even bother my long-suffering mechanic and my long-suffering bank account with this problem.

You should at least access the computer for any stored codes. This will indicate where the problem lays with the emission control system. If it’s a lazy oxygen sensor, this can effect fuel mileage.

Don’t ignore the Check Engine light. Find out what’s going on.


You can have the code read at AUTO ZONE for free. Then you can post it here.
If it is a major repair, ditch the car.

No, You can’t have the code read at Auto Zone, or other, auto parts stores. It’s not a 1996, or later, car or truck. There is an electrical connector in the passenger’s foot-well kick panel which you jumper with a paper clip, and turn the ignition switch to RUN to get the engine check light to flash the trouble code(s). Do that, and bring the codes back here for comments, and advice.

Hmm… '89 Accord, 200k+ miles, rusting away. Check engine light procedure:

Check engine light comes on. Open hood. Check engine. Still there? Yes? Close hood, keep driving. No? Remove plates and vin tag, hitchhike home.

(Sorry, you might not think it very funny. You have gotten good advice so far.)

Might not be necessary according to my experience doing just that. My 1984 Chev Cavalier Check Engine Light came on just about a year until I traded it. The car was rusty; had a lot of miles and I just didn’t feel, as you do, like putting any money into it so I kept on driving it. It did not run perfectly but it did run. I ran it several thousand miles with the last trip being 500 miles long. It did not quit for me and I never did learn why the light was on. Run it until it dies and keep your cell phone battery charged.

Thanks for the quick replies.

I think that, when I have time, I’ll take it in, just to see what the problem is, and go from there. What I do next will depend upon what’s wrong and how much it will cost.

WHAT, ditch a Honda at only 215,000 miles?! Why? You say you don’t want to spend money; but, you want to take the car into the shop to spend money for something you can easily do yourself? Using a paper clip in the electrical connector in order to count flashes on a dash shouldn’t be too difficult for a “student”. The repair could be cheaper than one vist to the repair shop.

I would, but I’m not sure where the “foot well kick panel” is or how to use a paperclip there in a way that won’t result in a short or a shock.

The CEL for this car is not emissions related. That is for '96 or newer. Yours is on for an engine sensor required for smooth operation. The ‘96 or newer cars’ ODB-II system was specifically designed to monitor it’s own emissions. Your car simply has the required senors to feed the computer info to determine proper fuel flow and ignition timing. And, one of those sensor has gone bad. To find out with one, you need to get a Haynes or Chiltons manual. Check the library, as I’ve seen a bunch of them in my local library here. They should have pictures and diagrams to help you locate the service port. Count the flashes to retrieve the codes. The book should also have the code list in it.

The passenger’s foot-well kick panel,is where the passenger’s right foot would hit if he moved his foot to the right in the foot-well. The electrical connector, to test for the check engine light, is made for use of a shorting wire – such as a straightened paper clip. It won’t blow a fuse.

I’ll have to get Chilton’s, as I have Haynes for Accord '84 to '89 and it doesn’t say anything about codes or the service port.

Well, I looked where the passenger’s right foot would be if they moved to the right…and it would hit the speaker in the door. In front of that is some carpet, and when I pulled it back there were various wires plugged into various slots but nothing that suggested a service port to me. I’ll have to get Chilton’s from the library.

Surprising that your Haynes manual doesn’t have it. With every car I’ve had, even my old LTD with the EFI 5.0L available in the last model year covered by the manual, it still had code retrieval and code list for the EFI. Check in the Fuel and Emissions section of the manual. This is generally where it is at.

Try this.


Thanks, I’ll give it a try when I get back from work.

how much do you have saved up to buy a new (used) car if you ‘ditch’ this one?

typically a small amount of preventative maintenance would greatly prolong the life of the car.

as others have mentioned, just because you are a student you should re think the pay nothing for repairs thought. what about you breaking down at two in the morning on a remote road somewhere? then you would probably regret not having done even routine maintenance on this car!

look in testers reply this is the info. take the time to read testers link. it is really helpful.

the mention of reading codes, is where the ‘paperclip’ comes in. you can jump the two connections, (and not have to buy a LED) and it will make the CEL light blink the codes so you can read them. if it is in fact a misc code, then by all means ignore it, but if its a real trouble code, wouldn’t you at least like to know what is up with the car?

then again, a 12V LED cost about 3.00 at radio shack, you could buy one, and have your own LED reader!

old rusted hondas are the best cars on the road it sounds like their is still a lot of life in it lol pump it full of lucas oil additive or trans or both dont stare at the light and keep knocking it down the road if you can find a friend who can replace the seals its wort doing the seals are cheep and not to bad to replace if you have the ability

Hey ok, didn’t they put some of those old Honda ECU’s under the drivers seat???
I have a list of codes for that vehicle I believe. Whats the engine size?? Carbureted or fuel inj.???