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Dash light "take to toyota dealer"

Just got a call from my sister. She has a dash light with the explanation “take to Toyota dealer”. The owner’s manual isn’t much help. She’s dropping by here so we can help her figure out what to do. Anybody know what this means?

It means the ECU detected a problem. You need an OBD-II reader to determine what that problem is.

There should be other warning lights on, steering, brake or hybrid malfunction.

Thanks. She’s here now. It’s the “check engine” light. No other lights are on.

Have called the nearest dealer but they could not find a “service advisor” … awaiting a call back from them.

The presence of the Check Engine Light means that the car’s OBD system has detected a problem, and the problem could range anywhere from a loose gas cap, to the need for new spark plugs, to the need for a major and expensive repair–and a few hundred varied possibilities in between. From afar, nobody can diagnose the problem, so–a phone call to the dealership is essentially useless except for making an appointment.

The bottom line is that somebody needs to read the diagnostic code(s) that have been stored by the OBD system. If the car is under warranty, then definitely it should be the dealer’s service department that does this. If the car is no longer under warranty, any competent mechanic can hook up his code reader and do the same thing.

You can even have the code(s) read–gratis–at an auto parts store like Auto Zone or Advance Auto, although they can’t do repairs and you would still need to take the car to a mechanic.

Once you find out about the specific codes that have been stored, come back to this thread to post them, and some of us will try to give you more specific advice.

Thanks, will let you know.

She can take it to any competent repair shop and many auto parts stores to get the codes read. Many, but not all, do this for free. With codes and a model, model year, and engine/transmission options, we can help further.

If you do decide to follow busted’s advice, be sure to also post the year, make, model and mileage. That matters in trying to help you.

Um… the dealer could not find a service advisor? That’s strange.
Something suggests to me that the actual conversation might not have been on target, perhaps some terminology got confused. Let us know what they say when they call back.

I think when they said they couldn’t find a service advisor, it mean that all of the SA’s were busy with other customers.

OP: As mentioned above, the car’s computer has detected some sort of a problem and letting your sister know about it. It’s part of the cars diagnostic software. Your sister paid for this software as part of the car’s purchase price, so she might as well make use of it.

Edit: If the car remains under warranty, a visit to the dealer is probably best. If the warranty has expired, most any local inde shop that specializes in Toyotas or Asian cars could handle it too. For less money probably.

There are over 100 reasons for that light to come on. You need to plug in a scan tool to retrieve the fault code. Some auto parts stores like Autozone will perform this service for free.

Most faults are emissions related and there is no need to panic about the car breaking down.

Thanks to all. It’s a 1998 Corolla, I don’t know the mileage but I’m sure it’s over 100K. Yes, a SA was just not available, and did call back about ten minutes later. He told her basically what’s been posted here – that it could be a lot of things, some minor, some dire. The comments here were very helpful to her in deciding to believe the SA and to take it to the dealer despite rush hour traffic. That’s interesting about getting an auto parts store to read the codes, but I figured that getting that done in a hurry at rush hour would have been a significant hassle, and she did not need more hassle when she’d just landed after four days away and wanted to get home without any more trouble.

It was a loose gas cap. I had read that possibility here and even in the owner’s manual, but she had last had the gas cap off several days and a couple hundred miles earlier, so we didn’t bother. Not sure how the “loose gas cap” thing works, but I gather that just adjusting the cap might not have cleared the indicator anyway. The only other possible clue is that the car had been parked in an airport parking garage for about four days since the previous time it had been driven, though I have no idea what that could do. No, the gas cap had not been noticeably disturbed, and she did not notice any gas missing. She did turn out to be two quarts low on oil, but don’t see any way that could be related.

My gf has been hoarding coupons from this dealer. She bought prepaid maintenance with her car (a decision she regrets) and so cannot use the coupons they constantly mail her. One of those coupons was for a free diagnostic check. It expired four months ago, but the dealer has told her in the past that they often honor out-of-date coupons. Sure enough, they did – my sister got the $100 of diagnostics completely free, didn’t even have to pay sales tax. Didn’t even take her credit card out of her purse. And she got to have dinner with us before driving from Tampa to Gainesville.

Thanks again!


“She did turn out to be two quarts low on oil, but don’t see any way that could be related.”

It’s not related to the lit-up CEL, but it is related to how much longer she can get this car to last if this is her approach to car care. If she is unwilling or unable to lift the hood in order to check the dipstick every couple of weeks, perhaps you can do it for her.

Running 2 qts low on oil is bad for any engine, but when an engine has a very small oil capacity–such as the one in this old Corolla–it can be fatal to the engine. Try to impress upon her that she can’t afford to keep abusing her car as she has been doing.

Thanks. She knows and has been checking and adding oil regularly. (Yes, she does it herself.) This is the first time it’s been this low and she knows she needs to find out why it dropped faster than she expected. I just emailed her a reminder.

She does have a problem reading the dipstick. I noticed that the dipstick is discolored, which caused me trouble reading it. I’ve told her she should replace it. (I verified her technique – allowing the oil to drain down before checking, and wiping the stick before measuring.)

I know about the low-oil thing the hard way. About 30 years ago I borrowed my parents’ van to do some moving. It had an oil gauge (don’t recall whether it was supposed to measure level or pressure) instead of an idiot light. Unfortunately I was an idiot … I started the van (which I had not driven in a long time), noticed the oil gauge registering nothing, and assumed the gauge was broken. Very expensive idiocy.


“I noticed that the dipstick is discolored”

Hmmm…some Toyota Corolla engines have a known problem with “sludging”, so I am wondering if that discoloration might be the result of a build-up of damaging oil sludge in the engine.
One of the other effects of a build-up of oil sludge is a rapid increase in oil consumption.

What can you tell us about the intervals that she uses for oil changes (both odometer mileage and the equally important elapsed time factor)?

Also–what is her usual driving pattern?
Is she in the habit of driving less than 5 miles and then shutting the engine off?

And, when you say that she checks the oil “regularly”…how often does she actually check it?

Hmm indeed. Interesting about sludge. Any idea where to find more info?

I’ll ask her about checking and changing.

Currently her pattern is predominantly around-town, so yes 5 miles or less. A lot of the car’s mileage was accumulated during many 400-mile trips between 6 and 12 years ago.


IIRC, it was the 2.2 liter 4 cylinder engines made from the late '90s to the early '00s that were subject to sludge problems. So, if that is the engine that is in her car, then she has got a sludge-prone engine as a result of bad design.

Additionally, her predominant driving pattern of 5 miles or less can easily lead to sludge build-up in even the best-designed engine if oil change intervals are too long for that driving pattern. With that type of driving pattern, I would suggest that she change the oil every 4 months, no matter how few miles she has accumulated in that time span.

If you want more info, simply “googling” words combinations like “Toyota” and “sludge” should produce a lot of hits.

Looks like the 1998 Corolla had the 1.8 liter engine.

She admits to having been lax about checking it the past few months. (She’s been through some significant personal turmoil.)

Found out more than I imagined about sludge … which reminds me, I probably need to change the oil in my car … :wink:


Good for you and your sister getting this diagnosed and repaired so quickly. Best of luck.

With an older car, the dipstick can get a film on it. You can clean it with a degreaser to make it easiar to see.