Foreign Check Engine Light Template



I own a 1998 Volvo V-90. I purchased it used in 1999 from a dealer that had purchased a fleet of similar vehicles that had been used as lease vehicles in Canada.

In Maryland, we have to have the auto emissions system checked. My car is clean. That is, it always passes the emissions check in terms of exhaust quality with flying colors. There’s only one problem.

I am consistently told that the check engine light does not go on. That is, in fact, incorrect. What actually occurs is that the light template in my car does not say “check engine.” Instead, it has, as a symbol, the Greek letter “lambda.” However, the “trigger” for the light to go on is exactly the same.

Motor vehicle officials in Maryland insist that the Federal government requires a true “check engine” light. That is, the light must say “check engine” and a symbol will not do.

To remedy this problem will cost between $250-$350.

Is there any way to avoid this expense? After all, the light works, I know that “lambda” equals “check engine,” and the exhaust is clean.


interesting problem! Perhaps it is enough to past a label on the dash saying “Lambda=check engine”.


Maybe you need to call the state first and verify the truthfulness of what you were told by the inspection station.
A quick look at the State of Maryland website on inspections states that a vehicle will fail inspection if the “Check Engine Light” or SIMILAR light illuminates during the testing.

JMHO, but Lamda falls into the similar category.


I have not checked, but I think “or similar” is meant to include things like ABS lights. That’s why I got the ABS fixed on the '94 Taurus before I took it in for emissions insp here in MD.

MD MVA does let you ask questions of real, helpful human beings (tel nr on their web site), but I notice that OP says “motor vehicle officials in Maryland insist that the Federal requirement…”, so maybe he has talked to MD MVA, and now he has to talk to the Feds. Maybe do Bill Russell’s label with a ‘yellow sticky’ – MD emissions insp is only every two years.

Enough barracks lawyering. Good luck.


Do you have an owner’s manual that states that? How about a notarized statement from Volvo USA or a dealer indicating what you say. You may need to deal with the state regulatory agency. I suspect it can be worked out. The local inspector likely has no authority to do anything on their own.


I actually contacted the State. They claim that they are bound by a federal requirement that the light actually say “Check Engine” and that a mere symbol will not suffice.


try this:

it’s a federal gov site,, where you can write them an email for help, or call them at 1-877-378-5457


Take it to another inspection station. DON’T bring up the question of the symbol to the inspector. Maybe the inspector there will have seen a Volvo before, and not have his / her head locked in “STUPID MODE”.


In many foreign countries, an oxygen sensor is called a lambda sensor, so I suspect this light may very well be like an old “O2 sensor” light-- that is that it only comes on to report a fault in the oxygen sensor, as opposed to a full-function check engine light that’s required by US law. You might try doing some asking around in a Volvo-specific forum.


I would contact the dealer who sold you the car. In order to bring them into the US, the vehicles had to be certified for US use, to include lights, speedometer, dash symbols, etc. He should have a letter from his registered importer (if he isn’t one) certifying that they meet US specs or negotiated equivalents. Check the NTSHA site for importing a vehicle from Canada. As I recall there are three ways to get certified, and the dealer who sold you the car had to get certified under one of them. If he can provide you with the no-bull written certification, you meet all US requirements, by definition. Retain and show the documentation when needed.


good point


SAAB was one of the first to use the Lambda system starting back in the mid 70s. Lambda, in the auto world, simply means an ECM comtrolled fuel/emissions system.

I don’t know that I’d put a lot of faith into what the inspector or a state employee would say. How many of them even know what the word Lambda means?
The wording from the MD. site plainly states “or similar light” so what did they say about that little phrase?

The Lambda light means the same thing as the CEL. In earlier versions of ECM controlled vehicles they may be referred to as O2 lamps (not really correct).


Here is the EPA list of approved cars that can be imported from Canada and indicates where the emission statement/importer statement should be. This is fromt he EPA link from the NTHSA Canadian Import article.

  1. Clean Air Act Section 216 defines an importer of vehicles or engines for resale as a “manufacturer.” An importer for resale must therefore comply with the labeling requirements of 40 CFR ?86.0xx-35, where xx is the model year of the vehicle imported, e.g. ?86.095-35. The importer must affix the following label in a readily visible position in the vehicle engine compartment (if light-duty) or on the engine if heavy duty:

This vehicle or engine was originally produced by (manufacturer) in (month and year of original production) for sale in Canada. It has been imported by (company name, address and telephone number) and conforms to U.S. emission regulations applicable to the (year) model year.

  1. An importer for resale must also comply with the maintenance instruction requirement of 40 CFR ?86.0xx-38 (see above), e.g. ?86.085-38, and the record keeping requirements of 40 CFR ?86.0xx-7 (see above), e.g. ?86.078-7 retaining records of the importation for six years, as applicable.


All 1998 model year light duty and heavy duty gasoline-fueled vehicles, including motorcycles, except for:

Volvo V70 built prior to September 1, 1997.
All 1998 model year light duty and heavy duty diesel-fueled vehicles built January 1, 1998 or later.

(See the Canadian compliance label on the door jamb for build date. The compliance label states that “this vehicle conforms to all applicable standards prescribed under the Canadian motor vehicle safety regulations in effect on the date of manufacture” in both English and French).


All 1999 model year light duty and heavy duty vehicles, both gasoline and diesel-fueled, and motorcycles.

A potential issue I see is that the importer could destroy his records in 2005 or 2006. On the other hand, NHTSA only mentions headlights and speedometer in their conformance information – apparently all other issues can be waived.

On emissions, EPA does not mention and in fact shows that all 1998 Canadian vehicles imported meet all emissions requirements.

Combine those two bits of info together, and I would ask the inspector to produce the exact statement from either NTSHA or EPA to back up his claim.