Help!-what do I do?

My 99 toyota camry w/4cyl, the check engine lite came on and flashes, then stays on and flashes some more. I replaced the gas cap w/ a new one from Auto Zone(specific for that car) and I’ve disconnnected the battery on two different occasions to “reset the computer”- but it still comes on. I can’t take it to the dealer, I’m very money-stressed right now. Any suggestions?

While at AutoZone you should have had the codes read, you need to make a trip back to AutoZone and get the codes read, flashing check engine lights should not be ignored (or solid for that matter)

Unfortunately, there is no free solution to this problem, and at this point, nobody can tell you the ultimate cost of resolving it.

What I can tell you is that a flashing CEL indicates an engine misfire.
If the CEL was steadily illuminated, it would not indicate something as emergent as engine misfire.
You can reset the gas cap until the cows come home, but this will not stop the engine from misfiring, and will not stop the CEL from flashing, unfortunately.

Continuing to drive a car with a misfiring engine will lead to VERY expensive damage, such as destroying the catalytic converter, and possibly other types of damage. In other words, whatever it might cost to rectify the engine misfire situation will undoubtedly cost much less than the damage that will take place if you attempt to keep driving the car in this condition.

My best guess is that this engine has not had much maintenance for a while, as poor maintenance is one of the leading causes of engine misfire. If you are very lucky, just replacing old spark plugs (assuming that they are old) might resolve the situation. However, only a mechanic who can examine the car can tell you for sure.

Can you borrow some money temporarily from friends or relatives?
Putting off the diagnosis and cure for this problem is only going to cost you more in the long run.

Good luck!


  1. As others have already mentioned, a flashing “Check Engine” is an item that ABSOLUTELY needs to be taken care ASAP !!!
  2. The gas cap you purchased is not the cause of your issues. See if you could return it back.
  3. Autozone can scan you car for FREE, and tell you the codes/why your CEL is flashing. Write them down and post them here.

That 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. Some places will read them for FREE. Try Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts. Get the exact code (like P0123) not just their translation into English and post it back here.

Regarding warning lights:

  1. if the coolant temp light comes on, shut off the engine ASAP

  2. if the oil warning light comes on, shut off the engine ASAP

  3. if a FLASHING MIL/CEL comes on, shut off the engine ASAP

    ASAP means driving to the berm of the highway right now and not waiting for the next exit.

But if the MIL/CEL is not flashing, then it’s not an urgent indicator.

I agree with both prior responses, except that my personal experiences with a flashing check engine light had more to do with imminent engine failure problems (such as an overheating engine) or a condition that will result in stalling. Is the car running too hot, are you very low on oil, etc. Otherwise, definitely DO go back to AutoZone and ask them to diagnose the problem. A clerk will go out to your car and plug a device in and tell you what is happenening with your car, for free. If a part is indicated, such as a sensor, any mechanic should be able to replace the part for less than what a dealer will charge. Look up the cost of the part online before going to a mechanic, understanding that it is fair that the mechanic will charge you a 100 percent markup on any part they replace, which is still often far cheaper than what a dealer will charge you.
This car is old enough to expect that a fairly extensive maintenance catch-up may be required if you haven’t kept up with the maintenance schedule. If a misfire is indeed the problem, wires and plugs certainly would be the first thing to take care of if you have not already replaced the originals.
This is a very good car in terms of quality control. You don’t mention mileage but unless you are over 200,000 miles you should be okay if you have at least changed the oil and radiator fluids regularly.

Scanning for codes will NOT tell you which parts to replace. They will, however, point a competent mechanic in the right direction to begin diagnosing a problem. I believe AutoZone or one of the other parts houses was involved in a class action lawsuit a few years ago for scanning cars, telling the customer they needed to replace a part, then selling it to them. When the (often very expensive) part didn’t solve the problem, the customers were told they were out of luck since electronic parts are nonrefundable once installed. On all 1996 and newer cars, a flashing check engine light does indicate a dead miss. Fortunately for you, this is normally an easy problem to diagnose and repair. Many times, replacing the secondary ignition components (plugs/wires/cap/rotor) will resolve a misfire, provided they are well worn in the first place. Please note that a “tuneup” is not a cure-all for this problem, but is all too often needed and will sometimes resolve the situation. Other possible causes of a dead miss are primary ignition components (coils in DIS), clogged or bad fuel injector, or, rarely, internal engine damage.

“This is a very good car in terms of quality control.”

Quality control is important on a new or nearly new car.
On a car that is now at least 11 years old, excellent maintenance is far more important than the original level of quality control.

Also, the original level of quality control–be it excellent or poor–would be unlikely to have anything to do with a CEL that suddenly lit up on an 11 year old car with a probable odometer reading of well over 100k miles. This car has most likely seen very little maintenance over the past few years.