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How far can you drive with the check engine light on?

I have a 2003 Dodge Neon with about 95K miles on it and this has not been my summer for car repairs. Just yesterday the check engine light came on so I took it to the shop, and they said that the catalytic converter needed to be replaced (quoting $765.00). I generally feel that the Conrad’s I take it to does good work, but I’d like to get a second opinion from my parent’s mechanic (and the guy who sold me the car), who is about 20 miles away on city streets. Can I drive it there safely without doing more damage to the car?

We get posts from people who have driven a year or more with the CEL light on. However, you should get the car fixed as soon as you can. If it really is the catalytic converter, shop for the best price; the dealer will be the most expensive.

The second opinion from another knowledgeable shop should confirm if it really is the converter, and you should get a price similar or less.

Yes, you can drive it…You can probably drive it until it fails an emissions test. Millions of cars are driving around with their CEL’s on…

By the way, depending on the trouble codes, it could just as easily be the rear oxygen sensor, which is the sensor that probably caused your light to come on…Post the code if you know what it is…

20 miles is nothing. I would not recommend driving for months in this state. The only time it is really serious is when it flashes.

I will admit I recently drove 1400 miles over a few weeks with a Check Engine Light on. Interestingly enough I was going to shop to get checked out and it finally went out as I was leaving my house. It has not appeared since.

Thanks for the responses! I don’t know the code, but I’ll be sure to ask before I get a second opinion.

As noted above, just stop if it starts flashing. Other than that you’ll be fine to get it there. And you are right to question the diagnosis. People regularly get cat converters replaced only to find the light on again. Whatever the code was it can appear for multiple reasons b/c that’s the way they work.

Good answers. You are safe to make the trip to your parents’ mechanic. The dreaded CHECK ENGINE light mostly relates only to emissions. The oil light and the temperature gauge are far more important. Unless, as Cigroller says, the same CE light starts flashing, you’re okay. If it does, pull over, turn it off and call AAA. Which you should get if you don’t have it.
But first, on the way to the parental mechanic, if there is an Autozone near you, go there first and ask them to check the code for you. The chain has recently updated its diagnostic capability and might be able pinpoint the exact repair. It helps a lot if you know what you want a mechanic to fix and get a price to fix it up front. GL.

A steady CEL means you have a problem, but it will not damage the engine to drive. What most people don’t consider is that when that CEL is on, you have no way of knowing if a second or third, maybe more serious problem may have occurred. So you don’t want to ignore it for months.

Anytime you get a CEL and take it to the shop, it is a good idea to get the actual codes. They will be in the format [P1234] That provides a lot more information than “It’s the converter” there is no code that says it’s the converter. That is someone’s interpretation.