Sorry to butt in on brother HMAC300 again, but your mechanic is wrong. Not all diagnostic fault codes turn the check engine light on, so what would be the point of having them if they could not be read?
There may be one problem with having the people at an auto parts store read the codes. Often they can only read them on 1996 and newer vehicles. That is when the OBD2, (on-board diagnostics, version two) emissions system was mandated to be used for all car brands sold in the U.S. Every manufacturer had their own proprietary system up to that point, and many auto parts stores no longer have the equipment to read codes on those cars.
You have it easier though. Chrysler made reading the fault codes yourself much easier than any other manufacturer. Cycle the ignition switch from "off" to "run" three times within five seconds without cranking the engine. Leave it in "run", then count the flashes of the check engine light. There will be from one to five flashes for the first digit, a short pause, then a series of flashes for the second digit, followed by a longer pause before the next code flashes the same way. If you think you miscounted, turn the ignition switch off, then back on once. Cranking the engine takes the computer out of test mode. The last code will be "55" which just means "end of message". If you get code 12, that can be ignored. It just means the battery was recently disconnected.
There are dozens of potential fault codes, but only about half of them refer to things that could adversely affect emissions. Those are the codes that turn on the check engine light. The whole purpose of these fault codes is for the engine computer to store that information when it detects a problem, so it can be read and recorded later. Without that capability, there is no way your mechanic would have any idea which circuit or system to diagnose further for the cause of an intermittent problem.
What your mechanic might have meant, is if you are experiencing an intermittent problem, the check engine light might turn on during that event, and that is when the problem is occurring. Even though the problem stops acting up, and the light goes off, the fault code is still in memory and can be read. If the problem does not act up for a long period of time, the codes will self-erase after fifty engine starts. They can also be erased by disconnecting the negative battery cable for a few seconds, but that is not the goal until the problem has been solved. Erasing codes never makes a problem go away. Instead, the goal is to avoid disconnecting the battery or allowing it to run dead because you would lose that valuable information.
You can get a general idea of the severity of the problem by how the check engine light acts. As I mentioned, the light will never turn on for about half of the problems that can be detected. The best example of that is the code, "Engine running cold too long". The coolant must reach a specific temperature within six minutes of starting the engine. When it takes too long, that code is set. Problem is every Chrysler product in the northern winter climate will have that code in memory if the owner allows the engine to idle too long to warm up. That code never turns on the check engine light.
For those codes that do turn the light on, when the problem is intermittent and it stops acting up, the light will turn off while you are driving if the cause is relatively minor. If the problem is more severe, and it stops acting up, the light will remain "latched" on until you turn the ignition switch off and restart the engine. Then it will remain off until the problem acts up again. If it is still more serious, even if the problem is not currently acting up, the light will be on all the time. That indicates the most serious of conditions as far as increased emissions, not necessarily seriousness of repair cost. Where it can cause real problems though is when people ignore the light, or put tape over it.
There is one more condition that can occur on the 1996 and newer cars. That is the check engine light is flashing. That means you are supposed to stop the engine right away because too much unburned gas is going into the exhaust system where it will burn in the catalytic converter and overheat it. That can melt the catalyst and plug the exhaust system. That can turn a minor repair, like a worn spark plug, into a very expensive repair.
Two things can happen when the check engine light is ignored. First, the problem could be relatively minor and inexpensive to repair, but what if a really serious problem develops that will turn into an expensive repair? You will never know it because the check engine light is already on and you will continue to ignore it.
The other potential problem is the computer is constantly testing all of its sensors and other circuitry, and it looks for discrepancies between various operating conditions and sensor readings. There is always a long list of conditions that must be met for any fault code to be set, and one of those conditions is certain other, related codes cannot already be set. For example, the computer knows when the engine has been off for at least six hours, the coolant temperature sensor and the intake air temperature sensor had better be reporting the same temperature. When they disagree, it has ways of determining which one is wrong. However, if you unplug the intake air temperature sensor, a fault code will immediately be set related to that. Even though you reconnect it, the computer may assume that sensor's readings cannot be trusted, so it will suspend any other tests that rely on that sensor for comparisons. If an actual problem develops with the coolant temperature sensor circuit, and the tests are suspended, the defect may go undetected.
Where we run into a problem is we read the codes to be able to give you a rough estimate for the cost of repairs. At least we know which circuit we need to look at. You give approval, and the mechanic starts the diagnosis. Most of the time the repairs are fairly straightforward. Half of the time there ss a bad sensor. Half of the time the wiring and connectors for that sensor are the cause of the fault code. Once the repairs are authorized by you, and completed, the mechanic erases the fault codes and goes on a test-drive. That is when the suspended tests resume, and any additional, related problems are first detected. The check engine light turns right back on again, and we have to tell you there are more problems to diagnose and more parts will be needed. Having to tell you that is extremely frustrating for us, and uninformed car owners assume we are trying to defraud them or sell things that aren't needed. They also often assume we did not diagnose the original problem correctly or repair it correctly. This is an especially big problem on GM vehicles related to defective anti-lock brake wheel speed sensors. Multiple failures are very common because they happen so frequently, but only the first one will be detected. It is not until that one is replaced that the tests resume, and the second defective sensor is detected. This is mostly a problem when the first problem is ignored for a long time, as in "when I get the money". When the first problem is repaired right away, it becomes evident it was repaired correctly when the warning light no longer turns on.
HMAC300 is a busy boy and does not have as much time as I do to dispense all this wondrous information. Hopefully this will help you help him solve your problem. If I had to guess, I would suspect a problem with the crankshaft position sensor, distributor pickup assembly, or MAP sensor, but I am only saying that so I can say, "I told you so", when you post the solution.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016 AT 4:59 PM