Cold weather could cause more warning lights inside your vehicle

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) --  You may notice a few more lights illuminated on your dashboard right now and you can thank the jarring drop in temperatures.

Monday afternoon inside Eddie Posey Garage was a blur of activity with mechanics working on vehicles -- many coming in with warning lights.

"We can pretty much guarantee when we have a big drop in temperatures, it is going to be a busy day around here," garage owner Bryan Crisp says.

Crisp recommends you don't ignore those warning lights completely because they could be cold related or may be signaling a more severe problem with your vehicle.

When someone brings a car to Crisp and his team, they use specialized computers to run diagnostics on the car and find out what is wrong.

Tire Pressure Monitor Light

When it comes to our cars, steep temperature drops can trigger a sign of winter that we don’t welcome: a yellow or orange low tire pressure warning light.

When your light comes on, your car is simply telling you that you need more air in your tire and this time of year, the warning is usually related to chilly nights.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Several vehicles that are 2000 and newer cars and trucks are equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitor System which triggers your dashboard warning light when the air in your tires drops just a few PSI below the recommended tire psi.
  • Your tire pressure will decrease about 1 psi for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the outside air temperature drops. (Likewise, it increases about 1 psi for every 10 degrees when the temperature rises.) If your tire pressure was last adjusted during the day or  after just coming off the road, the air pressure could be related to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. So now, the temperature drops over night overnight temperature hits the low 40s, your tire pressure will drop down by 5 psi, almost certainly turning on the tire pressure warning light.
  • To remedy your low tire pressure light, a simply check or adjustment of the air in your tires is all that is required. You can do this at a local gas station, or bring it to your local mechanic.
  • Make sure you let your mechanic know that the tire pressure light was on in the morning when it was cold. If you drive your car down to the local shop, the tire pressure will rise from where it was in the morning because the tires will heat up. Parking the car in the afternoon sun will also boost the tire pressure falsely.
  • In most vehicles, your TPMS light will turn off once the tires are properly inflated, according to the Car Care Council.

What does the 'Check Engine' light mean?

A glowing ‘Check Engine’ light doesn't mean you have to immediately pull the car over to the side of the road, but it does mean you should get the car checked out as soon as possible. Ignoring the warning light could severely damage engine components and incur additional repair expenses.

If your ‘Check Engine’ light comes on, first check the gas cap to make sure it wasn’t left loose after refueling. Sometimes this can trigger the ‘Check Engine’ light. If the cap was loose, the light should go out after a few short trips.

If the gas cap wasn’t the problem and the light remains on steady, have the system checked out as soon as possible. A light that flashes requires more prompt attention, indicating a more severe condition that must be checked out immediately to prevent damage to the catalytic converter. When you experience a flashing light, minimize driving at high speeds or under heavy loads, according to Crisp.

When scheduling service, make sure the automotive shop that diagnoses your car has professional technicians who are properly trained and certified for OBDII diagnosis and repair. The technician will connect your vehicle's computer to a diagnostic computer, which will provide a “trouble” code indicating why the ‘Check Engine’ light was activated.

While the diagnostic computer is connected to your car, the technician can check the idle speed, throttle response, engine temperature, fuel system pressure, manifold vacuum, exhaust emission levels and many other key indicators. Once the problem is diagnosed and fixed, your car's computer makes sure everything is back to normal, and then turns off the ‘Check Engine’ light.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers.