Blog Car Care Advice What Does the Nissan Check Engine Light Mean? (+ How to Fix)
Car Care Advice

What Does the Nissan Check Engine Light Mean? (+ How to Fix)

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That unexpected yellow light, AKA the Nissan check engine light on your Nissan Altima, Rogue, or Kicks, is like a secret Morse code from your vehicle, urging you to pay attention. 

It’s your vehicle’s way of saying, “Howdy! We’ve got a problem.”

Before you break into a cold sweat, know that occasionally, it’s just a minor hiccup, like a loose gas cap that needs a fix. In other cases, it could be something more serious that requires you to take your Nissan to a service center.  

Let’s address the common Nissan check engine light causes, what to do when this warning comes on, and more. 

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Let’s dive in! 

What Causes the Nissan Check Engine Light to Turn On?

There could be plentiful causes of an illuminated check engine light on your Nissan Altima or Kicks — ranging from a minor issue to a catastrophic one. Let’s discuss some of them in detail. 

1. Loose Gas Cap

By far, the most common problem that triggers the Nissan check engine light (also called the malfunction indicator light) is a fault with your gas cap


A broken, missing, or loose gas cap will allow fuel vapors to escape from the gas tank, reducing the fuel pressure. This will increase harmful emissions from your Nissan and affect its fuel economy and gas mileage. Your car’s computer will also register the P0457 trouble code

Note: You should replace gas caps as soon as you notice any wear signs and at around 50,000 miles. 

2. Catalytic Converter Failure

Your Nissan’s catalytic converter is a critical component of the exhaust system that helps convert harmful car emissions into safe gases like steam. 

However, lack of maintenance can cause it to clog and overheat. This can trigger your check engine indicator light and a related fault code. It’ll also negatively impact your fuel economy. Moreover, leaving a failing catalytic converter unattended for too long can lead to costly repairs and a failed emissions test.  

Note: Ideally, replace your catalytic converter every 10 years or sooner if it starts malfunctioning. 

3. Faulty Spark Plugs or Plug Wiring

The spark plugs help ignite the air-fuel mix in the combustion chamber, and the spark plug wires help transfer this spark from the ignition coil to the spark plugs.

But when one or more spark plug or their wiring wears out, it can cause a misfire and trigger a flashing check engine light. Frequent misfires from faulty plugs or plug wires can lead to slow acceleration and damage other car parts like the O2 sensor and ignition coil. It could even lead to costly repairs like complete engine failure. 

Note: Just like a brake service, you should replace your spark plugs and plug wires with new inventory after every 30,000 miles. 

4. Malfunctioning Mass Air Flow Sensor 

The mass airflow sensor (MAF sensor) measures the amount of air entering the engine and helps the Engine Control Unit (ECU) regulate the right air-fuel mix.

However, exposure to dirty air could clog and damage your mass airflow sensor, which will affect its reading. MAF sensor failure can lead to rough idling or trouble starting and an active malfunction indicator light.

Note: Your mass air flow sensor will usually last 80,000 miles to 150,000 miles. You should only replace it with a new Nissan inventory if it malfunctions. 

5. Faulty Oxygen Sensor

The oxygen sensor measures the unburned oxygen in the exhaust system and helps the ECU produce the right air-fuel mix for combustion. 

However, a faulty sensor can cause your Nissan vehicle to burn more fuel and affect your gas mileage. That’s why oxygen sensor failure could be a possible issue leading to misfires, engine stalling, poor acceleration, and an illuminated check engine light. Your car’s ECU will also register fault code P0036 or P0037

Note: You should replace an oxygen sensor with an OEM part only when it fails. 

Now you know the potential triggers for an illuminated check engine light. 
But what should be your next step? 
Let’s find out! 

What to Do If Your Nissan Check Engine Light Turns On?

Your reaction to a check engine warning light will depend on the pattern and color in which this warning light appears. 

1. Engine Light Illuminates Under Certain Circumstances 

If your check engine indicator light comes on momentarily while driving and then goes off, it could have been a temporary glitch. But if this happens again, try observing your vehicle’s performance. If the engine light is accompanied by a change in performance, it could indicate that something is about to fail, and your Nissan vehicle may eventually shut down. 

2. Engine Light Is Constantly Lit

If the check engine warning Light is constantly on in yellow color and you don’t notice any performance drop, it could indicate that there’s something that needs your attention or that a schedule service like an oil change is due. For the latter, it may also be accompanied by a “service engine soon” light. 

3. Flashing Check Engine Light

If your Nissan’s check engine light starts blinking while driving or appears in red, you should pull over immediately and get your vehicle towed to a service center. A flashing or red light indicates a severe issue like a misfire and should be addressed promptly, or else it can lead to severe engine problems. 

Once the underlying issue is addressed, the engine light should turn off on its own, or the mechanic will reset it. But if they forget to do it, you can try resetting it yourself. 

How To Perform a Check Engine Light Reset? 

Here are two quick ways to reset the engine light: 

A. Using an OBD II scanner: Connect an OBD II scanner to your car’s ECU, delete the trouble code, and reset the ECU. 

B. Disconnecting the battery: 

  1. Turn off your vehicle.
  2. Next, disconnect the negative terminal of your car battery. 
  3. Wait for 10 minutes, then reconnect the battery terminal.  
  4. Doing this should clear the code and reset the malfunction indicator light. 

Since the check engine warning light comes on for various engine problems, a proper diagnosis of the possible issue using an OBD2 scanner is important. Let’s find out the costs involved.

How Much Does a Check Engine Light Diagnosis Cost?

A CEL diagnosis could cost anywhere from $88-$144 for old or new vehicles, depending on your Nissan model. Based on the trouble code, the mechanic will suggest the required engine repair and give you an additional estimate. 

But can you really ignore this light and continue driving?

How Long Can You Drive With a Nissan CEL?

Ideally, we don’t recommend driving with an active check engine warning light.

But if the yellow light comes on while you are driving and there’s no option to get your vehicle towed, you can continue driving for 50-100 miles. However, try to limit your speed to under 45 mph. Also, avoid hard acceleration or deceleration or driving steep uphill to avoid complete engine failure. 

Wrapping Up 

The Nissan check engine light is an essential warning light that alerts you of any potential car issue on both old and new vehicles. Sometimes, it could be a minor issue like worn gas caps or a more severe cause like a misfire due to a faulty sensor. In either case, a proper diagnosis at the earliest can save the day.

Why not get the CEL diagnosed right in your driveway?

With AutoNation Mobile Service, you can easily schedule service online and have an expert technician come to you to diagnose and fix the engine light issue. Our mechanics always use a new inventory of the required OEM part. You also get a 12,000 miles |12,000 months warranty on all repairs. 

Contact us for a quick gas cap replacement or other vehicle service like an oil change, brake service, engine repair, and more.