Last Updated on August 30, 2022
Nobody wants to see lights staying on the dash after they start everything up, but did you know that some lights don’t necessarily mean there’s a problem? That’s the case with the service engine soon light, so you can take a big sigh of relief.
But just because it doesn’t mean there’s a problem doesn’t mean you should just ignore it. We’ll break down everything you need to know here, including what it means, how to get it to go away, and some of its shortfalls.
What Does “Service Engine Soon” Mean?
If you start up your car and see a “service engine soon” light, it’s only natural to wonder what it means. The short answer is that it’s a light that reminds you to complete a specific routine service action like an oil change, an air filter change, or a transmission fluid flush.
However, it’s worth noting that this light isn’t always completely accurate. Service engine soon lights typically work on a countdown with the odometer on a preset interval and some auto manufacturers let you go in and change the interval.
The service engine light typically doesn’t consider the type of oil you used during the last oil change, the driving conditions, or any upgraded parts you’re using.
For instance, if the auto manufacturer sets the oil change requirement to every 3,000 miles but you’re using full synthetic oil with an oil change interval up to 10,000 miles, the service engine soon light simply isn’t right.
And on the other end of things, the initial requirement might be every 10,000 miles, but if you’re using an oil that only lasts 3,000 miles it won’t come on when it should.
Finally, keep in mind that if an unethical mechanic goes in and changes the frequency interval it might come on more often than it should, sending you back for more oil changes and making them more money.
When it’s working the way it should it’s a great tool to help keep you on track, but you shouldn’t just blindly trust it.
See Also: How to Reset “Service AdvanceTrac” Light
Causes of a “Service Engine Soon” Light Coming ON
There are a few potential reasons your vehicle might have a service engine soon light on, which is why we wanted to highlight a few of the most common reasons a service engine soon light might turn on.
#1 – Oil Change
With just about every modern car, when the service engine soon light comes on, this is what it’s telling you to do. Some manufacturers may have a slightly different message variations, but the meaning is similar.
A few vehicles program more routine maintenance actions into the service engine soon light, but most of the time it’s just trying to tell you it’s time for an oil change.
#2 – Air Filter Change
While an oil change is the most likely reason for a service engine soon light, another possibility is that it’s time to change the air filter (or clean it in case of a reusable filter like K&N).
Air filters typically last between 15,000 and 30,000 miles depending on the quality of the filter.
#3 – Transmission Service
This is probably the most unlikely reason your service engine soon light comes on, but it’s worth looking into. Look into the manufacturer’s recommended service interval for the transmission fluid.
Recommendations typically range from every 60,000 to every 100,000 miles.
Is It Safe To Continue Driving?
It is absolutely safe to continue driving with a service engine soon light. This light is completely different from a check engine light, and it’s simply saying it’s time to take your vehicle in for routine maintenance.
While you don’t want to keep driving around indefinitely with this light on, your vehicle isn’t about to break down either. Simply figure out what maintenance your vehicle needs, if your vehicle even needs maintenance, and go from there.
How To Reset “Service Engine Soon” Light
Just because you complete the recommended maintenance action doesn’t mean the service engine soon light will turn off. That’s because these lights work directly with the ECU and odometer, and it has no way of knowing you actually completed the work.
The bad news is that the steps necessary to reset the light vary from vehicle manufacturer to vehicle manufacturer, so it’s hard to tell you exactly what you need to do. Simply put, what works in a Ford won’t work in a BMW or a Nissan. Still, we’ll highlight some of the most common ways here.
- The first way is if you have an automotive scan tool. If you do, they often have a feature to reset these lights and they work for every vehicle with an OBD-II outlet.
- If you don’t have a scan tool don’t worry though. See if you can’t cycle through any dashboard settings with a button. If you can, find the oil service screen and hold in the button at that point, or see if there’s an “oil reset” button and hold it in then.
- Next, if your vehicle has an advanced center console, the oil reset button might be inside one of the settings there.
- Finally, try turning the key to the “on” position without starting the engine. Then depress the accelerator three times within ten seconds.
It’s hard to say which of these methods will work for your vehicle since it varies by manufacturer, but one of them should. Check your owner’s manual or a model specific repair manual to confirm the reset method.
Service Engine vs Check Engine Light
The service engine and the check engine lights are not the same thing. A service engine light tells you it’s time to take your vehicle in for routine maintenance like an oil change or a transmission flush.
Meanwhile, a check engine light is actively telling you that a sensor on the vehicle is giving a faulty reading. The problem could be the sensor, or it could be a sign your vehicle is having a more significant problem.
Even if you reset a “Check Engine” light, the light will eventually reappear if the problem hasn’t actually been fixed.
In short, a service engine soon light doesn’t mean anything is wrong, a check engine light tells you there’s a problem.