Last Updated on February 18, 2024 by Kristin

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So you’re driving your rental car and the “check engine” light suddenly turns on. You brush it off, hoping it will go away. However, it stays lit. Here’s what to do if your rental car’s engine light comes on.

Why Is My Rental Car’s Engine Light On?

A rental car’s engine might turn on for any number of reasons, ranging from minor problems to bigger issues that need the help of a mechanic to fix. Note that a blinking engine light tends to mean that the car is experiencing a more urgent issue,  such as the engine is misfiring. However, it’s important to take the situation seriously any time an engine light illuminates.

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Here are a few common reasons why a car rental engine light might come on:

The gas cap might be loose

If your engine light comes on and the car is running fine, there’s a good chance the culprit is that the gas cap is loose. Find a safe space to stop the car and try tightening the cap. If that was the problem, the engine light should turns off within another 20 ro 30 miles.

Fuel problems

The check engine light can also come on if you or someone else put the wrong type of fuel in a car. If you think you may have inadvertantly used the wrong fuel, call the rental company and explain the situation before continuing to drive the vehicle.

Component issues

There may be a problem with the car’s sensors or parts. This could be caused by issues with any number of components ranging from the car’s oxygen sensor, mass airflow sensor, spark plugs, fuel injector or catalytic converter. It’s important to call the rental company so that an agent can check the car’s maintenance history and give advice about next steps.

What to Do When Your Rental Car’s Engine Light Comes On

While not exactly convenient, the best thing to do when your rental car’s engine light comes on is to stop in a safe spot and report the situation to the rental car company’s roadside assistance hotline as soon as possible. If the engine light is flashing, stop driving as soon as you can.

The rental company may advise you to drive the car to a nearby rental location or may send roadside assistance if the issue appears to be serious. Be sure to tell the agent if the engine light is flashing.

One of the most important things to remember is that you should never perform repairs on your own or bring the car to a repair shop without first talking to the rental company. While tightening a loose gas cap is fine, the company must authorize any repairs so that you don’t void your rental agreement.

Am I Responsible for Repairing the Rental Car?

You may be wondering whether the rental car company is about to send you a huge bill for the damages. If the check engine light comes on because of a component or mechanical issue, the rental car company should pay for any repairs and offer you a new car for the rest of your reservation.

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However, if the check engine light flashed on due to an issue you could have avoided — like putting the wrong fuel in the car — then it’s likely you will have to pay for flushing out the tank and any damages.

No matter what, remember to always ask the rental car company before taking any action to tow or repair the car. Even if you would like to use your own roadside assistance through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or another company, it’s best to get the green light from the rental car company first.