Seeing an engine light on a car can be a sign there is something significantly wrong with a car, however, sometimes it’s not always as it seems and some really great deals can be unearthed.
Would you buy a car with an engine light on?
After a full diagnosis of the fault and cost analysis, an informed decision can be made to see if the purchase makes sense.
Let’s Firstly Talk About What a Check Engine Light is
In its simplest form, the engine light will illuminate on the dashboard of your car to inform you of a ‘problem’ with some part of the engine. There is a long list of reasons an engine light can illuminate in a car, ranging from very serious issues to relatively minor ‘Quick fix’ issues.
For over 30 years now cars have become more and more reliant on computer technology to control and monitor performance. Modern cars rely on computer technology to run critical functions such as regulate fuel mixture and the timing of the engine speed.
The more modern and technologically advanced the vehicle the more it will be reliant on onboard computer systems to control it. If the car during operation identifies an issue anywhere in its system, its usual call of distress is to display the dreaded ‘ check engine light’ the mere sight and sound of the chime can make you sick to the pit of your stomach almost fearing the worst.
A check engine light does not always mean you need to pull over to the side of the road and summon a recovery vehicle, however, it certainly does mean that the car needs to be looked into as soon as possible.
Once a ‘check engine’ light is illuminated a fault code is stored within the cars memory, the fault code indicates what the problem with the car is likely to be.
The check engine light should be ignored at your own peril as continuing to drive the vehicle in the same condition could leave to further much more severe damage.
So What Does This Mean For Us?
As we have discussed, buying a car with a check engine light is not an automatic ban, the problem can be relatively minor and easy to repair.
A check engine light can be a great ‘ negotiation’ point to significantly lower the price on a vehicle as the vehicle will perhaps need repair, transportation and time in a garage to rectify the problem.
The majority of buyers will usually run a mile when they see a ‘check engine’ light on a car which will limit the competition for the car and put you in a stronger position as fewer people will want to buy this car. If you are prepared to spend a bit of time diagnosing the issue and figuring out how much it will cost then you can perhaps shave a large amount of money off the vehicle price.
Why would a seller sell a car with a check engine light cheaper?
Here are a few of the more common reasons we come across:
- Don’t understand what the problem is
- Don’t have the money to fix the problem
- Don’t have the time/patience to fix the problem
- Fed up with the car and want to cut their losses
Now that we have understood what the check engine light is, why it happens, how it can benefit us and why a seller would want to sell a car cheaper,
let’s see what we can do about it.
The first thing to do is to try and diagnose the problem the best you can, the starting point is to ask the seller what the ‘problem’ with the car is and ask for any ‘symptoms’ the car may be suffering from.
For example is the car ‘cutting out’ or idling rough etc, you may find the majority of the sellers may either not know or if they do, try and downplay any issues.
You need to inspect the car as you would normally, however, start by connecting an OBD fault code scanner to the car and pulling the fault code information.
An OBD scanner is a critical piece of equipment and should be part of everyone’s toolkit, it allows you to read valuable information from the diagnostic system of a car such as error codes and can now be picked up relatively inexpensively. You can check out our recommended Scanners HERE.
Once you have established the fault code you can use Google to get more information about the code and the causes and solutions to why the error exists, it can be something as simple as replacing a car’s fuel cap!
We suggest you test drive the vehicle if possible to see for yourself how the car behaves and if in fact does match up to the symptoms of the fault you may have identified.
The next stage will depend on your mechanical knowledge. if you are happy you have diagnosed the vehicle you can move onto the next step.
However, if have not, don’t be afraid to tell the seller that you will be taking the information away with you to do more research on what the fault is and that you are still serious in buying the car.
You can speak to a specialist and explain the symptoms and provide them with the fault code. They may be able to diagnose the problem instantly for you as it may be a common fault in that make/model.
If not and depending on the car it may be worth paying for a mechanic to carry out an inspection for you, provide the mechanic with the fault code to give them a good indication of where to start looking and to confirm a diagnosis.
Do not rush this step as it can be a fine line in buying something which you may regret in the future, if you miss out on the deal so be it, do not commit to the deal until you are confident you know what the issue is, do not be overcome with FOMO (Fear of missing out).
Once diagnoses are complete this step is relatively straightforward.
You need to establish the costs of the parts and the cost of the labour required to fix the issue.
You may fancy your own DIY skills and if that is the case there are Youtube videos pretty much-covering everything nowadays, however, if fixing cars is not your speciality then you may opt for a mechanic to do this for you.
We suggest you get a quote for parts and labour and then get a quote for labour only.
Use both figures to see if it’s worth you buying your parts yourself.
You don’t always need to buy brand new car parts.
Depending on the car, you will probably be able to find a lot of similar cars being ‘stripped’ or ‘ broken’ by local scrap yards selling perfectly good parts for pennies off the pound.
A great place to look for these cars are
- Facebook Marketplace
- Shpock Mobile App
Simply typing something like ‘ Ford Fiesta 2009 breaking’ should bring back the results.
Once you have established what the fault is and how much it is going to cost you to fix, you are in a position to make the offer to the seller. We suggest reducing the cost of the repair from the offer price along with optionally another £100-£200 for the inconvenience of you getting this done.
We suggest every car is taken on a case by case basis, you may find that after diagnosis and cost analysis the deal is simply not worth the hassle in which case you walk away from the deal.
On the other hand, you may find that by doing this you can pick up a great car for much cheaper and get it fixed relatively inexpensively and flip it on for profit.