Most people know what a check engine light means, and you might even know what a few more of the lights up your vehicle’s dash mean. But the service engine soon light is a newer light that some vehicles have, and if you didn’t always drive a vehicle with this light, it can be a little confusing when it shows up for the first time.
But what does a service engine soon light mean, what are some common causes, and how do you get it to go away? We’ll break it all down for you here but take a deep breath. It’s not like a check engine light, and if this is the only light on in your vehicle, there’s nothing wrong.
What the Service Engine Soon Light Means
When the service engine soon light turns on, the first thing you need to figure out is what it means. The good news is that it’s not telling you there’s anything wrong with your vehicle.
Instead, the service engine soon light is telling you that it’s time to complete some sort of routine maintenance. This light is often telling you that it’s time to change the oil, but it really could be trying to tell you about several routine maintenance actions depending on what the vehicle manufacturer programs the light for.
Common Reasons for a Service Engine Soon Light
There are a few reasons a service engine soon light might turn on, which is why we wanted to highlight three of the most common reasons here. Just keep in mind that while these are the three most common reasons by far, a service engine soon light could come on for any service interval a manufacturer installs into the system.
That means while it’s starting with these more common maintenance intervals, sometimes a manufacturer adds in a few other things and those can set off the service engine soon light too.
This is by far the most common reason for a service engine soon light. In fact, if your vehicle has a service engine soon light, we’re willing to bet it at least has one interval set for oil changes.
Just keep in mind that this is simply a preset interval originally set by the vehicle manufacturer. That means it doesn’t account for the type of oil you’re using. You can also go in and change the interval with many vehicles.
But the key thing to remember is that it’s just a preset interval, so keep track of what type of oil you’re using and how often you want to change it, and ensure the service engine soon light matches the interval you’re using.
Air Filter Change
While this is far less common than a service engine soon light for an oil change, some vehicle manufacturers do tie in air filter changes into the service engine soon light.
Since most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing the air filter anywhere between 15,000 and 30,000 miles, that’s about how often you can expect the service engine light to go off if it’s on your vehicle for that.
But once again, keep in mind that it depends on the type of air filter you use. And if you end up getting a K&N air filter or something similar, you don’t even need to replace it; just clean it out at the recommended intervals.
This is one of the rarest reasons a service engine soon light might turn on, but some premium vehicles tie in transmission fluid flushes into the service engine soon light. If you think this might be the reason the service engine soon light is on, we highly recommend looking into your vehicle’s service manual.
Not only will the service manual highlight if this is a reason the light might turn on, but it should highlight how often you should flush the transmission fluid. If the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation matches the current mileage of your vehicle, that’s a good indication that’s why the service engine soon light is on.
Can You Keep Driving With a Service Engine Soon Light?
A service engine soon light isn’t telling you there’s anything wrong with your vehicle, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can keep driving with it on. However, just because you can keep driving doesn’t mean you should ignore the light.
It’s there for a reason, and the reason for the service engine soon light is to remind you to take your vehicle to a mechanic so they can complete the necessary routine maintenance.
If you ignore a service engine soon light long enough and don’t keep up with the scheduled maintenance, it’s only a matter of time until it turns into a check engine light.
So, you can keep driving with a service engine soon light but go ahead and schedule an appointment to get the routine maintenance taken care of so it doesn’t turn into something serious.
Are Service Engine Soon Lights Always Accurate?
While the service engine soon light is a great guide to help remind you when to take your vehicle in for routine maintenance, you shouldn’t just blindly trust it. That’s because the service engine soon light is simply set up on a preset interval that’s tied to your vehicle mileage.
Moreover, with many vehicles you can go in and change how often the light goes off. Vehicle manufacturers do this because they recognize that different oils last different amounts of time and miles and want you to adjust the interval to exactly what you’re using.
And if you set up the interval with the oil you’re using; this is a great tool you have at your disposal. However, if you don’t set the interval up correctly, or if the mechanic increases the interval to get you in the shop more, it’s another thing that can deceive you.
So, take a look at your vehicle and where you set the interval, and keep up with the mileage to ensure it’s going off at the right time. If you use it correctly, it’s a great tool to ensure you don’t forget when to take your vehicle in, but don’t take it for granted!
How Do You Reset a Service Engine Soon Light?
Since most service engine soon lights simply operate on a preset interval, it has no way of knowing that you actually completed the recommended maintenance. If you take your vehicle to a professional repair shop, they should reset the light for you, but if you’re completing the work yourself it’s up to you to reset the light.
And while we’d love to tell you exactly how to reset your service engine soon light, the truth is that it comes down to the type of vehicle you’re driving.
The only foolproof method to resetting a service engine soon light is with an automotive scan tool. Many of these tools have a feature that resets the interval for you with the click of a button. But if you don’t have one of these tools, there’s still a way for you to reset the light manually.
The first thing to check is if you can reset it through the dashboard itself. Many dashboards have buttons on the side, and if you hit these buttons, they send you to a menu where you can reset things like the oil life.
If your dashboard doesn’t have this setting, but you have an advanced center console, sometimes the service engine light reset is there.
If your vehicle doesn’t have any of these things, try this. Turn the key to the “accessory” position without starting the engine, then hit the accelerator three times in a row within ten seconds.
If none of these methods work, try Googling for your specific vehicle manufacturer to see if there are any specific recommendations with that additional information.
Service Engine Soon Light vs Check Engine Light
While the names might sound pretty similar and these two things often get mixed up, they’re entirely different lights that mean entirely different things.
A check engine light tells you when there’s something wrong with your vehicle. Typically, it’s a sensor that isn’t giving the ECM the expected data, which can be a problem with the sensor or the engine itself.
However, when a service engine soon light comes on it doesn’t mean that anything is actually wrong with your vehicle. In fact, if you keep track of the mileage on your vehicle you should know exactly when this light will turn on!
The service engine soon light isn’t there to give you a heart attack or to tell you a mechanic needs to fix your vehicle; it’s simply a reminder to help you keep up with all the scheduled maintenance requirements for your vehicle.
While you don’t want to see anything on your vehicle’s dash light up, the service engine soon light is just a helpful reminder to help you keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. Don’t freak out when you see it, but don’t ignore it either.
Figure out what maintenance it’s trying to tell you to complete, take care of it, reset the light, and keep your vehicle on the road!