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A sample exchange looks like this:
Paul S - Question:
I have a 2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT with 37,000 miles. Yesterday the check engine light went on. Since it is no longer under the complete warranty, the dealership wants to charge me $95 to just read the code, not including what it will cost to fix. The car seems to be running fine. Can you tell me what this check engine light means?
John T (ASE mechanic, 15 years experience) has accepted your question:
When the check engine light comes on, the car's computer will store a code indicating why the light went on. We can get this code through a handy trick with the ignition key and the readout on your dash. Once you get the code, send me a reply here.
To read the stored code on your 2003 PT Cruiser do the following steps:
1) Put the key in the ignition and switch it to on but do not start the car. Note the mileage LEDs (right under the PRNDL letters in the speedometer).
2) Turn off the ignition.
3) Turn the key to On (but don't start), Off, On, Off, On (but don't start)
4) Look where the mileage was displayed earlier. There should be a code displayed, a letter and 4 numbers. If it displays more than one code, write them all down. When it says "Done" it has displayed all the codes in its memory.
5) Send me the codes
It had only one code, P0129
This is a code that only the turbo version will have. It has to do with air pressure. Question - has it been unusually hot and humid where you live recently? If so, the sensor could just be temporarily fooled by the strange weather.
Yes, it's been the hottest so far this year, nearly 100 degrees in the sun.
Assuming the car seems to be running right, this is probably just a one-time sensor problem. After we reset the computer, watch the dash to see if it comes up again, and if it does, you will need to actually take the car to a dealership to have them check it out. If the sensor really is failing, it can result in poor mileage and performance, emissions problems, and possibly even damage to the turbocharger. But for now I'm going to recommend just resetting the computer and watching it for a couple weeks.
Here's how to reset the car's computer (note, if you have an aftermarket radio with a security code, you should make sure you have it handy as some radios need to have this code re-entered after a battery disconnect.)
1) Open the hood and locate the battery on the driver's side.
2) Using a crescent (adjustable) wrench, loosen but do not remove the nut on the clamp holding the cable on the black (negative) side of the battery.
3) Using a pair of gloves to protect you from any acid, grip the clamp an twist it a bit so it turns on the pole. Loosen the nut further if it is hard to twist.
4) Once you can twist it easily, pull it straight up and off.
5) Place one of the gloves on the battery post and rest the black negative cable on it so that the cable does not touch the post.
6) Wait 15 to 20 minutes
7) Re-attach the cable and tighten the nut so that the cable does not twist.
8) Start the car and turn it off.
9) start the car again. The check engine light should be out. If it returns, re-read the code (as described above) and let me know what you got.
I followed the steps and the check engine light did not return. I will watch it over the next couple weeks and if it returns (with the same code since I know how to check it now) I will take it to the dealer.