If you’re planning to permanently remove check engine light from your vehicle but are not sure if this is going against the law, this article is for you. We have researched a lot about this topic and found some helpful details.
So, is it illegal to remove check engine light? Removing check engine light to hide your car engine issues is a form of fraudulent concealment, which is illegal in many states. These states allow punitive damages for this fraud offense provided you can prove the seller or dealership did it.
Below, we share more insights on why it is not a good idea to get rid of the check engine light and what you should do instead if your car has the Check Engine Light (CEL) on and you plan to sell it.
Is it illegal to remove check engine light?
Some states consider the practice of removing the check engine light before selling your car illegal and this can be charged as fraudulent concealment. This is simply because you’re hiding the underlying issues (knowingly) to make your car look perfect and in good condition.
And in states that don’t consider this illegal, it would still not be the right thing to do as it would be simply immoral and unethical. It would definitely weigh heavily on your conscience. Therefore, we suggest being open with the potential buyer.
Clearing the CEL doesn’t help much in solving the underlying issue (see more details below on what happens when you remove the CEL).
If you remove the light without fixing the issue, the light will definitely come back on after some time; it can be hours or days. Some cars have a window of between 50 and 100 miles, after which the disabled CEL comes back on!
This leaves you with one and only one option—which is to be open and disclose any issues your car has to the buyer. This way, you won’t be finding yourself on the wrong side of the law if you live in a state where disabling CEL is considered illegal.
However, some folks believe it’s okay to disable the CEL if you’re dealing with the dealership. They cite that dealerships would do you bad any chance they get, so doing it won’t weigh heavy on your conscience. But we still don’t advocate removing the CEL whether you’re selling to an individual or a dealership.
If you’re taking your car to the dealership for a trade-in appraisal, you may think that clearing the code beforehand can help. However, this doesn’t help much as the dealership will scan for the codes, so removing CEL won’t help much.
Dealerships who are serious about their jobs should be able to uncover what exact code your car is throwing and for how long it has been throwing it.
What happens when you remove a check engine light?
When you remove a check engine light, you’re simply covering up the warning produced by your vehicle computer. In other words, you’re looking for the easy way out instead of fixing the underlying issues and clearing the light the right way.
Sometimes the light could appear flashing (or blinking, if you like), and this indicates a serious problem is affecting your vehicle. If you choose to just erase this light and continue driving your vehicle, you could be making the issue worse and causing catastrophic damage to your vehicle engine system.
If you’re an unlucky victim who gets a car whose flashing light was disabled, you’ll be forced to spend up to thousands of dollars to fix the damages.
Even when the light means the issue is minor (i.e., the light is steady orange or yellow), it’s still unadvisable to ignore the problem. You might find it’s something as simple as a loose gas cap that you just need to tighten to clear off the CEL.
Overall, instead of clearing the check engine light, it’s better to have the error codes that triggered the light read for you by an auto parts shop or you can do it on your own using an OBD2 scanner.
You can then look up the codes to understand the issue affecting your vehicle and have it resolved to ensure your car stays in good condition.
Should you sell your car with check engine light on?
NO! You shouldn’t sell your car with the check engine light on! This is totally unethical and can even amount to an illegal in the case of a dealership.
BUT…if you must sell the car with the CEL light illuminating, then make sure you disclose it to the buyer. If you have knowledge of the issue(s) causing the light to come on, then you should share that as well.
This will definitely affect the selling price as it means the new car owner will need to spend some money to have the underlying issue fixed.
Also, the new car owner will not be able to legally put the vehicle on the road since it can’t pass the smog check with the check engine light on.
Still at it, you might want to take the shortcut of removing the check engine light before you sell the car. This simply means you want to sell the vehicle under the pretense that everything is running fine which equates to a prosecutable fraud offense.
With that said, if your car has CEL On and you want to sell it, it would be a good idea to first take it to a professional auto mechanic to have the issue addressed.
If the mechanic recommends repairs after running diagnostics, then you should go ahead and cater for the repairs before you sell the car.
What if you buy a car with removed check engine light?
If you buy a car with removed check engine light and you can prove that the seller tampered with the CEL, then you can take legal action against them. if the seller knowingly hid the CEL from you, then they can be charged with fraud.
However, keep in mind that it can be hard to prove if the seller knew the CEL was removed. The seller may claim they didn’t know the light has been removed as some previous owner may have tampered with it.
But in a situation where they assured that “the check engine light doesn’t blink or illuminate, so it’s all good,” then you may be able to build a case against them.
You should check the contract you signed with the seller. If it doesn’t say anywhere that the car is sold “as-is”, then you may still be able to take legal recourse for the fraud.
If you don’t have any evidence that the seller tampered with the check light, then you may need to fix the issues and suffer the loss.
Depending on whether the issue(s) is minor or major, you’ll need to spend a great deal of money (depending on the issues your new car has) to have it fixed so that it’s in good condition.
How to check if a car check engine light has been removed?
When buying a car, you can check if the check engine lamp has been removed. But how do you do that? Just turn the car on and focus on the dashboard; if the CEL doesn’t flash on a bit and then go off, then you’re pretty sure the light has been removed or tampered with.
Even for a vehicle without any issues, the CEL should briefly come on whenever you start it and then go off.
In the absence of the CEL, then you can easily guess that the seller is being dishonest and hiding something. The car could be having an issue that they don’t want you to know. Think about it this way…if they went to the depths of having the CEL lamp removed, then they’re not just trying to cover up a cheap fix but something major that may end up costing you a lot of money.
In this case, you may just want to cancel the deal and keep looking until you find a car that’s in good condition.
Another way to tell if the CEL was removed is by using an OBD 2 code reader (and make sure it’s capable of displaying “I/M Monitor Readiness Status”). Plug in the scanner to the OBDII port under your car dashboard and press Read or Enter.
Scroll down and select “I/M Monitor Readiness Status.” No check all the systems. If most of them are saying “NOT READY,” then it means the CEL light was recently reset or erased.
Unscrupulous dealerships tamper with the CEL by placing black tape between the light and the panel to block the light from being seen. Others simply remove the bulb.
Yet, some will go as far as rewiring their vehicles so that the light briefly illuminates whenever you start the car but won’t display any trouble codes. All these are cases of tampering with the CEL and result in fraud—a prosecutable offense!
PRO TIP: When buying a car for the first time, or even for the umpteenth time, bring an independent mechanic with you. They should be able to carry full inspection of the vehicle and establish if there are any issues, including CEL removal, and save you a lot of headaches.If you’re interested in learning more about addressing a check engine light, you might find our articles on what it means when your check engine light flashes then turns off and how to bypass the light helpful. Our article on check engine light flashes then turns off explores the potential causes of this issue and what steps you can take to address it. Meanwhile, our article on how to bypass the light offers information on legal and illegal ways to turn off the check engine light.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Yes, the dealership will buy your car even if it has the check engine light on. However, serious dealerships will try to uncover the reason for the light to illuminate. And if they discover it is due to a serious underlying issue, they’ll use this as an excuse to buy your car at a much lower price. Some folks argue that it’s okay to remove CEL before selling your car to the dealership.
However, they’ll still get to know about and this could amount to illegal. The best way to go about it is to have the issue fixed by a professional before selling. Or you should let the dealership know of the issue when selling the car to avoid legal issues for you.
Assuming the seller didn’t completely remove the CEL lamp, then it may come up in a matter of minutes, days, or even after a week. The CEL will come back on in minutes if there’s a problem with one of the critical sensors such as the MAF (Mass airflow).
In other cases, the vehicle computer will be conducting several start-up tests during the next drive cycles before triggering the CEL light again. For some issues like transmission problems, the light will only come back on when the car shows transmission-related problems such as transmission slips.
Yes! The check engine light being OFF doesn’t always mean that a car has no issues. It could mean that the light was recently reset or tampered with to give you, the buyer, the impression that the car is in good condition. The CEL being off could also mean pending trouble codes. This is a situation where the vehicle computer has detected an error but still needs more time to monitor the system before activating the check engine light.
Disabling or tampering with the check engine light of your car before selling can be illegal in many states. It is interpreted as fraudulent concealment, which is a prosecutable offense in the US. Also, if your state has no problem with disabling the CEL, it still won’t be the wise thing to do, and we wouldn’t advise you to do so; it’s an unethical practice and will weigh heavy on your conscience, no doubt.
The best way to go about engine light is to have it diagnosed by a professional. This will help you discover the underlying issues triggering the light and have it resolved. If you choose not to fix the issue, then be sure to disclose it to the buyer instead of disabling the CEL. This will definitely affect the initially agreed selling price but it’s the best thing to do. You’ll also avoid legal issues being your way.