Selling A Tercel with an engine light that won't turn off
April 24, 2006 9:46 AM   Subscribe

I am about to sell a 1996 Toyota Tercel that has seen better cosmetic days. It runs fine, has a pretty new exhaust, and a new thermostat. However, the engine light is on. I got an inspection at a Toyota dealer and the read out states that there is nothing wrong with it, but the light will not turn off.

To my knowledge, there is nothing wrong with the car. I do not want to put any more money into it and I want to sell it as soon as possible. Does anyone have any ideas on how (or where) I might be able to get a good price for it since the fact that the engine light is on will surely take a few hundred off a car that already is not worth much? (I am in Boston if that helps...)
posted by toddst to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
It doesn't make sense that the Check Engine light would be on if nothing is wrong. It seems more likely that whatever is wrong is something relatively unimportant (gas cap wasn't tightened, etc.), and the garage just said "nothing is wrong" since you're a layman.

If you don't mind losing your radio presets and such, you can try disconnecting the battery, and seeing if the light comes back.
posted by I Love Tacos at 9:59 AM on April 24, 2006

I'll disconnect the battery when I get home tonight. However, I just did not bring the car to a mechanic to diagnose why the light is on. I brought it in to the Toyota dealership and paid $100 for them to run a full diagnostic that I was told will catch anything and everything.
posted by toddst at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2006

I'd try CarMax. I've sold them two of my cars (once when I wasn't buying one of theirs), and I've always gotten a fair price. I checked blue book values both times, and CarMax's offer was always just at the bottom of, but within, the predicted range. They handle all the paperwork, and, I suspect, would be less likely than a layman to be bothered by the check engine light.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:15 AM on April 24, 2006

Oops, just saw that the nearest CarMax is in Hartford, CT. May or may not be worth the drive.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:19 AM on April 24, 2006

Hartford is not too far and if they do offer the best price, it might be worth the drive since I can have a friend trail me in another car. Thanks for looking up the info.
posted by toddst at 10:21 AM on April 24, 2006

Rather than disconnecting the battery, just pull the fuse(s) that go to the engine control computer for a few seconds. That way you won't have to reset the clock, radio stations, etc. and you won't have to worry about blowing yourself up with sparks around the hydrogen gas leaked from the battery. You should be able to find info on the right fuse(s) in the owner's manual.
posted by kindall at 10:33 AM on April 24, 2006

It may be a mileage related liight. I had a Suzuki that lit up at 30k mile intervals. There was a switch under the dash that reset it. The 1st time I was all panicky and brought it to a mechanic, who thought he was being sneaky and charged me $$ to do a "diagnosis", and then said Its all OK and proceeded to flip the switch. From then on I 'diagnosed' it myself.
posted by Gungho at 11:01 AM on April 24, 2006

Kindall is right that you can just pull the one fuse to keep your radio and ECU settings and what not.

Kindall is a bit off about blowing yourself up by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery. I'd be willing to bet a lifetime supply of tacos that it's boring and routine, as long as you keep your polarities straight.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:11 AM on April 24, 2006

Yeah, it's probably not an issue, but they warn you about it when jumping a battery and the same thing would apply here. It doesn't matter if there's only a 1 in a trililon chance of your battery exploding, you do not want concentrated sulfuric acid all over you.
posted by kindall at 11:20 AM on April 24, 2006

Get an OBD-II reader and figure out what's wrong with the car yourself.
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on April 24, 2006

A couple of things. First, when your engine light goes on, find your way to the closest AutoZone. They have code readers behind the counter and if you ask them nicely, they'll do it for free. Further, if you're REALLY nice to them they might even reset the code for you (although for liabilities sake, they might make you push the button.

9 out of 10 times my engine light coming on has been a result of a moody oxygen sensor or a catalytic converter hiccup, both of which definitely aren't worth the mechanic's hefty diagnostic fee or steep replacement cost, as both can usually be remedied by changing the type of gas you use. I always found that using a low sulfur fuel (like Holiday's "Blue Planet") made that engine light go off, and stay off. Not sure if you have Holidays in the Boston area, but it might be worth your while to check around for something similar.
posted by jeffxl at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2006

I have a 1996 Toyota Paseo (same car, different body styling) and I've had this same problem. I took my car into the dealership, and they diagnosed the problem as a faulty pollution control valve (then they asked for $500 to fix it - I said no).

This may not be your exact problem, but according to the EPA, illumination of the check engine is always related to the pollution control system:

Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL): Also known as a Check Engine light, the Malfunction Indicator Light of MIL is illuminated on the dashboard when conditions exist likely to result in emissions exceeding standards by 1.5 times or worse. Alternatives include “Service Engine Soon,” as well as an unlabeled picture of an engine.

Also, check out some perspectives from the Toyota Nation forums.
posted by Joe Schlabotnik at 2:37 PM on April 24, 2006

Thanks for the tips! I am going to disconnect the battery (or fuses) tonight and also try much of what was recommended. (There is an AutoZone near me so I will definitely check that out this weekend.) And, Joe, that is an interesting point that I did not know about. Is this different than the oxygen sensors?
posted by toddst at 7:58 AM on April 25, 2006

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