That check engine light comes on.
You panic. Your bank account freaks out. Stress levels rise.
There's no easy way out of this, unless you're unpredictable.
Most people would take their car straight to the dealer and let them fix it, and then swallow the massive cost at the end. But there's a better way to do this.
Go to Autozone or Advanced Auto. They do free engine light checks, and can not only tell you what's wrong with your car, but they can recommend parts to buy in store so you can fix it. If you're not good with repairs, buy the cheapest parts there, and bring them to a mechanic to use.
Try to find a local mechanic or someone with a reputation for working on the type of car you have. We're avoiding the dealer at all costs.
Check engine light photo from NearSay.com
Call the dealer and see what their price quote is for the type of repair you need. Remember, Autozone just told you what's wrong, and even though their diagnostic may not be 100% right on the money, at least you're in the right ballpark. If the dealer is way under the local mechanic, go there. Odds are the dealer is way higher.
Bring the parts to your mechanic and make sure they'll be able to use them. If the mechanic can get parts cheaper, use theirs and return the parts to Autozone. If the repair is easy, try to do it yourself. You'd be surprised how much a tutorial on YouTube can help. I only go to a mechanic if large tools I don't own are needed. Otherwise, I'll spend a weekend trying to learn how to fix it myself.
If you know a friend who's really into cars, they might be able to help with the repair, loan you tools, or recommend a good mechanic. Gear heads love to get involved in this stuff. Pay them back in Corona. Which leads me to my next step...
Whether it's the dealer or the mechanic, bring some sort of unique tip. A case of beer, a pack of cookies from the store, or a gift card. Something that shows the mechanic that you appreciate their work, and you went the extra mile to bring them something for their expertise. This means the next time your car comes in, they might spend a little extra time to save you money, or do the best job possible. It sets you apart from the other customers.
The most effective way to remove the check engine light. Photo from ebaumsworld.com
I'm known for bringing 12 Coronas, since I'm a big Fast & Furious fan.
Don't freak out the next time your light comes on. There are ways to be unpredictable, even with your car repair.