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The dreaded check engine light (CEL) is always worrisome whenever it turns on. But when the light illuminates (or starts to flash) and your car begins to shake, that makes the situation even more stressful. Naturally, you’ll want to find out what’s causing the problem and how to address it.

What Causes the Check Engine Light and Car Shaking?

check engine light illuminated close look
An engine misfire—a problem that almost always causes an increase in hydrocarbon emissions —is one of the many reasons why the check engine light might illuminate (or start to flash).

Usually, when the check engine light is on and the car is shaking, that means you’re dealing with an engine misfire. Basically, the check engine light comes on whenever there’s an issue that could increase vehicle tailpipe emissions.

An engine misfire—a problem that almost always causes an increase in hydrocarbon emissions —is one of the many reasons why the check engine light might illuminate (or start to flash). A misfire occurs when there’s incomplete (or zero) combustion taking place inside one of the engine’s cylinders. When a misfire is severe enough, you may notice that the engine begins to shake.

It’s important to point out that an engine needs three primary ingredients to run properly: a precise air-fuel mixture, adequate spark, and good compression. When any of these factors are missing, incomplete combustion occurs, resulting in a misfire.

There are many potential causes for a misfire, some of the most common of which include:

holding worn out spark plug
Ignition system problems like worn spark plugs can cause engine misfire.

In other words: There is an almost endless list of reasons why your engine might be misfiring, causing the check engine light to turn on and the car to shake.

Car Shaking and Check Engine Light FAQ

Is it safe to drive when your car is shaking and the check engine light is on?

You should not continue to drive when the car is shaking and the check engine light is on. Such a scenario often indicates that your car is suffering from a severe misfire, which could damage the catalytic converter and other costly components.

How do I fix a check engine light with the car shaking problem?

There are multiple reasons why your engine might be misfiring badly enough to cause a check engine light and shaking. Therefore, there isn’t a “magic bullet” fix for the issue. You (or your mechanic) will need to diagnose the problem, then perform the necessary repairs.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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herbert miller

since i found my affair with cars has improved dramatically! I ordered from you recently and was so impressed with ur prompt delivery to my door no less, i turned jason of jason’s garage, my mechanic in heber city, utah onto you all. He has been very disappointed with his parts supplier and their long delivery times. I will be seeing him thursday to try to nail down whats ailing my kia 2004 optima lx. the strut/shocks i got from you, he put in but was impressed with price and delivery time. every two weeks i drive to nevada from park city. The front of the car started to shake at 80mph on I-80 after making the trip several times with no problem. One & half hours on the road, the shaking started and stopped when i hit 50mph. After he put struts in it was fine for 3 trips but this last trip it started again, so we’ll see if we have a clue. Also i burn a half quart of oil each trip and if im idling for 5-10mins and get moving again, a cloud of white smoke pours out exhaust for 3mins.

herbert miller

i dont know where to find policy but i’m sure i agree


Hello Herbert,

Thank you so much for the positive feedback! We’re glad you and your mechanic have been happy with our parts and service. As for the problems with your car, the shaking could be something as simple as a wheel balance problem. The burning oil and white smoke are likely linked to something more severe, however. You can learn more by reading this article:

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