That Dreaded Check Engine Light

And the peace that comes with a trustworthy repair shop.
Courtney Messenbaugh

Not long ago, I drove along U.S. 36 in Boulder County, the sun shining, my to-do list shrinking, and the kids at a sitter. I sang along with Pharrell Williams of The Voice fame, from his song “Happy”—“feeling like a room without a roof, like happiness is the truth.”

And then came a bad sign—my Check Engine Light lit.

The Check Engine Light conjures up anxious thoughts, signaling one of a million problems—large, small, or somewhere in between. Should I continue driving? How much would this cost me? Pharrell and my room without a roof gave way to anxiety.

Even so, the car drove smoothly, its temperature within a safe range, the Check Engine Light wasn’t flashing (danger!), and I didn’t have far to go. So I continued driving. If things went south in a hurry, I could always pull safely to the side of the road and summon AAA Roadside Assistance, by phone or through the AAA Mobile app.

Once home, I recalled AAA’s advice, that the “best time to look for a repair shop is before you need one,” and that with my busy life, I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.

With no time to beat myself up over it, I hopped online at and looked up AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR), which you can also access through the AAA Mobile app on your smartphone. On the web, I entered my address, and found a handful of shops nearby, all AAA-approved.

To be a part of the AAR program, a repair facility must jump through a bunch of hoops to get the AAA seal of approval, and even then, must remain in tip-top shape, as the inspections are ongoing. To qualify, shops must also offer AAA members a 10 percent discount on labor, a warranty on the work done, and a dispute resolution process through AAA (for members only).

I found a shop in Boulder, The 4 Wheeler, and they got me in first thing the next morning. They welcomed me by name, and immediately pulled my car in for assessment. I noticed that the garage floor was cleaner than my kitchen floor, although that is likely more telling about my domestic skills than the garage (and a story for another day). I met a spunky 81-year old Korean War veteran who’d been bringing his car into The 4 Wheeler for 25 years and maintaining his AAA membership equally as long.

Within 20 minutes, I heard that my issue was minor; an electrical plug had come undone. The mechanic showed me how to check it myself should it happen again.

Given my small issue, my bill was also small, and the 10 percent AAA discount further cushioned the blow. Within an hour, start to finish, I was on the road again.

Between this vibrant Korean war vet and the courteous shop staff, my happiness returned.

In brief, going to an AAR gave me piece of mind and a renewed confidence in repair shops. I hope my Check Engine Light does not come on again, but if it does, or if my car starts making a worrisome new noise, I am now completely comfortable with the repair shop I’ve chosen, thanks to the AAR process. I also know enough to check under the hood myself first to see if it’s that pesky plug again!

In addition to the emotional comforts and 10 percent discount that an AAR provides, AAA members also receive the following perks:

  • 24-month/24,000-mile repair guarantee by the facility
  • Free maintenance inspection with any paid service
  • Vehicle triage within 60 minutes of a AAA tow to the facility, and assistance in obtaining alternate transportation if necessary

Because most people hold onto their cars for a decade or more, having a trustworthy and quality repair shop to service your car is critical. You’re more likely to get the small repairs done, preventing breakdowns and saving money in the long run. That will get you clapping to the music again, too.

AAA Connection

To learn more about the Approved Auto Repair (AAR) program and for tips on finding a repair shop you can trust, visit

Courtney Messenbaugh is a freelance writer in Lafayette who has been writing about cars and life in the car for more than a decade.