Diesel engines are quite different from their gasoline counterparts. Besides not using spark plugs, just about every diesel engine uses fuel to lubricate high-precision engine components. Unfortunately, trace amounts of water can be found in diesel fuel and it needs to be removed before it gets to the engine.

Water doesn’t work very well as a lubricant and it could cause excessive wear on the engine if it made its way through the fuel system. To prevent this, diesel fuel filters are designed to separate the fuel and water before it heads to the engine. The water is collected and must be emptied out occasionally, otherwise it will start to pull through the filter and make its way to the engine.

Some vehicles may empty the water automatically or you may have to empty it manually. A warning indicator on the dash will let you know when too much water has been collected and the fuel filter needs to be emptied.

What the fuel filter warning light means

Inside the fuel filter is a fluid level sensor that keeps track of the amount of water that has been collected. Once the level starts reaching maximum capacity, the fuel filter warning light will illuminate to let you know to empty the filter.

On manual systems, a valve at the bottom of the filter will let the water drain out once opened. If your filter empties automatically and the light comes on, it indicates that an error or malfunction has been detected and it needs to be checked out as soon as possible. This warning light could mean that the drain is blocked and the system can’t empty itself. A code will be saved on the computer to help you identify the cause of the problem. Have the car checked out with diagnostic scan tool to find the saved code or codes.

Don’t ignore this warning light or the system will fill with water and start leaking it to the engine. Once the water has been drained from the filter, this warning light should go out on its own.

Is it safe to drive with the fuel filter warning light on?

While it’s not an emergency when the light first comes on, it is important that you get the filter drained as soon as possible. Waiting too long will let the water build up and eventually let it get to your engine where it can cause some serious damage. Remember to change out the fuel filter at the right service intervals as draining the water will not remove all the particulates that are caught in the filter.

Our certified technicians are always available to assist you in diagnosing any problems with your car’s fuel filter and they can drain or replace your fuel filter for you.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the Fuel Filter Warning Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.


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