What Does the Reduced Engine Power Warning Mean?

It used to be that we had to pull out our user manual to decipher the hieroglyphics that are the dashboard warning signs. I know a time or two I was bewildered how an oddly shaped symbol had anything to do with what it supposedly warned of.

Well in some newer cars we now have a very pointed warning light that literally says “reduced engine power.” In a way I almost miss those hard to understand lights because jeez that’s pretty blunt and scary. It may as well say your engine is probably about to break down.

In this post we will look more closely at the reduced engine power warning and what it could mean for our car. We will also look at how concerned we should be if we get this warning and what we should be doing.

What Does the Reduced Engine Power Warning Mean?

Well when it comes to warning signs the meaning probably couldn’t be any clearer, this light is telling you that something has hindered the usual operating capacity of your engine. The vehicle's computer system has located a fault that likely indicates you have a failed or failing component in your engine.

Another term for the reduced engine power mode is called “limp mode.” This is because your car's computer actually reduces performance to try and ease the strain on the system. The intent is to prevent more severe damage to the car.

Running on decreased power should in theory allow you to make it to a nearby mechanic without further damaging your engine components or creating a problem in another system by running with a broken part.

In more severe cases the fuel system may even disable itself so as to prevent further use until the issue is fixed. This will obviously require a tow to a nearby mechanic.

Can You Keep Driving in Reduced Engine Power Mode?

Assuming the computer has not shut down the fuel pump then in theory yes you can still drive in this mode but as mentioned obviously at decreased power. This is of course not license to just ignore the issue because there is an obvious reason the computer has initiated this warning.

If you try to drive too far in the reduced engine power mode you could be causing hundreds even thousands of dollars worth of damage to your engine. Ultimately it is in your best interests to get your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as humanly possible for repairs.

Aside from the risks of further damaging your engine the decrease in power to your vehicle can also make you a hazard to other road users. In this mode you should certainly avoid using highways or freeways.

Essentially then if your car is in reduced engine power mode your very first priority is to get it off the road, ideally into the hands of a mechanic. If this requires a call to AAA then so be it just do what is safest for you, other people and your vehicle.

What Can Cause a Reduced Engine Power Warning?

There are so many possible reasons for receiving this particular warning of which we will go over a few in this article. I won’t list them all here as it would likely become a very long and potentially tedious read. I am going to try however to hit upon some of the main reasons this warning may occur.

Loose Connections

I’ll start out with the best case scenario here just to take the sting out of the situation. It is entirely possible that the reason for the warning is not an impending catastrophic failure. Occasionally a simple loose connection between the computer and one of the sensors can be the issue.

The various sensors throughout your vehicle send updates to the car's computer reporting how specific parts of the engine are performing. A faulty wire or loose connection can send a warning to the computer that there is an issue with one of the engine components.

This engine part might be completely fine but the connection with the sensor is compromised. Annoyingly it can take some time to locate these wiring issues but ultimately it does mean that you shouldn’t need to replace an expensive part.

Issues with the Car's Computer

I was once advised that the more technology you have in a car the more things there are to break. When it comes to modern cars I have to say I completely agree with this. The car's computer is rapidly moving closer towards being KITT from Knightrider and not always in a fun way.

The car's computer is the backbone of our vehicle which means we rely on its various sensors and modules to completely control the smooth running for us. Like all computers it works hard processing data at a rapid pace.

A small glitch or issue with the car's computer can easily cause a reduced engine power warning or even a complete shutdown of the vehicle. Along with the technological comforts we must also accept the delicate nature of computers.

A Clogged Catalytic Converter

This is a common cause of reduced engine power warnings because it is such an important part when it comes to the smooth operation of the engine. The engine needs to vent the exhaust fumes from the combustion process and this exhaust must pass through the catalytic converter.

As these fumes pass through the catalytic converter the more harmful gases are transformed into the less harmful CO2 and water. This process is not completely clean however and over time the catalytic converter can become clogged.

A clogged catalytic converter does not allow the exhaust to pass through as smoothly as it should so it backs up in the system. The computer detects this and will trigger a warning.

Transmission Issues

Issues such as low or leaking transmission fluid might also cause a reduced engine power warning as can clogged filters. In order to prevent further damage to the transmission the computer will decrease power so as to not cause more damage.

Issues With Cooling

If the engine or certain components are running hot due to a failing cooling system this can be very damaging. Temperature sensors throughout the system keep a check on this so overheating can be a cause of a reduced engine power warning.


Potentially there are so many possible reasons to get the reduced engine power warning and they will not be immediately obvious. Once you get to a mechanic however they can link up with the car's computer and tell via the code system where the issue is most likely located.

If you are fortunate it may be a loose connection or just a minor quick fix. It could also be a big problem with a major expensive component. The point is until we get to an expert we just don’t know. So if you have spent big money on such an advanced car don’t be foolish and ignore this warning.

Get to a mechanic as soon as you can for the sake of the vehicle and for the safety of both yourself and other road users. Reduced power means your engine is not running optimally so you can not accelerate as you should and this can be risky on high speed roads.

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