What causes the check engine light to come on in a 1996 pontiac sunfire?

What engine light. Check engine light means there is a problem that is effecting emissions. Oil light means low oil pressure. Temp means running hot. Maintenance light means maintenance is required, like changing the oil. Owner's manual lists all of these. The " check engine light" is by far one of the most misunderstood technological advances by the public. This is an needed in-depth understanding for the public. It is a warning light that is illuminated when there is a problem affecting the EMISSION SYSTEM only. Emission system being the pollution control system. Don't get a hard on against it as it is a good thing once you understand it. One point that was brought up a a recent meeting of technicians was that the amount of hydrocarbons is greater when the gas cap is left off than when the engine is running. Hydrocarbons are part of pollution emitted as gasoline evaporates. Going a step farther, one facet of the emission system is the "Evaporative" portion. This is when the fumes from the gasoline are leaking from the system into the outside air. This is one part of the emission system that can trigger a check engine light. I would say that about 7% of the vehicles that have a check engine light are the result of a loose or inadequate gas cap. But understand that many scenarios are possible with the "check engine light" The vehicle's powertrain computer (note that some vehicles have 17 different computers) will run a series of self-tests. They will only run under certain criteria. And they can be vastly different from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some self-tests are not run until preceding ones have run successfully. So if there is a problem in one particular area that is preventing another self test from running, you can have a situation where one problem is fixed, but another still exists. If you fix a problem and drive the car through a drive cycle that sets the monitor (or self test) the light will go off as it passes that criteria that triggered it in the first place. After 1996, the auto industry went to a idea called OBD II (on board diagnostics). This was to get all the manufacturers onto a similar plane for troubleshooting and powertrain control. While they still differ vastly, many corrections and adaptations were made for technicians to better fix the check engine light problems. Prior to this there were so many different and poor troubleshooting data from a check engine light problem that resolving the problem was much more difficult. Many early warning light of this nature were set to illuminate based on mileage. An Oxygen sensor was one of the things that were meant to be replaced when that mileage was hit. This is much like many current "Change oil lights