Emission regulations require that a Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL) be illuminated when an emissions related fault is detected and that a Diagnostic Trouble Code be stored in the vehicle controller (PCM) memory.
When the MIL is illuminated, it is an indication of a problem within one of the electronic components or circuits. When the scan tool is attached to the Data Link Connector (DLC) in the vehicle, it can access the DTCs. In some situations, without the use of a scan tool, the MIL can be activated to flash a series of long and short flashes, which correspond to the numbering of the DTC.
OBD II guidelines define when an emissions-related fault will cause the MIL to activate and set a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC). There are some DTCs that will not cause the MIL to illuminate. OBD II guidelines determine how quickly the onboard diagnostics must be able to identify a fault, set the trouble code in memory and activate the MIL (lamp).