Making sense of car issues you may encounter
Trying to get by without transportation is a near-impossible task, so what can you do about common car problems to avoid being stranded? Some common car engine problems are minor enough that you can tackle them yourself, while others are far more labor-intensive and will require expert attention from a mechanical wizard. In this piece, we'll discuss a list of issues your car can present with, talk about diagnosing the symptoms, and address possible solutions either by preventative measures or maintenance after damage. Those with diesel vehicles sometimes need to work on their cars more regularly when it comes to servicing, but as with any car, looking after your vehicle will usually mean that it looks after you. As always, prevention is better than cure, so it's best to keep up to date with services and other ways of caring for your car before major issues endanger your mobility or worse.
There are hundreds of different issues that can befall your vehicle. Sometimes the problem is caused by age, while other times it's numerous long trips that have simply exhausted your vehicle's ability to continue to run smoothly without some repair work. Below is a general idea of what different kinds of car issues are most common. While this is not an exhaustive list of common car problems, it does cover most of the basics.
In this section, we detail a list of many of the issues one may encounter during the ownership period. You may experience none of these problems in your time with a certain car, or you may experience all of them. Many people in the US enjoy making jokes about how the average Ford needs to be 'Fixed Or Repaired Daily', but the truth is that any car is prone to the issues detailed below. Fortunately, we're here to help you navigate the restoration of your faulty components and bring your car back to its former glory.
Pretty much every modern car in 2021 runs on some sort of computer to help with emissions, troubleshooting, and the regulation of components. Thus, when you get warning lights on a car, it's not always a cause for serious concern. Sure, a warning light indicates an issue, but it also indicates that your car's computer is working properly and is aware of the problem. Rectifying the issue will depend on what the symbols being displayed are; a busted globe can trigger a warning light just as easily as the failure of a mechanical component like a water pump, which could trigger the dreaded 'check engine light'. Fortunately, the warning light makes it easy to diagnose a problem and you can use your judgment and experience to determine if it can be rectified at home.
If your engine is sputtering, this can be caused by a multitude of factors too. A torn fuel line, bad quality gas, dirt in your gas tank, a leaky injector, a faulty coil pack, worn fuel pumps, and even something as simple as fouled spark plugs can all be the cause of you getting stuck on the side of the road. Hence, we recommend inspection of these areas as soon as the issue begins to present itself, working your way from the cheapest item to the most expensive or most difficult to repair. Hoping that it will go away can result in greater problems down the line, many of which can be very costly.
If you're feeling a vibration or your steering wheel is shaking, once again, there can be any number of causes for a problem like this. Fortunately, most cases have a simple solution. Of the possible reasons for a steering wheel shake, the most likely causes stem from factors like an unbalanced, cracked, or buckled wheel, a deflated or damaged tire, a loose wheel bolt, a faulty wheel bearing, or even a worn suspension bushing. Bad alignment can even cause this problem if it's very severe, but luckily, most of these issues can be resolved easily at any local tire fitment store.
One can usually pick up brake issues by a car taking too long to stop, a pedal that goes to the floor, or a squealing noise. Often, the brakes aren't even at fault, and a car taking too long to stop can be caused by worn tires. Other problems can also be simple to fix, like a brake pedal that you have to push far down. This can usually be attributed to an air bubble in the brake lines or cooked brake fluid. A simple flush and refill can be perfect to fix this. For other issues, the cause is generally pads or discs that are either worn or warped. These are also easy challenges to rectify.
This is a bit of a rehash, but many of the problems that cause a shaky steering wheel can also be the underlying factors for tires going bad. Uneven wear can be the result of an improperly fitted hub or bearing, or poor alignment. But in terms of tires losing air pressure, the typical causes are generally a puncture or a cracked wheel. Most often, replacing or repairing said wheel will resolve the problem if the tire itself is not damaged. Check our full article on how to care for your tires here.
It is not uncommon for an engine to consume oil - this is a byproduct of heat and wear. However, if you find that your vehicle seems to be using more than normal (a quart every 1,000 miles or so is regular), then it may be a good idea to inspect your vehicle for leaks or other problems. Worn gaskets can contribute to a leak, as can an aging sump plug or a damaged oil filler cap, but if none of these appear to be the cause, then you may have internal issues. One possibility is blowby on the piston rings. A compression test can confirm if this is the problem.
If your car is struggling to start in cold weather, isn't starting at all, or you find yourself replacing a battery too often, your alternator could be at fault. Sometimes you can hear the alternator struggling to work as it clicks while the engine is running. Fortunately, you don't necessarily have to buy a new unit - many workshops will be able to refurbish the alternator with fresh bushes.
If you're noticing a leak under the car that doesn't appear to be oily, you may be suffering from a coolant leak. This could be caused by a torn or worn pipe or coupling, or even radiator problems. If you do have a leak from your radiator, replacing the unit is a simple job. Similarly with the other potential problems, replacing the pipes and connectors shouldn't take much time or effort.
Even fuel can leak from your car if the fuel system's components are not cared for. Fuel lines get brittle after time and may crack, while fittings can also get tired and rattle themselves loose, although this is less common. The housing of the high-pressure fuel pump could also separate depending on what car you have, but again, this is a rare issue. In unusual cases, the fuel tank may even get scraped or damaged by rocks or other road debris, leading to a leak here too. While one can temporarily fix a fuel line with some tape, the pressure of the system will make this a short-lived fix, and it is simply better to replace the damaged line. A faulty pump or tank will also require replacement. It's also worth your while to check that no injectors are stuck open, as your car engine can start misfiring.
Much like with the alternator, this component uses brushes to work. Thus, if your car's battery and alternator are working fine but your starter doesn't seem to be working, you can generally fix it with refurbished bushes. However, if you have a modern car with an electric starter, you will have to replace the component.
Smoking is just as bad for your car as it is for you. If you're seeing white smoke, you have an oil leak. This could be an internal leak from the turbo seals (if your car has a turbo), or it could be something like worn valve stem seals. This causes smoking on deceleration or after the car has been sitting for a while. Fortunately, neither turbo seals nor valve stem seals are expensive to replace. But beware, darker smoke can also be a sign of excessive fueling and this can ultimately cause bore wash. The cause here can be a leaking injector, but many shops are capable of flow-testing and servicing injectors if new ones are out of your budget.
This is a problem that is difficult to spot unless something stops working. Sadly, it is tricky to tell when a sensor has a problem, even with a physical inspection. The best way to diagnose a sensor problem is to get yourself some sort of OBD scanning tool, many of which can be accessed from your smartphone. This will help you pinpoint which sensor needs to be replaced.
This is an area that has potential problems and solutions so vast that it is impossible to cover everything. You get manual, dual-clutch automatic, torque converter automatic, and continuously variable automatic transmissions, all with their own set of areas that could fail or cause issues. On manual cars, clutch wear is commonly caused by dragging the pedal, but grinding gears or downshifting too aggressively can also damage the transmission. In general, it's good practice to ensure that transmission fluid, transmission mounts, and transfer cases are all serviced and checked regularly to avoid gearbox problems. This is especially true with a dual-clutch, where transmission failures are more expensive.
Electrical faults can be caused by bad grounding, brittle and decayed wiring, incorrect wiring, popped fuses, or water damage. Whatever work one does to diagnose electrical issues on a car, it is important to disconnect the battery before commencing a repair. It is also helpful to keep a multimeter on hand to help diagnose these problems. Often, a new wiring harness, the replacement of a single wire or relay, or new connectors can solve your issue, but if you're not comfortable with this area of car repair, we suggest getting in touch with a professional. On modern cars, something more complex like a blown module can make repairs expensive.
Always check that your cooling system is intact and free of leaks. It is also important to check that your oil pump is working and that the sump's oil pickup feed is not clogged. Checking your radiator fans and intake air filter can also be beneficial, but sometimes, a car will continue to overheat that has already blown or warped a head gasket, in which case it will continue to prove troublesome even after the underlying problem has been resolved. It also helps to always ensure that your radiator has at least a mix of some coolant and not just water in the system.
Other things that can make living with your car a little more tricky can be things like a faulty door lock - something that can usually be fixed with cleaning and lubrication - or a perished window rubber that can allow wind noise into the cabin - something that can be fixed with a replacement rubber seal. Rattling sounds can also be attributed to something minor like a loose clip, and a noisy exhaust could be down to a disconnected clamp. In general, it is good practice to regularly inspect all major and minor components of the car and to maintain these timeously to avoid failures before they pop up.
If you cannot see any physical evidence of a fault, a diagnostic scan of the car will help to pinpoint the source of your frustration.
If your A/C has lost its efficacy, it could just need a regas. If it has stopped working altogether, you may need to replace the condenser.
Sadly, modern cars are rarely easy to fix with miscellaneous items. These days, most components are controlled by sensors and need special attention to rectify. Thus, we recommend checking the basics like fuel levels, battery charge, and coolant temps. If these check out, you could try to get going again, but if your car still won't start, you may need to call for help.
This generally varies by manufacturer and model. Some models will have faulty turbos while others could have an issue with their climate control. When buying a new or used car, it is best to check the NHTSA's website database to determine if your model year has been subject to any recalls in the USA. Dealerships can also advise on if these potential faults have been attended to.