We are all familiar with the bangs, clanks and other odd noises our automobiles make when there is a problem. Although it may seem like the best idea is taking a car to a mechanic, it is important to have a general idea as to what is wrong with the car before you take it in. Having a general idea of what is wrong reduces the risk of you getting ripped off at the auto repair shop.
Unfortunately, car problems can be tough to diagnose on your own. Sometimes, one problem will cause several symptoms and other times several problems will manifest with one symptom. Below is a list of common but difficult to diagnose car problems along with related warning signs and what may be causing the issue.
Squealing noises can be caused by various problems. Squeals are often the result of worn belts, or in some cases, problems with the brakes. Unless you are familiar with automobiles and have a very sharp ear, it might be hard to diagnose the problem that is causing the noise.
If you listen closely to noises you may be able to differentiate between a chirp and a squeal. Chirping is usually a sign of break issues while squealing comes from the engine and might mean a bad car belt.
Sounds aren’t the only indicators of brake problems. Bad brakes can manifest themselves as roughness in the way a car moves. This may be due to worn brake pads or warped rotors.
Brakes are a part of the vehicle that experience a lot of wear and tear. Checking the brakes and replacing pads is a component of regular car maintenance. The brake pads need to be replaced about every 25,000-75,000 miles depending on the construction. A good rule of thumb is to check them every 25,000 miles.
You can also check your owner’s manual for the brake pad thickness tolerance. This is the thinnest a pad can be before needing to be replaced. Failing to change the brake pads could cause more serious problems like worn rotors.
Newer cars are partially operated by computers that power all of the electronic features, including warning lights. When a warning light appears on the dashboard it can be alarming, but the warning could signal a minor issue.
The problem is some warning lights are very ambiguous. They simply alert you there’s an issue not necessarily what the issue is, which makes diagnosing a problem more difficult. The first step is checking the owner’s manual. It should have a section explaining what each light on the dash means. In order to know what’s triggering the light for sure, you may need to see a mechanic that has a code reader.
Problems Starting the Car
It’s something no car owner wants to experience. You get in your vehicle, crank the car up but the engine doesn’t turn over like normal. Instead it out right refuses to do anything or sputters roughly before finally cranking up. When your car doesn’t want to start take note of a few thing:
What is the temperature like? Is it hard to start the car when it’s cold out?
What kind of sounds does the car make when you try to start it?
How long has it been since you drove the car?
If your car is difficult to start it may be a sign of some sort of problem with your ignition system. It is hard to detect what part of the ignition system is faulty. Cars that are hard to start may have bad spark plugs, but it could also be a sign of faulty fuel injectors or a bad ignition coil.
This problem really requires an inspection by someone who understands your vehicle’s engine.
Clutch Not Working
If you drive a manual transmission car, then you probably understand how bad it can be when your clutch goes out. The clutch is made up of various mechanical parts and if any of them break, it will cause your clutch to stop working. This problem will be obvious right away; while you are in gear, it will feel like pushing your gas pedal isn’t enough to make your car move forward.
A slipping clutch is often the result of normal wear and tear. A jerky clutch could be from a loose clutch cover or the flywheel could be warped. Another common reason for clutch failure is a fluid leak somewhere in the system.
Air Conditioning Not Getting Cold
It is simple to diagnose an air conditioning problem. If something isn’t working properly the air won’t get cold. Hot air will circulate through the vehicle instead.
The causes are a little less simple to fix than diagnosing the problem. Your problem could be due to a faulty compressor or possibly a Freon leak. If you can, roll your windows down until you have time to take your car into a shop.
Steering is a very important aspect of driving safely. When the steering isn’t as precise and responsive as before it needs to be addressed immediately.
If you notice your car is not steering properly, it could be as simple as your car being low on steering fluid. If the car is pulling in one direction your tires could be wearing unevenly or have an alignment issue. A mechanic can troubleshoot the problem to identify the exact cause.
For additional tips on car maintenance, defensive driving and more, check out the rest of our Driver Reference Center.
*This article was updated on 9/22/20.