Not to be the bearer of bad news, but a lot can go wrong with your automobile. As cars and trucks age, the frequency of the check engine light, strange noises, and failed electronics increases. But the good news is that you can be prepared with the proper know-how should you experience one of these problems.
Talk to someone who has owned multiple cars and who has experienced these issues firsthand, and they know what problems are minor and what problems you should worry about. Here, we’ve cataloged a list of common problems autos experience, noting which require overhaul repairs and which are easily manageable or even preventable.
Windows develop cracks for a number of reasons and usually at no fault of the driver. From road hazards kicked up by oversized tires to weather events that cause hail or falling branches, even brand-new cars experience cracks in the windshield and windows.
Assess the damage to know if the window or windshield needs to be repaired or replaced.
Is the crack longer than a cellphone or dollar? Replace
- Does the chip go more than halfway through the glass? Replace
- Has the chip grown? Likely replace
- Is the crack small, out of direct view, and staying the same size? Likely repair
Check engine light
Your check engine light turns on when there’s a problem with your vehicle’s engine. But there’s an important distinction to make: Is the indicator flashing or not? If it’s not flashing and just steadily lit, then the problem doesn’t need to be addressed immediately. If the engine light is flashing, there’s likely an imminent problem and you should pull over immediately.
Your check engine light is connected to several sensors throughout your system. Your light will go off when the sensors detect a problematic reading or if a sensor has stopped working. The older your car, the more likely a sensor has gone out.
What should you do if your light turns on? Fortunately, it’s easy to figure out the problem with a digital instrument called an OBD-II code reader. This reads the engine light code to determine what the problem is. Most chain auto repair stores will have these on hand and can perform the service quickly for you.
Without question, punctures caused by road hazards are the No. 1 cause of flat tires, and even brand-new tires can become damaged or flat due to glass, screws, potholes, or other road hazards. But low tire inflation can be just as detrimental to the health and longevity of your tires, and it’s something you can control.
Low tire inflation is a common issue many drivers ignore and later suffer from. Your vehicle can function with low tire pressure, but it will put more strain on your tire walls and can cause additional heat in the tire, which can lead to a dangerous blowout. You should routinely check to ensure your tires are inflated to their recommended PSI. Check this with a hand-held tire-pressure gauge.
Routine tire care will help your suspension system. When your tires wear unevenly, are unaligned, or aren’t inflated adequately, they put added strain on your suspension, which could wear out components quicker than normal.
Brakes and brake pads are part of the safety system on your vehicle. And when you have a brake problem, you have a safety problem. These issues should be addressed as soon as possible for your safety as well as the longevity of components that could be affected.
Here are some common indicators of a brake problem:
- Spongy or soft brakes when depressed
- Slow response when braking, requiring added pressure
- A burning smell coming from the wheel wells
- The car lurching to one side when you brake
- Squeaking or whining noises from the wheel wells
- Wobbling or wheel movement and vibrations when braking
- Grinding noises indicative of metal on metal from a worn brake pad
When your car won’t start, it’s typically indicative of one of two issues: battery problems or starter issues. When you hear a repetitive clicking noise or the starter motor engages but doesn’t turn over, that usually means your battery has died.
But do you require a jump or a new battery? One is a simple fix, and the other is an increasingly costly replacement. If you attempt to jump the vehicle but it still won’t respond, it’s likely a bad battery. Other signs include:
Trouble starting in cold weather
- Your battery is over three years old
- The engine is slow to turn over
- Dim interior lights and headlights when idling
- Corrosion on and around the battery terminals
- A sulfur or rotten egg smell
Your starter is a small motor powered by a battery that essentially turns on your engine. This is why there’s often confusion over whether a problem is the fault of the starter or the battery. Starters go bad over time—they generally last between 100,000 and 150,000 miles, and it can be helpful to know if the problem is the starter or the battery. Signs indicative of a bad starter include:
A ratcheting or clicking noise when you start your car
- All lights come on, but the car won’t start
- A small amount of smoke coming from the engine
- After jumping your battery, the engine won’t crank
A pro tip: If you believe your starter could be the culprit, tap on the starter with a hammer to temporarily allow the electrical connection. If this works and your car turns over, the problem is only temporarily solved, and you should take the car to have the starter replaced.
Heating and cooling
Your heater and air conditioner can experience a host of problems that prevent them from working properly, so troubleshooting is a battle itself. But there are three components in your heating and cooling systems that can help diagnose the root problem.
Antifreeze: Remember that your heater is connected to your engine’s cooling system. If you have low antifreeze levels, it could prevent your heater from working properly. The antifreeze won’t reach the heater core, preventing hot air. Low antifreeze levels could mean your engine is running too hot, too.
- Leaking fluids: Where there’s fluid leaking, there’s fluid missing somewhere else. If your air conditioner goes out, it could be that you lack refrigerant and are leaking somewhere. Or you could leak antifreeze, leading to your heater not working. You could also cause your air conditioner drain line to become backed up, which could result in water forming on the floorboard on the passenger side.
- Noises (or silence): Any time you notice noises when you turn on your air conditioner or heater that weren’t there before, you might have an issue on your hands, current or forthcoming. On the other hand, if you don’t hear anything when you turn on your air conditioner or heater, you could be experiencing faulty wiring or a bad blower motor.
Keep your vehicle protected with mechanical breakdown coverage to ensure one of these common auto problems doesn’t hit you with an unexpected bill.