How to Tell What’s Wrong with Your Car

car breakdown

Have you ever experienced issues with your vehicle but couldn’t figure out what the problem was? Issues with your car can be costly, but more importantly, they can be dangerous. The good news is, you can save on repair and fuel costs as well as improve your safety on the road by watching for signs of damage and going in for routine vehicle maintenance.

Learn about these common car problems, what their causes are, how to spot them before they cause harm, and what you can do about them.

Braking Issues

Brakes are one of the most important safety features of automobiles. Engine or battery issues might result in your car not starting. Brake issues might result in injury or death. Bring your car to the auto shop for brake service if you detect any of the signs listed here:

  • Car pulls to one side when braking
  • Braking causes squealing or other weird sounds
  • Grinding or shuddering as you brake
  • Brake pedal feels “spongy”
  • Smoke or an unpleasant smell
  • Not stopping

That last one is the most obvious and most dangerous way to find out if your brakes are malfunctioning, especially at high speeds. Brake failure can be caused by age, wear, neglect, overheating, damaged discs and pads, or loss of brake fluid. Always check your brakes before starting your journey.

Flat Tires

Flat tires are usually caused by tires being struck by an object or being punctured. But they can also be worn down from use. Cracks on the surface of a tire are signs that it’s too old and may soon fail.

Another indicator is tread depth. Tread depth affects your tire’s traction. This is especially important when driving in wet or snowy weather. If your tire’s tread isn’t deep enough, your car loses traction and may take longer to brake, which is a risk to your safety. Remember to slow down when driving on wet or snow-covered roads.

To see if your tire’s treads are worn down, check the tread wear indicators. The tread wear indicators look like square or rectangular protrusions and are located in the main grooves of the tire tread. If the tread is almost level with the tread wear indicators, that means you should replace your tires.

Issues Starting the Engine

The starter motor starts the engine and works as an electric relay for the battery.  Here are a few signs that the starter motor is in need of replacement:

  • Battery is charged but the car doesn’t start
  • Engine fails to turn over
  • Engine whines but doesn’t engage
  • Grinding noise
  • Smoke

car breaking down

Poor Fuel Economy

Poor fuel economy can be caused by issues with the fuel injector, air filters, mass air flow sensors, O2 sensors, tires, oil, and spark plugs. These parts get dirty or worn out with time and cause the engine to consume more fuel. You can avoid this through routine vehicle maintenance and replacing them as recommended by a mechanic.

Poor fuel economy can also be due to your own driving behavior. Aggressive acceleration and revving can increase your vehicle’s fuel consumption. Frequent short trips in cold weather can also reduce fuel economy. Engines need to warm up to operate efficiently, meaning short trips results in less time you’re driving at optimal temperatures.

Slow Start or Dim Lighting

If your car is slow to start, won’t start at all, or the lighting is dim, then that’s a sign that your car battery needs to be replaced. Car batteries will last you around 3 to 5 years. Its lifespan depends on a number of factors, including humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors. They tend to last longer in cold climates and less in warmer climates due to sulfation and water loss.

Another thing to look out for is the alternator. The alternator keeps all your car’s electrical systems running and supplies charge to the battery. Problems with the alternator may result in your car demanding too much from the battery, wearing it out faster, and resulting in failure.

A possible sign that there’s an issue with the alternator is the battery-shaped warning light on your car’s dashboard. It comes on during ignition and disappears once the engine starts. If it stays on, there’s a problem with the car’s charging system. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem with the alternator, but it’s common. Regardless, it’s your cue to get it checked.

Steering Problems

Steering problems are generally easily detected. These can include difficulty turning the wheel, the wheel not turning at all, lack of response, shaking, drifting, and many more.

There are a variety of possible causes such as issues with the power steering fluid, issues with the wheel alignment, a worn steering gear, or a worn steering belt. Some of these problems are exclusive to hydraulic power steering as electric power steering systems don’t use power steering fluid.

Make sure to go in for routine vehicle maintenance to ensure your safety and keep your car with you for as long as you can.


About the Author

James Wheeler

Meet James Wheeler, a self-proclaimed motorhead and automotive aficionado. With a lifelong love for cars and bikes, James has immersed himself in the world of all things automotive. From tinkering with engines to exploring the latest tech advancements, he's got a passion for every gear and bolt. When he's not behind the wheel, James can be found penning engaging articles, sharing his insights, and uncovering the hottest trends in the automotive industry. Get ready to rev your engines and join James on a thrilling ride through the fascinating world of cars, bikes, and everything that makes your heart race.
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