Mechanic Tips

10 Common Car Problems and How to Spot Them Early

As a car owner, nothing is more frustrating than a breakdown or unexpected repair bill. However, many major car problems can be avoided by being vigilant and proactively maintaining your vehicle. By spotting issues early, you can minimise repair costs and avoid being stranded at the roadside.

Here are 10 of the most common car problems, and tips on how to spot them before they become major headaches:

1. Engine Overheating

An overheating engine is one of the most serious problems your car can face. If left unchecked, it can lead to complete breakdown and severe engine damage.

Signs to look out for:

  • Temperature gauge reading higher than normal
  • Steam or coolant leaking from underneath the bonnet
  • Sweet, sickly coolant smell
  • Engine making bubbling noises

How to avoid it:

  • Check coolant levels regularly and top up when low
  • Look for leaks in the cooling system hoses and clamped joints
  • Replace coolant every 2-3 years as it degrades over time
  • Make sure radiator fins are clear of obstructions like leaves and insects

2. Strange Engine Noises

Unusual sounds from the engine can indicate serious issues like worn belts/pulleys, low oil pressure or even engine damage. It’s important to investigate any new mechanical sounds straight away.

Listen out for:

  • Rattling while idling – could indicate low oil pressure
  • Screeching/squealing – likely a worn belt
  • Knocking or pinging – suggests engine timing issue
  • Whining from engine – issues with power steering or water pump

Prevent problems by:

  • Tuning up regularly and replacing belts/pulleys if worn
  • Checking oil levels often and topping up when needed
  • Investigating any new mechanical sounds immediately

3. Warning Lights on the Dashboard

Dashboard warning lights indicate problems ranging from low fluids to malfunctioning components. Never ignore warning lights – have them checked out promptly.

Lights to watch for:

  • Battery light – suggests alternator/battery issue
  • Oil light – indicates low oil pressure
  • Temperature light – likely overheating problems
  • ABS/check engine lights – suggest issues with brakes, emissions or engine misfires

How to stay on top of it:

  • Scan for warning lights every time you drive
  • Note down which symbol is illuminated
  • Look up its meaning if you’re unsure
  • Diagnose and repair issues as soon as lights come on

4. Changes in Exhaust Sound

Listen closely to your car’s exhaust – changes to the sound can signal issues with the exhaust system or engine. For example, a rattling exhaust pipe indicates a loose component.

Note changes like:

  • Increased loudness – suggests exhaust leak
  • Intermittent rattles or knocks – failing exhaust parts
  • Ticking sounds – could be early signs of engine problems

Prevent serious damage by:

  • Getting any new exhaust noises checked and repaired promptly
  • Replacing damaged exhaust parts rather than patching them
  • Keeping on top of engine maintenance to avoid damage

5. Difficulty Steering or Looseness

Gradual increases in steering effort or new looseness in the steering can be a sign of impending system failure. Don’t ignore deteriorating steering.

Feel for:

  • Increased effort to turn the wheel
  • Delayed response or looseness/play in wheel
  • Odd clunking noises when turning wheel
  • Car tending to wander or pull to one side

How to stay safe:

  • Align wheels regularly to reduce wear on steering parts
  • Inspect steering components like belts and joints
  • Investigate any deterioration or new steering sounds
  • Replace worn parts before they fail completely

6. Burning Smell from Car

A burning smell usually indicates an overheating component or fluid leak onto hot exhaust parts. Don’t dismiss burning smells – find the source urgently.

Key smells to note:

  • Hot rubber – slipping drive belts
  • Sweet coolant smell – leaking coolant
  • Burning oil – engine oil leak
  • Electrical burning – wiring fault

Steps you can take:

  • Ensure all fluids are at correct levels
  • Watch for leaks aROUND engine
  • Have wiring inspected and replaced if damaged
  • Arrange urgent repairs if leaks or faults are found

7. Changes in Braking Performance

Any changes in braking performance are a clear sign of a developing problem. Worn brakes can lead to failure so monitor them closely.

Notice changes like:

  • Excessive brake pedal travel
  • Pulling to one side when braking
  • Loss of braking power
  • Grinding noises when braking
  • Brake pedal vibrations

Monitor brakes by:

  • Watching for signs of uneven pad wear
  • Measuring pad depth regularly
  • Discussing any changes in performance with your mechanic
  • Replacing pads and discs as soon as they’re worn

8. New Fluid Leaks

Fresh leaks of any fluid indicate a failed seal, cracked housing or hose. All leaks need urgent attention to prevent loss of essential fluids.

Check below car and engine for:

  • Coolant – green or neon orange fluid
  • Oil – dark brown or black fluid
  • Petrol – clear fluid with petrol smell
  • Brake fluid – clear fluid, will stain road

Important steps:

  • Identify leaking fluid color and source
  • Top up fluid levels immediately
  • Arrange for repair or replacement of damaged parts
  • Monitor newly repaired areas closely for recurrence

9. Odd Tyre Wear Patterns

Abnormal tyre wear can signify suspension and alignment issues. Addressing unusual wear early prevents costly tyre damage.

Look for:

  • Toe wear – excessive wear on inner or outer edges
  • Camber wear – diagonally slanted bald spots
  • Cupping – flat bald sections across width

Tips for prevention:

  • Align wheels frequently to avoid suspension strain
  • Maintain correct tyre pressures
  • Swap front and back tyres periodically to even wear
  • Replace severely worn or damaged tyres promptly

10. Squeaking, Creaking Suspension

New creaking or squeaking from the suspension is generally a prelude to component failure. Age and mileage contribute to bush and joint wear.

Listen for:

  • Creaking over bumps – worn bushings
  • Squeaking on turns – sagging coil springs
  • Knocking noises – loose or worn joints

Reduce wear and prevent issues:

  • Lubricate and check components during routine servicing
  • Replace worn parts early – don’t wait for complete failure
  • Discuss noises and deterioration with your mechanic
  • Keep suspension components to specified tolerances

Being alert to developing issues and actively maintaining your car will significantly reduce your repair bills. If you hear or see anything unfamiliar, have it investigated promptly by a qualified mechanic. Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to vehicle repairs.

At SNC Automotive in Brendale, we recommend monitoring for these 10 common car problems and booking regular maintenance to reduce serious repairs. Our experienced mechanics can diagnose issues accurately if you notice any changes, and advise on repairs to keep your car running smoothly. With over 20 years serving the North Brisbane area, we have the expertise to resolve car issues before they become major headaches. Contact us today to discuss how we can help to keep your car in peak condition.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How often should I check my car for potential issues?

Ideally, do a quick visual check every time you drive, looking for leaks, uneven wear, lights etc. Perform more thorough monthly inspections checking fluid levels, hoses, belts. Have an annual service to tune, assess and replace components.

What car warning signs should I never ignore?

Never ignore lights like check engine or temperature gauges, changes in car handling, smells like burning rubber, new noises and leaks. Prompt diagnosis is critical to avoid breakdowns or expensive damage.

Why is it important to repair minor car issues early?

Minor issues often develop into major problems if neglected. Replacing inexpensive worn parts early is much cheaper than waiting for complete failure and paying for laborous repairs.

How can I maximise the lifespan of my car?

Follow the maintenance schedule diligently – this gives the best chance of avoiding premature part failures. Drive smoothly, keep fluids topped up, clean regularly and get repairs done promptly to maximise your car’s lifespan.

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