If your brand new car is of a fairly reputable brand in terms of reliability, is driven conservatively enough (no burn-outs or impromptu drag races at the stop light), and required maintenance is done to it as prescribed by the manufacturer (such as changing the engine oil periodically), then you should enjoy a trouble-free service life from your vehicle up to hundred thousand miles of use, perhaps even more.
Beyond that, expect symptoms of wear and tear to begin to rear its ugly head. Some of these symptoms are not bad enough to trigger warning lights on your dash (at least not yet) but left unattended, they could lead to bigger issues. The secret to prolonging the service life of your vehicle is spotting these trouble signs early on and having a professional attend to them right away before the trouble becomes too costly to fix.
Here are 5 of the most common symptoms that should tell vehicle owners that it’s time to see the car doctor (a.k.a. your trusted auto mechanic.)
1. (Not) Getting It Going
Performance issues come with age and it’s true with cars too. As the miles pile up, your car will perform less than it used to. You’ll notice an increasing sluggishness with the acceleration, a delayed response with gear shifting (particularly with automatics), or an increasing frequency with the visits at the pump.
Unfortunately, there’s no blue pill that can magically return the original vigor of your car. There are a lot of possible reasons why performance slowly goes down the drain. Piston seals can wear out making it difficult for cylinders to do compressions. Fuel pumps can start to fail or clutch bands in the tranny can start to slip. The list goes on.
But more often than not, decreasing power or increasing fuel consumption is caused by the engine internals needing some “spring cleaning”. Filters and sensors can get dirty, sludge can accumulate in the oil pan, spark plugs can get worn and burnt. These are issues that are easy to address, even a technical novice can find the information on how to DIY these particular maintenance jobs.
But why get your hands dirty when you can have your local auto repair shop do it for you for not a lot of money. Plus, any underlying issues can be uncovered when pros do their diagnostics, that is if your auto repair shop is a well-equipped and its mechanics well-trained.
2. Spotting Spots
Starting to see oily spots and puddles on your driveway where your car is parked? Save from the condensation drips from your AC (which is normal) your car may have sprung a leak.
Now oil (or in the case of the radiator, coolant) is like the lifeblood of the car: it permeates most of its major system. Engine oil flows through its internal parts, keeping the piston, crank and cams lubed, and transmission fluid keeps your gearbox from wearing out prematurely. Most power steering and braking systems are hydraulic in design and use specialized oil-based fluids for actuation. Even shock absorbers use an internal fluid to dampen the suspension system.
But with time, seals, rubber tubing and plastic parts grow brittle, metal fittings corrode, and oil can start seeping through the cracks. The amount of fluid lost may seem trivial at first, you could still drive your car with seemingly minimal impact in performance. However, things can only turn for the worst and a significant loss of fluid from any of these systems will eventually lead to catastrophic failure in the long term. And in the case of the brake system, any amount of leakage can prove fatal.
The challenge is spotting where the leak is coming from. Most car underbodies and the surfaces of the engine are dark, dirty and often greasy to begin with, and parts are often in cramped spaces that are hard to access and inspect. To do the job, you would need special UV dyes and vision equipment to pinpoint the leak, electronic diagnostics tools to check the extent of the issue, specialised tools to work on special parts, as well as heavy lifting equipment to raise the car in order to do the underbody visual checks and necessary repairs.
In short, it’s best to have your car checked at your nearest auto repair which should be fully equipped to handle any type of automobile inspection, as soon as you spot fluid leakage.
3. Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Remember the time when your car operated smoothly, compliant to your slightest command on the steering, with the whole vehicle behaving like an extension to your body? Now that you’ve racked up the miles, your car seems to have developed a driving personality of its own, less subservient and increasingly ill-tempered.
If your car develops shaking and rattling at the wheel or body, whether you’re just taking off from a dead stop, rolling down the freeway, or when braking, don’t call your exorcist just yet. More likely than an errant spirit commandeering your car like a rental, there are more earthly reasons why your car is exhibiting a less than desirable temperament.
Rough idling and shaky acceleration are often caused by something off in the cycling of your motor. It could be a sign of bad spark plugs, clogged injectors or your engine developing a vacuum leak. If the vibration happens at higher speeds, an unbalanced wheel is a likely suspect. Does the car have a tendency to veer off to one side even if you’re keeping the steering wheel straight? Your suspension alignment could be off. And when shuddering happens when braking, your brakes pad may have worn unevenly or worst, your rotors have warped.
Whatever the case is, whether your car exhibits rattling, shaking, wobbly movements or other kinds of vibration, take it as vibes to get help. Get your car checked by a reputable auto repair shop. Well trained and experienced shop mechanics can pinpoint and repair whatever ails your car.
4. Squeak and Squeal
If you start hearing squeaking, squealing and squawking from in and around the car, getting pest control for inspection is an understandable mistake. Sure, critters could have made your engine bay a nice warm home for the winter but a likelier suspect is your car showing its age.
Some of the noises that creep-up are from body panels coming disjointed or misaligned, with parts and surfaces scraping, grating and rasping. Obnoxious, yes but not necessarily something that would break your car. Unless the noises are coming from more critical systems of your car.
Squeaking on uneven roads may indicate that the shock absorbers could be shot. Pronounced chugging sounds from the engine could be a sound of cylinder misfires. Clacking sounds that get faster with speed indicate possible problems with the axle joints and grinding sound from the transmission should be a serious concern too.
The challenge really is isolating where the undesirable sounds are coming from and determining the cause. Some of these odd noises can even bewilder average mechanics. So a thorough inspection by expert automotive technicians using latest electronic diagnostics equipment and years of practical experience is needed to determine what these noises really mean, whether if it’s something that needs to be immediately addressed or something that you can live with for a while.
5. You Smell That?
Any burnt smell in the interior should raise the alarm. It could be electrical shorts happening or the AC motor burning out. Either way, these are fire risks and its best to get your car towed for repair.
A burnt smell from the underbody could mean clutch trouble. A botched clutch may need replacement and although replacement parts could be cheap, getting to the clutch assembly is a very involved process, thereby an expensive ordeal.
The smell of your car’s exhaust fumes is another way to gauge your engine’s health. A gasoline engine on idle will smell almost odorless. If the exhaust smells too much of gasoline then your engine is running rich and not burning fuel efficiently. Or fumes could smell like burning oil which means engine oil is leaking in the cylinders. Again, these are signs of an unhealthy engine that needs attention from a trusted mechanic.
Signs of looming car trouble can hit any of your senses. If you think something is not right with your car, odds are something isn’t. But the best way to tell for sure is taking your car to a trusted auto repair shop and having a professional ASE certified mechanic check it out. As the old automotive adage says, an ounce of preventive maintenance is better than a ton of repairs.