Certainly, automobile designers have made great strides over the years in developing safe, comfortable, efficient and reliable machines. One area of progress tends to get less attention that it deserves, though — fault prevention. Modern cars come with inbuilt computers that constantly scan dozens of internal signals in order to detect problems before they get out of hand.
The check engine light is one of the different ways in which your car gives you advance warning of a problem. The car service indicator is another (the dashboard light looks like a wrench laid across a car).
There are many ways in which cars do not issue proper warnings, however, especially if you have an older vehicle. You need to rely on your own wits.
The easiest way is to get an app
Cars make specific, recognizable sounds for specific areas of malfunction. Knowing how to recognize these sounds can take you a long way. If you don’t know much about these things, the app Car Trouble can help. From overheating and electrical problems to steering problems, the app is able to recognize sounds, and tell you what’s wrong.
Of course, there is no substitute for knowing how to recognize signs of trouble on your own.
When it’s transmission trouble
It can be expensive to fix serious problems with the transmission. It pays to have a finger on the pulse of that component.
Your manual won’t shift easily: If you have a manual shifter, inadequate transmission fluid or the wrong kind of transmission fluid usually creates resistance. If it’s hard to shift, you need to look at the transmission fluid level.
Noises in neutral: If your transmission makes occasional (or frequent noises) even when the neutral, you have a serious problem — worn gears. If you don’t attend to it, you could have loss of power or control at a critical driving moment.
You smell burning oil: If you’re running out of transmission fluid, or if the fluid is old and dirty, it could cause overheating.
When it whines: Often, when automatic transmissions go bad, they make whining, buzzing or humming noises. Manual transmissions make clunking sounds. While it could be the constant velocity joint, it’s usually the transmission.
Random electrical problems
If you find that the horn won’t honk, the headlights refuse to turn on or the air conditioner won’t do anything, it could simply be a problem with the fuses — they could be dirty. While having any of these problems occur separately wouldn’t necessarily point to the fuses, having several of these occur in a short space of time would. You need to locate the fuse box, use a pair of needle nose pliers to pull out and reset each fuse.
If doing this doesn’t correct the problem, though, you should look at finding a professional auto electrician. No one should mess with a car’s electrical systems if they don’t know what they’re doing. You should buy a car scanner for a few pounds, find out what the fault code is, and use a repair quote generator such as whocanfixmycar.com to get a professional on it.
A car’s air-conditioner works hard and also places a huge load on the engine. You’ll usually be able to predict problems by listening for odd sounds. A chirping sound from around the engine, one that only appears when the air-conditioner runs, usually means that it’s either the air-conditioner’s clutch that is defective, or a set of ball bearings on one of the components involved. It’s a good idea to get a professional on the problem immediately. You’ll save your air conditioner, get better cooling and also save fuel.
When your car puts out visible exhaust, it’s a sign that you have worn-out engine components. Replacing them early is a good idea. Steam wafting from under the bonnet isn’t a good idea sign, either. You could have a blown gasket or have a crack on the radiator. It’s also bad sign when your car leaves an oily patch underneath where it’s parked.
Cars do give you plenty of advance warning before they fail. You only need a little practice reading those signs.
Patrick Fox works in the second hand car trade. Urged to share his car buying and selling tips by his wife, he has taken to penning some articles on the subject. These appear on personal finance, auto and lifestyle blogs.