Avoid Expensive Repairs and Keep Your Car Safe

With automotive maintenance, diagnosing car trouble and addressing it soon can save substantial amounts of money and aggravation avoiding mechanical failures at inopportune times and larger than expected repair bills.

Below are some of the more major automotive failures and symptoms to be aware of to help you address these problems early.

Warning Lights

These lights are connected to sensors that monitor systems on your car. These lights provide an emergency early warning system that something important could malfunction at any moment. Three of the big ones include:

  • Check Oil/Oil Level Low
  • Oil Pressure Low
  • Check Engine

Erratic Driving Experience

Your engine should deliver a relatively smooth driving experience free of surges, jerking, hesitation or stalls. If it doesn't that's a pretty good sign of engine trouble. Such behaviors could be clues to fouled spark plugs, clogged fuel lines or fuel filter, a faulty computerized driving profile being read by the engine computer, or many, many other issues.
Preventive maintenance, including regular oil changes and belt replacements at recommended intervals will help keep you out of the danger zone.

Pops, Clicks, Rattles and Grinds

A tapping or popping could indicate detonation taking place within the engine's cylinders. This happens when gasoline ignites prematurely in the combustion chamber of the cylinders, and can potentially result in expensive piston damage.
A grinding noise when you attempt to start your car could be a sign that your starter motor needs an adjustment or possibly replaced. Grinds or clunking during gear shifts are your car telling you to "get me serviced".
In some cases a little bit of noise like a mild ticking or clicking, might be normal. If in doubt try to identify the general area of the noise can and explain it as best you can to a qualified service professional.

Unusual Odors

If you smell automotive odors inside the passenger compartment, you should take it as a strong sign of possible engine trouble. The scent may signal oil or coolant leaking from their normally closed-loop systems, or it may indicate dangerous exhaust gases invading their way into your car's interior.
The smell of burning rubber could be telling you that drive belts or accessory belts beneath the hood are damaged, improperly tensioned or just worn out. It could also mean that a rubber hose carrying important fluids is touching something that it shouldn't -- something that's too hot. With all of these potential problems, it's a good idea to act sooner rather than later, as they could be linked to a much more crucial and expensive component.


If you're seeing smoke, or excessive amounts of steam, engine trouble might -- or might not -- be in your near future. Regardless, you should always investigate the cause, because such conditions almost never fix themselves.
Smoke billowing from the tailpipe means that some kind of contaminant has infiltrated the fuel-air mixture and is getting burned along with gasoline. Besides being annoying and endangering fellow motorists, operating a rolling smoke machine points to gasket failures beneath the hood.
As a general rule of thumb, blue smoke from the tailpipe usually means oil is escaping from its intended passageways within the engine and is being burned along with fuel.
White smoke from the tailpipe indicates water condensation or antifreeze has mixed with the fuel supply. Again, adding coolant or antifreeze to your car's cooling system is a stopgap solution, but the wise move is to have it checked out as soon as possible.

Timing Belt

A timing belt controls the timing of the engine's valves. When a timing belt snaps, certain types of engines can be ruined. It is best to replace the timing belt when you have reached the number of miles your car manual recommends for a replacement, or when you see some symptoms signaling that the timing belt is going bad.

There are two different types of engines: interference and non-interference. If a timing belt snaps or slips on an interference engine, the engine will be badly damaged costing a small fortune in repairs. If a timing belt snaps on a non-interference engine, the engine will be damaged but will not cost as much in repairs as an interference engine.

Timing Belt/Timing Chain

Some cars come with a timing belt, but some come with a timing chain. A timing belt is made of rubber and is more apt to break than a timing chain. Some car makers recommend changing timing belts every 80,000 miles, while timing chains typically last the life of the car unless symptoms arise. Refer to your car manual to check the recommended mileage for timing belt replacement guidelines.
If your car fires more than a typical amount of exhaust, it may be time to consider timing belt repair.
If your car has high mileage and is difficult to start, the timing belt replacement could be required.
Older rubber timing belts degrade in hot temperatures and with exposure to motor oil. If your car runs hot and has a leaky engine, the life expectancy of your timing belt is lowered. Newer timing belts are made of heat-resistant materials and do not have this problem.
A working timing belt is perfectly timed with the valves and pistons. If the belt is going bad, the timing will be off, causing the car to shake.