Breaking down in your vehicle is always inconvenient; fortunately, vehicles often give us warning signs that there’s a problem long before breaking down—you just need to know what to look for. If you catch a problem early enough, you can get it repaired before it leaves you stranded on the side of the road or causes a safety issue. You’ll also likely avoid a bigger, more expensive repair in the future. To help you spot signs of trouble, we’ve compiled a helpful list of warning signs to be aware of:
Dashboard Warning Lights
Most vehicles today are equipped with sophisticated diagnostic systems that will let you know they’ve detected something wrong with your car. Although it might be tempting to ignore warning lights, especially if your vehicle seems fine, it’s important to take them seriously. While some of the lights indicate minor issues, here are five that you should never ignore:
- Low engine oil pressure: this indicates that there’s not enough oil pressure or that the oil level is too low.
- Engine coolant temperature warning: If this light comes on while you’re driving, it means your vehicle is overheating due to a lack of coolant. Pull over as soon as it’s safe and immediately turn off your engine.
- Charging system warning light: Depending on your vehicle, this light may say “batt,” “alt,” or “chg” or have a battery symbol. When this light comes on, it means your car is running on battery power only. If the issue continues and your charging system fails, your battery won’t be able to recharge—and you’ll likely find yourself with a dead battery.
- Check engine light: The check engine light can indicate hundreds of different problems ranging from minor to serious. If the light is flashing, it means a severe engine problem has been detected; you should avoid driving until you’re able to schedule diagnostics. A steady light is less serious, but it should still be addressed as soon as possible.
- Tire pressure (TPMS) warning light: The tire pressure monitoring system monitors tire pressure and alerts you when one or more tires are significantly underinflated. Underinflated tires are a serious safety issue, so make sure to add the proper amount of air as soon as you’re able.
Knocking, Clicking, or Tapping Engine Sounds
When your engine is running as it should, you shouldn’t hear any sounds that particularly stand out. If you hear any unusual sounds, such as knocking or clicking, schedule an appointment immediately. Left for too long, this can cause permanent—and expensive—engine damage.
Grinding or Squealing Noises While Braking
If you hear grinding or squealing when you brake, it means the friction material on the brake pads has worn down and the pads need to be replaced. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to safely come to a complete stop—and you may end up with rotor damage.
Transmission Fluid Leaks
Transmission fluid is vital for keeping the moving parts of the transmission cool and well-lubricated. Small holes can form in the transmission lines, gaskets, or seals, or the pan can become cracked from road debris. If the leak is bad enough, it can reduce the efficiency of your transmission and eventually lead to overheating or complete transmission failure.
Radiator leaks are most commonly caused by corrosion, but worn gaskets, cracked hoses, or a faulty water pump can also cause leaks. It’s important to schedule a repair at the first sign of a radiator leak; waiting too long can lead to overheating and permanent engine damage.
Squeaking or squealing noises coming from under the hood is an indication that one of your belts is worn or needs an adjustment. The longer you drive without getting it fixed, the higher the chance that the belt will break. When a belt breaks, it can also cause damage to the engine or neighboring components.
Shaky or Loose Steering Wheel
Loose steering can be caused by several different problems: failing suspension components, unbalanced or misaligned wheels, issues with the brake rotors, or even bad bearings. Regardless of the cause, a shaky or loose steering wheel makes it harder to safely control your vehicle.
Unusual Tire Wear
It’s normal for tire tread to wear out over time, but you should always keep an eye out for excessive, rapid, or uneven tire wear. This also includes things like dips, cracks, or cups in the tread or outer edges of the tire. Tire wear issues can point to a variety of concerns, such as low air pressure, misalignment, or worn suspension. Catching unusual tire wear early can help you prevent blowouts and accidents—it also benefits your fuel economy.
Excessive Oil Consumption
Maintaining the right level of oil is essential for your engine’s health and performance. Although it’s normal for vehicles to use up some oil in between oil changes (especially older cars), it shouldn’t need to be topped off regularly. This can be a sign of an oil leak, or something more serious. Pay attention to how long it takes between top-offs for the oil level to go down again. Running your vehicle without enough oil can lead to overheating and premature wear, so it’s best to have the issue checked immediately.
Smoke Coming from Your Vehicle
Smoke is always a warning sign you don’t want to ignore. Many issues can cause a vehicle to smoke, from leaking fluids and electrical issues to a seized brake caliper. Regardless of the cause, it’s not generally safe to drive your car until you get a repair.
Rough shifting is a sign of transmission problems, including stripped gears, worn clutches, or low transmission fluid. Over time, this can cause transmission failure. A transmission replacement is an expensive fix, so it’s always a good idea to get your transmission checked out as soon as possible.
Noticed Any of These Signs? Bring Your Car to RPM
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, don’t wait! Schedule an appointment at RPM Automotive Services. Even if the issue seems minor, it won’t go away on its own—and in many cases, waiting too long can lead to more extensive (and expensive) repairs. We understand how inconvenient repairs and maintenance can be and will get you back on the road in no time. Call us today at (707) 800-4586 or request an appointment online.