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Car problems can feel a little overwhelming for the less mechanically inclined. What’s worse is that the world isn’t in short supply of mechanics that’ll take you for a ride, financially speaking.
Luckily, troubleshooting car problems isn’t all that hard—even if you don’t understand what’s under the hood. All it takes is a little patience and effort, and you can figure out why your car won’t start or why it’s making those strange noises. The best place to start learning about car diagnostics is by becoming familiar with some of the most common car issues out there.
Keep reading to learn more.
Tips For Troubleshooting Car Problems
Cars aren’t exactly engineered to be infallible machines. They require maintenance and a little TLC to keep them safely running, which is something that most people forget. Hence, all the car issues listed below. So, if you’re dealing with car problems, the chances are you’re not the first to experience them with your particular make and model.
First and foremost, Everything you need to know about your car will be in the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual is the instructional booklet that explains everything from the car maintenance schedule to troubleshooting issues specific to your make and model. If you can’t find your owner’s manual, you can download one from car-manual.net.
Now, onto the 10 most common car problems and how to address them:
1. Your Car Won’t Start
There are a few reasons why your car may not start:
- Dead or corrosive battery
- Bad starter
- Bad alternator
- Broken or cracked distributor cap
- Bad ignition coil
- Clogged fuel filter
- Blown fuel pump fuse
This seems like a lot to take in, but the sounds your car makes can tell you a lot about why it won’t start. Here’s what to listen for:
If your car is silent when you turn the key, you most likely have corrosive battery terminals. Clean them with a wire brush, or replace them completely to get your car started again.
If you hear a clicking noise, your battery is either dead or you have a faulty connection. Car batteries typically last for two to three years, so check your warranty and date of purchase. If your battery is like new and it dies, the problem could be that it’s faulty or your alternator has gone bad.
A clicking noise can also point to a bad starter. If it’s your starter, your lights will come on but your car won’t—it also won’t come on during a jump start.
If your engine cranks but won’t start, it could be a fuel issue or a spark plug issue. Spark plugs last for about 30,000 miles, so they should be the first thing you checked. If you’ve just replaced your spark plugs, the issue could be a bad fuel injector, fuel pump sensor or relay.
2. Your Engine Sputters
Cars need the right fuel to air ratio to run properly. They also depend on the fuel ignition system components to work together efficiently to combust the air and fuel mix. If your engine is sputtering or misfiring, it means that something is wrong with one or more of the ignition system components.
The issue is most likely a clogged fuel injector. However, the culprit could also be dirty spark plugs, a dirty air filter, damaged vaccum hoses, a bad ignition coil, or a failing catalytic converter. To avoid misfiring or sputtering, be sure to clean and replace the ignition parts as directed by your owner’s manual.
4. You’re Getting Poor Gas Mileage
If you noticed that your gas mileage isn’t what it used to be, the problem could have something to do with your spark plugs or ignitions system components. However, if you’re not getting any of the above symptoms, it’s likely due to bad oxygen sensors.
02 sensors are responsible for mitigating your air to fuel ratio. If your 02 sensors go bad, they can reduce your gas mileage by up to 40 percent! You’ll know for sure that the issue is your 02 senors if your gas mileage has significantly gone down and your check engine light comes on.
5. You’re Experiencing Poor Acceleration
If you notice that your car is hesitant to speed up when you step on the gas, it’s technically due to one of two reasons. You’re either out of gas, or you’re out of power.
A lot of complicated things can cause poor acceleration. To narrow down the possibilities, the first thing you want to check is your warning light. If your check engine light is on, it means you most likely have a faulty sensor.
If you don’t see any warning lights, the problem could be mechanical, such as:
- Clogged fuel filter
- Dirty air filter
- Clogged exhaust manifold
- Low compression
- Bad injectors
- failing fuel pump
- Bad spark plugs
If you’ve been keeping up with the scheduled maintenance directed by your owner’s manual, you should be able to narrow down the causes pretty quickly.
6. Your Engine is Overheating
An overheating engine is fairly common, and it’s usually due to trapped heat within the engine (which is typically due to poor car maintenance). Your car’s cooling system involves multiple components, sensors, and of course, coolant. If your car is new—as in below 50,000 miles—the overheating issues are most likely because you let the coolant run dry.
For older cars that have more mileage, the issue can be that any component within your cooling system has gone bad or clogged. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your radiator flushing schedule and keep an eye on your water pump.
Give Your Ride Some TLC
A lot goes into troubleshooting car problems. One tiny issue can cause a whole lot of stress, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to your owner’s manual. Keeping up with your scheduled car maintenance services—whether you take care of it or go to a trusted mechanic—will save you a lot of time, money, and headaches in the future. More importantly, it’ll keep your car running safely, which will keep you safe on the road.
For more on car maintenance and other useful tips, check out the other articles on our website.