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Signs Your Vehicle Isn’t Running Properly: 10 Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

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Many modern cars feature high-tech diagnostic systems that monitor the health of the vehicle. Still, drivers will ignore common warnings that something is wrong. While it’s okay to prolong a few trips to the garage, some car troubles should never be overlooked. Here are 10 symptoms you should never ignore, no matter how busy you are.

Sign #1: Message & Warning Lights Appear

Most of today’s vehicles have a sophisticated diagnostic system that alerts you when something is wrong. No longer do you have to rely on your own senses to determine if something is wrong. When the computer inside your car recognizes that there is a problem, it attempts to warn you.

Like most people, you probably do your best to ignore most messages that you don’t feel are important. We’ve all been there. When the car starts alerting you, it’s vital that you take it seriously.

Message and warning lights like “Check Engine” light or “Low Coolant” should not be dismissed. Pull the car over until you determine what must be done.

Whether it is simply a “Check Engine” light or “Low Coolant,” you want to make it a priority. Not every warning sign requires you to get right to a mechanic, but it should be high on your to-do list. Among all the lights and messages, never ignore these five:

All of these situations should cause you to pull the car over until you determine what must be done. Don’t continue to drive with these alerts in place. I can’t tell you how many people end up at the dealership with expensive fixes simple because they weren’t willing to have a light checked out early.

Sign #2: Grinding or Squeaking While Braking

The brakes on your car are created to stop you quickly. They also wear out faster than most any other component on your car. Replacing the brakes is an important part of maintenance.

Even though you know that brakes need to be replaced often, they quickly become forgotten about. We don’t tend to think about the brakes until there’s a problem. When you press your brake pedal and hear a squeak, that’s your first warning sign that something is wrong.

If you ignore the squeaking, the noise could become a grinding instead. This occurs once the braking material has worn out and is rubbing against the rotors. This is a dangerous indication that should cause you to stop in your tracks.

When you press your brake pedal and hear a squeak, that’s your first warning sign that something is wrong. If you ignore the squeaking, the noise could become a grinding instead.

If you don’t address the issue promptly, you face losing braking ability. It is law in most states that if you are in an accident because you didn’t maintain your brakes that you can be held liable. It’s much smarter to replace your brakes regularly than to deal with possible accidents and lawsuits down the road.

I once faced a problem with my brakes that I initially thought was just a worn out pad. Because I take that seriously, I looked into immediately. What I found was that my brake caliper was hanging up, causing the pads to drag. If I would have let it go, the caliper could have locked up and caused the car to cease moving. At that point, I would have needed a tow truck to get the car back to my shop.

Sign #3: Tapping, Knocking or Clicking of the Engine

By maintaining your engine properly, you reduce the chance of needing costly repairs in the future. When the engine is running right, you shouldn’t hear any strange noises while driving. If you begin to hear tapping or clicking, you want to have it checked out immediately.

If the oil pressure drops, it can lead to these noises. Left alone, this causes permanent damage to your engine and other components. It’s also possible that you hear strange sounds because you used the wrong octane fuel. This is another cause of catastrophic engine wear.

The bottom line is to have any engine noise checked out immediately. By neglecting the small issues coming out of your engine, you set yourself up for costly repairs later.

Sign #4: Trouble Steering or a Jerky Wheel

Along with faulty brakes causing dangerous situations, you must also be aware of the steering. When you lose your ability to steer and control your vehicle, something bad is imminent.

The first steering signs show up with a slight pull to one side. Anytime that your vehicle doesn’t track in a straight line without a ton of effort, you want to have it looked at. Don’t ignore when your car jerks or begins to pull. In addition, any noise while making a turn should also be checked out.

Sign #5: Going Through Oil

The oil in your vehicle is essential to proper function. You must change the oil regularly to ensure optimal engine life. While it’s normal for cars to use some oil over time, you shouldn’t need to top it off frequently.

Change the oil regularly to ensure optimal engine life.

If you begin to see a dip in performance or the oil light comes on, this might be a sign that you need oil. If you run the vehicle without the right amount of oil, you risk harming the engine. Top it off and then watch to see how long it is before the level drops again.

Another complaint related to the oil could be a clogged filter. This occurs if you wait too long to change the oil. Modern cars will bypass the filter, but you shouldn’t rely on this. Make sure you replace your filter every time you do an oil change.

Sign #6: Uneven Tire Wear

Many blowouts and flat tires come from external forces, but there are also times you can prevent this from happening. While it’s normal for your tire tread to wear out over time, you should be alert for anything excessive.

Inspect your tires regularly and watch for these signs:

Sign #7: Radiator Leaks

Corrosion leads to radiator leaks, but there’s normally a deeper cause to the wear. Typically, it stems from poor maintenance practices or contaminated fluid. When you notice a leak, you don’t want to ignore it. At the sign of the first leak, you still have the chance for a simple repair.

Corrosion leads to radiator leaks, but there’s usually a deeper cause to the wear. The problem could stem from poor maintenance practices or contaminated fluid.

The first leak simply indicates the corrosion has set in, but you might catch it before major component failure. You might be able to patch up the radiator versus replacing it.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore coolant leaks. Driving a car with a leaky radiator leads to overheating, engine fires and permanent damage.

Sign #8: Transmission Fluid Leaks

It’s also possible for your transmission to start leaking. This fluid is essential to keep the transmission components lubricated. In a car with an automatic transmission, the fluid operates as the coolant and hydraulic fluid.

Over time, small holes might form. This can happen anywhere in the system. You might find a hole in a line, seal or gasket. It’s also possible that your leak stems from a cracked pan. If this is the case, you will see a large red puddle under your car.

When the leak becomes bad enough, your fluid level decreases and the transmission loses efficiency. Left unrepaired, the transmission will eventually fail, due to the pressure loss or overheating.

Sign #9: Dead Battery

Your car battery needs to be replaced every three to six years. If you mistreat your battery or there is a defect, it’s possible to require a new one more often. Leaving a light on for a day is a common reason for your battery to die and not a reason for alarm.

Your car battery needs to be replaced every three to six years. You may need to replace it sooner if the battery is defective or it’s not been used properly.

However, if you find the battery is continually dying, you might have a larger problem. It’s possible that your alternator is no longer charging the battery as it should. Most alternators last around seven years or for 100,000 to 150,000 miles.

Sign #10: Smoke

Whenever you see smoke, it should be a warning sign that something is wrong. It might not mean that there’s a fire yet, but there’s always a possibility that one will occur.

Stop your car and figure out where the smoke is coming from. If you see thick black or blue smoke, you might be burning oil. The oil is probably leaking into your engine’s combustion chamber.

White smoke might indicate a warped or cracked cylinder head, head gasket failure or a cracked engine block.

If you notice white smoke, it might indicate a warped or cracked cylinder head, head gasket failure or a cracked engine block. This is caused by overheating. If you have a cracked head, coolant might leak into the engine chamber or cylinders leading to more issues.

A car should never produce smoke under any circumstances, so don’t ignore it.

Don’t Neglect Your Car

No one expects you to be a professional mechanic, in tune with every movement and sound coming from the vehicle. Still, you must value your car enough to listen to what it is trying to tell you. It benefits you when you have small problems fixed promptly. Not only do you save yourself some money of costly repairs, but you retain the value of your car by keeping it in running order.

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Author

Brian Jones

ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist

Brian Jones spent more than 20 years working as an ASE Certified Master Tech and Parts Specialist at multiple dealerships. Currently, he lives with his wife and children in a suburb of Dallas, TX. He spends his time dreaming about pickup trucks, muscle cars, Jeeps and anything related to motorsports. He works with numerous dealerships around the country as a consultant. In his spare time, Brian likes to visit new places and hopes to travel the world.

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