6 Easy Car Problems You Can Troubleshoot Yourself

If you own a car, you should be able to perform certain basic maintenance tasks on your vehicle without resorting to a trip to the mechanic. From oil changes to fluid checks, you want to be able to see what works and when it is working properly (or when it is not). So to give you some insight on what that means, here are a few of the small issues every car owner will eventually face that you should know how to spot, whether you plan on fixing it yourself or taking it straight to the shop.

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Dead Battery

You’ll know your battery is dead if you try to start your car…and come across complete silence. The lights and radio refuse to come on. What causes a dead battery? It might just be that you left the lights on too long, or it could be harder-to-diagnose problems like a stuck open relay. But assuming it’s something simple like leaving the lights on, you should be able to charge it back up with a set of jumper cables, and your car will restart and be fine.

If the battery was drained too low or was simply ready for a replacement, you may not be able to revive it with a jump, or it may die again in the near future. Sometimes the battery just needs to be replaced. If your car refuses to start and your battery won’t hold a charge, it’s good to figure this out before you get stuck in your garage, or worse, on the side of the road. A good multimeter will show you the charge on your battery quickly enough. These inexpensive units can be purchased at local superstores or auto parts chains, and are simple to connect to your battery to check its voltage.

Starter

A bad starter is usually fairly easy to detect. You may hear a clicking noise as the starter circuit tries to activate the solenoid. Or, the engine will turn over and you have plenty of juice, but it never spins fast enough to catch. In modern vehicles this is less common than a dead battery, but if you know the battery is fine but the car still won’t crank, then the starter is the next logical place to check. Be careful not to repeatedly attempt to start your car if it doesn’t catch the first time or two. The starter will overheat quickly. Let it rest for a few minutes and try again.

When a starter wears out, typically the little teeth in it are either broken off or worn down to the point that it is stripped out, or an electrical component of the starter has malfunctioned. Either way, you’ll need a new starter. Whan you first notice hesitation when the engine reluctantly tries to spin, have the starter checked.

Bad Belts

If you have your car inspected regularly by the state or during an oil change, your mechanic will likely catch bad or worn belts. But whether they miss one or you do your own routine maintenance, it’s good to take a look every few weeks just in case. Look for cracks, holes, “strings” or other signs that the belt is starting to deteriorate. You might also be warned when you hear a squealing sound coming from your engine compartment, although other parts (especially brakes) make squeals too. If the belts are worn, you may not have much time before it snaps, so if you notice a problem, get it repaired quickly.

Worn Brake Pads

The more you use your brakes, the more the friction wears down the brake pads. During normal use, they will feel perfectly fine. But after awhile, you will notice that it takes more force to stop the car from the same speed. Then you’ll notice slower braking. Visually, you can often inspect the brake pads by looking through the spokes of the wheel; the pads should be at least 1/4 of an inch thick. It’s often easier to notice the squealing sound while braking, which the wear indicator makes to warn you that you need a replacement. Once you hear that squeal when braking, it’s time to have your brake system inspected and repaired.

Worn or Bulging Tires

If your car is suddenly handling poorly, the tires look misshapen or deformed, or you simply can’t figure out what is happening that would cause the air to be uneven in your tires all of the time, it could be a bulge-often due to a broken belt in the tire– or excess wear on one or more tires. Tires aren’t meant to last forever, and as the tread wears down, you’re more likely to experience a blow-out. It’s easy to check your tire tread with a US penny. Just put the penny into the groove of the tire tread with Abraham Lincoln’s head pointed toward the tire. Try it in several spots. If you can see the top of his head, you definitely don’t have enough tread and it’s time for new tires.

Computer Malfunctioning

Almost every modern car has a computer on board called the Engine Control Unit. If the computer starts to go bad for some reason, a lot of things can go wrong – from warning lights to clock resets to a poorly-running engine. Start by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery to clear the computer’s memory. If that doesn’t work, you may need to have the computer checked. Another sign is that your check engine light doesn’t come on at all – it should light up briefly when you first start the car.

Troubleshooting problems with your car is very important, but so too is common maintenance. Unless you’re on a factory warranty that requires dealer maintenance, it’s in your best interest to be able to replace fuel filters, check spark plugs, replace air filters, and change your own oil, among other things. These are all very simple tasks for most cars, and even if you can’t do them yourself with the space you have, you should know how if the need ever arises.

 

Photo used under Creative Commons licensing from Wikimedia

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