How to Diagnose Car Problems if you don’t know Much About Cars


Imagine you’re driving on a highway at cruising speeds and suddenly your car starts behaving abnormally. Your super-reliable used Toyota Camry, which you bought a few years ago, the one that you clocked thousands of miles without squeaking and squishing, suddenly starts driving strangely. What do you do in such a situation? There certainly is something wrong with the car but how do you identify what exactly is at fault. Well, we would just say- follow your senses. Here’s how to detect what’s wrong with your car when it starts being a bit stranger than usual.

How to diagnose car problems if you don't know much about cars
How to diagnose car problems if you don’t know much about cars

Tired Tires

The first thing you check when you notice something abnormal with your car is the tires. Harsh ride quality, unpleasant rattles, excessive vibration might all be a cause of something being wrong with the tires.

A puncture or low pressure might be the reason why you might not feel right. Moreover, the tires might have worn out a little too much and you can test the tread depth of the tire by doing a simple penny test and replace them if they fail to pass the test.

Notice the warning lights

Checking the warning lights in the center console is yet another first to do when you realize that something’s not right with the car. Some warning symbols like the engine temperature light, tire pressure light, oil light are pretty simple to read or you can simply refer to the user manual of the car to identify them.

The problems these lights represent are also simple to rectify and you can fix them in no time by driving to the nearest mechanic’s store. The check engine light could mean anything from a misfiring spark plug to a loose gas cap.

However, never ignore any warning light and get it fixed as soon as possible.

Hear any funny noises?

Well, these funny noises could mean a wide variety of anomalies with the car. If the car is creaking too much and if you find the bad patches on the road getting your spine a little too hard, then it might just be your car’s suspensions that might be at fault. Worn-out suspensions generally creak a bit while driving on bad spots and they do not absorb the bumps that well. When this happens, you know it’s the suspension.

You may sometimes hear a long squeal and that might be an indication of issues with the belts. A loose timing belt can slip on the pulley and make a harsh squealing sound. The squealing sound might also be a cause of a stretched-out power steering belt and so you might just get both these belts checked.

You’re driving a used Camry and Camry isn’t a car that sends cracks and pops through the exhaust unless you’ve staged it up or swapped it with some crazy engine. If you hear these unusual sounds, there surely is something wrong with the spark plug or the air filters have gotten dirty.

When there is something wrong with the gearbox, you generally hear some weird grinding noise. A grinding noise could mean anything from worn-out gears, the improper meshing of gear teeth, or might even be caused due to low lubrication.

Inconsistent feedback from the steering

Does the steering feel a little loose or a little too hard than usual? Well, there’s definitely something wrong then. If you find the steering loose, then the tie rods that connect and steer the front wheels might be at fault and you’ll have to check them first.

If the steering feels hard, then it might be a problem with the power steering system. The steering wheel feels harder when there is something wrong with the EPAS fluid pump or belt and you’ll have to check and replace them soon.

The car just doesn’t slow down!

If that’s what your complaint is, then it might be a case of brake fade. The most significant and early symptom of this is a very spongy brake pedal. If the brake pedal lacks the usual feel, there certainly is something that’s not right with the braking system.

This is caused by low brake fluid levels or due to some air bubbles in the brake lines. In such cases, you’ll need to top up or replace the brake fluid and bleed the brakes.

Damp spots

Do you regularly happen to see those wet spots under the car? Then it might just be due to a leaking fluid line. It could be brake fluid, steering fluid, coolant, or some other fluid or oil leaking and you cannot ignore these leaks as all the fluids are extremely essential for the car. Get the leaks fixed right away and always keep an eye for such damp spots on the ground in your parking place.

Keep your olfactory sensors alert

Do you often smell gasoline in your car? Do you also smell some sweet scent? Then there are two systems in the car that have broken; one is the fuel line or tank and the other in the engine coolant lines or tank. The smell of gas becomes more prominent when there is a hole in the fuel line or the fuel tank. On the other hand, you feel a very sweet smell when the coolant is leaking.
You may also sometimes get a strong stench resembling rotten eggs.

And that’s when you know it’s the battery or the catalytic converter that’s malfunctioning. Car batteries use water and sulphuric acid and sulphuric acid has a strong odour like rotten eggs. If the water from the battery evaporates, this odor becomes strong. When the catalytic converter malfunctions, you also get a similar kind of stench, and hence you need to check both the battery and the catalytic converter.

Do you also sometimes get a smoky smell in the cabin? That may be caused due to too much friction between the moving parts of the car. This might be caused due to a worn-out clutch plate in cars with a manual gearbox or otherwise might be due to hard and excessive braking.

If you’re not all that well versed with cars, these are a few simple things that you should be keeping in mind. These steps will just help you understand the faults in our car and get them fixed quickly.

Moreover, it would just prevent you from being duped by mechanics who tend to fool around with their customers who seem to be noobs in the car world. Visual inspection, wide-open ears and nose, and being alert about any other unusually odd sensations with the car will just help you to figure out what could possibly be wrong with it.


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