Signs Your Car is Failing

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

A car is a normally reliable piece of machinery that provides us with a safe and comfortable ride to our destinations. However, your vehicle can and will begin to fail without proper upkeep. It’s not always easy to tell if something is wrong with your car simply by driving it, but common signs indicate a car is beginning to fail.

This blog post will focus on those signs and what they look like, what might be causing them, and how you can fix the issue.

Your Check Engine Light Is On

The check engine light, either red or yellow, is designed to let you know that your car isn’t running at its full potential. The light will appear on your dashboard if something has gone wrong with one of your car’s major components, such as the engine, transmission, or catalytic converter.

Sometimes, the check engine light may come on if something minor is wrong, such as a loose gas cap or an expired inspection. However, if the check engine light has come on and stays on after starting your car, it’s a sign of a potentially more serious issue. 

Your engine may be misfiring, or running more noisily than usual, and not putting out the proper amount of power. In this case, you should have your car looked at by a mechanic as soon as possible.

Your Car is Leaking Fluids

Leaks occur when a liquid or gas passes through a container that is not supposed to let it out. A few different kinds of common liquids might leak from your car if something is amiss, such as motor oil, transmission fluid, and windshield wiper fluid.

Some of the most common sounds you’ll hear when a liquid is leaking include hissing or gurgling noises. You can also look for puddles under your car after parking for extended periods of time. In the case of motor oil, you may notice a drop in your engine’s performance.

If the leak looks like it’s coming from a hose, such as your radiator hose, you may be able to tighten the connection and stop the leak if you’re handy with tools. If the leak is on a seam or in an easily accessible place, repairing it may be as simple as using some special tape or epoxy.

When the leak is difficult to fix, you may need a new hose or another component. It may be a good idea to have all of your hoses inspected by a mechanic because that will cost more money to purchase and replace. Before diving into repairs, it’s best to have your mechanic look at the issue to assess what work needs to be done and how much it may cost.

Your Car is Struggling to Turn

If your car is seemingly fighting you at every turn, it could be a sign that your car needs new tires or that there’s some other problem with the wheels. If your vehicle is struggling to turn while driving on the straight ground, such as trying to clunk into a parking space or swerve into the correct lane, then it’s probably just time for new tires.

Your car might also be bucking and shaking when you try to turn it even on flat ground. If this is the case, your steering system may have something wrong, which can be just as dangerous as a faulty tire.

The opposite issue could also be apparent and might reside in the alignment of the car’s wheels. You can test this by driving in a straight line and slowly taking your hands off the steering wheel. If one side of the car veers more than the other, you may need to have a mechanic check your car’s alignment.

There Are Signs Of A Weak Or Faulty Battery

Before buying a new battery for your car, it’s important to determine if the problem is with your battery or something else entirely.

A car’s electrical system only has enough power to start the engine and run features like headlights and windshield wipers. If you hear clicking noises when turning the key but the engine won’t turn over, then your battery is likely the problem.

Another sign that your car’s battery could be weak or faulty is if everything electrical, like headlights and turn signals, goes dim when you try to start the engine. This means that there isn’t enough power for both items at once.

If you need a new battery, make sure you buy it from an auto parts store or an auto dealer, not a general home improvement store. A car battery needs to be made specifically for the make and model of a vehicle because each is slightly different.

Removing the old battery is relatively simple on some cars but more complicated. Once the old one is out, you can install the new one by lining the clamps up with the battery’s corresponding cables on your car.

You Feel Strange Vibrations When Driving Fast

Many mechanical components can cause vibrations in your car when you’re on the road, but most of the time, it’s something to do with the wheels. Commonly, drivers will have a car-wide shaking sensation when speeding up on the highway, and it’s usually because you need new shocks or struts.

If the vibrations only happen when your car is going quickly, then it may just be that your tires are out of alignment or that they’re poorly inflated. If this is the case, try checking all four tires for proper inflation and wiggling them back and forth to see if this fixes the problem. 

You See Smoke

It’s never a good sign when you see smoke coming from your car, but it doesn’t mean that something is wrong in many cases. If the car exhaust looks normal and there isn’t any strange burning smell or sputtering, then you probably just need to have your spark plugs replaced.

If you have an older car, smoking could signify that you need to change your oil soon. This is because the excess fuel in the engine has begun to burn more slowly than it should, which can cause smoke to come out of the tailpipe.

If you see smoke coming from under your hood, it’s best to pull over as soon as possible and turn off the engine. While some smoke is regular when the car is warming up, blue or white smoke coming out of the engine can mean there’s dangerously something wrong.

You Have Computer Issues

If your car’s computer system has gone haywire, you’ll notice that the speedometer jumps around erratically or that the engine won’t start at all. You can usually tell you have computer issues if the check engine light goes on while driving.

You may also have problems with your radio, windows, and doors not working properly. If your car is having computer issues, you can try to remove the keys from the ignition and then put them back while turning on the engine. If this doesn’t solve whatever problem was plaguing your car, you may need a new part for your computer system.

Your Cold Starts Get More and More Difficult

If it takes longer than usual for your car’s engine to turn over in the morning, it’s likely because you need a new spark plug. This is true even if your engine itself sounds fine when starting up.

You may also notice that the car starts but sputters afterward or seems to miss. Replacing a spark plug is a relatively simple task, and you should be able to do it yourself. Just remove the old one, unscrew the boot from its top, and screw your new one on until it locks into place.

The problem could also be because your fuel pump needs to be replaced. If the engine turns over but won’t start, you may have a bad or failing fuel pump. Your car should still run for a while after the key is turned off, but if it dies while driving, this could indicate that there’s something wrong with your fuel pump.

Your Car Stalls When You Come to a Stop

You likely need to have your ignition coils replaced if your car stalls the first time you try to stop. If it stalls when you’re driving, then other problems need addressing.

An electrical issue usually causes stalling, which means you will find the problem somewhere in your car’s wiring. When you turn on the ignition, the computer sends an electrical current to each spark plug, which completes a circuit and starts the combustion process. If one or more of those coils isn’t working correctly, it won’t provide the necessary spark, which causes the engine to stall out.

Bottom Line

While car repairs can be expensive, you shouldn’t put off having your problems fixed or at least looked at. Ignoring the signs that your car is failing will only make things worse in the long run, and it’ll end up costing more when it has to be repaired later on.

There are telltale signs that your car is failing, and if you notice any of them, you might be able to catch and fix the problem before it goes too far.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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