Like many people, you probably just want to get in your car and drive. Unfortunately, cars are imperfect machines that act up from time to time.
These are 30 of the most common car problems you might face.
Table of Contents
1. The battery dies at startup.
Many dead batteries get that way from user errors, like leaving the headlights or accessories on overnight. The easy fix is to ask someone for a jump and then drive the car for 20 to 30 minutes so the alternator can recharge it.
In some cases, aged batteries begin to lose their ability to hold their charge.
Have someone test your battery or check the manufacturing date and assume it needs to be replaced if you’ve had it longer than three years.
Alternatively, an electrical problem could be causing a parasitic drain, and a skilled technician will need to pinpoint it for you. This is a common problem for older cars.
2. The tire flattens overnight or while driving.
We’ve all had our hearts broken by first-morning flat tires or highway blow-outs at least once. These problems usually arise from running over nails, glass, and other sharp objects.
A few select incidents might happen because of vandalism, tire age, and manufacturer defects.
There isn’t a lot you can do about a flat tire except take it to a specialist and request a flat repair or replacement.
Tire techs can perform flat repairs on tires that have enough tread and aren’t punctured too close to the sidewall. A roadside rescue team member can install your spare tire to help you get to a nearby shop.
3. The brakes make squeaking noises.
Squeaky brake sounds can be offputting, but they usually aren’t crises. It might just be the proper time for you to have someone put new brakes on your car.
That’s likely the issue if you hear the sounds only when braking.
However, you may have a minor problem, like dust or debris on the rotors or a thin layer of rust. You can usually solve the last two issues by driving the car for a while and braking hard a few times when you stop.
Drum brakes may need a little lubrication.
Don’t hesitate to have someone look at your brakes if you hear squealing noises after you’ve tried the recommended fixes.
Check out more problems specific to older cars.
4. The lights don’t come on.
Headlight death and other light failures typically occur for one of these reasons:
- A fuse blows
- The bulb dies
- The electrical system fails
The top two problems are inexpensive fixes.
Your owner’s manual will explain where to put a new fuse for the corresponding light. Bulb swaps can be easy or complex, depending on how your vehicle’s manufacturer places the light assemblies.
Electrical issues may take some time to pinpoint, but you should first check the easiest suspected problems. Pull the fuse for the corresponding light and check the middle to see if it’s broken.
Next, remove the bulb and check it for breaks.
Replace it accordingly and schedule an appointment with a reliable shop if you need electrical system help.
5. Smoke comes out of the exhaust.
The only time exhaust “smoke” is normal is in the morning on a cold day. Otherwise, your engine needs a little attention.
Blue smoke indicates that your car is burning oil, while black smoke reveals that excessive fuel is being burned.
An air filter replacement or fuel system cleaner might resolve that issue.
A trail of thick white smoke means coolant is leaking into the combustion chamber, which means you may have a blown head gasket, cracked head, or cracked engine block. These issues are, unfortunately, expensive repairs and are not typical DIY processes.
6. Smoke comes from under the hood.
Smoke should never emerge from under the hood unless something is burning on the engine or manifold. Thus, you must pull over your vehicle immediately and inspect the area to find the problem.
Many underhood smoke episodes come from coolant leaks that stem from worn or punctured hoses, and a visual inspection should reveal the location of the leak.
You may be able to swap out a defective or punctured hose yourself after the engine cools.
Oil leaks can also cause smoke from a loose cap or a leak under the hood. Certain leaks will require the assistance of an experienced mechanic.
7. The tires wear unevenly.
The front tires of a front-wheel-drive vehicle will naturally wear before the rear.
The same is true with a rear-wheel-drive car and the rear tires, but getting timely tire rotations can equalize the problem.
Uneven tire wear often occurs because of improper tire pressure, failure to get wheel alignments at the proper intervals, and issues within the suspension system.
Checking your tire pressure against the recommended PSI once a week can help you spot when they aren’t inflated properly.
Wheel alignments are typically done yearly, but the owner’s manual may have more specific instructions.
8. Oil leaks onto the ground.
Oil leaks can originate from loose oil filters, drain plugs, and oil caps. Resolving that type of leak is typically fast and inexpensive.
However, oil leaks can also occur because the engine’s gaskets wear over time. Valve cover gaskets, rear main seals, and oil pan gaskets are common seals that become worn and allow oil to come through as the car ages.
Specially treated high-mileage oil can sometimes swell the seals enough to reduce such leaks, but they will need replacing eventually. You can gain yourself a bit more time by changing the oil and replenishing your losses until you can take the car to a reputable shop for repairs.
9. Coolant leaks on the ground.
Visible coolant leaks usually present themselves because of cracks or punctures in coolant hoses or reservoir tanks. Cracked radiators can cause small leaks to occur as well.
A more profuse coolant leak may be due to a faulty water pump.
A coolant leak you can’t see could indicate a more severe problem, such as a blown head gasket or cracked head.
In this situation, the coolant leaks into the combustion chamber and leaves through the exhaust in the form of thick white smoke. It’s one of the most severe coolant leaks and has a distinct set of additional symptoms.
10. The windshield cracks.
Cracked windshields are another common problem in cars today. CarWindshields reports that more than 13 million windshields are repaired or replaced yearly.
Most cracked windshields get that way because of falling rocks and debris when traveling behind a tractor-trailer. Some incidents happen when children play sports carelessly around parked cars. Natural disasters play a role in the cracked windshield count as well.
Determining whether a cracked windshield should be repaired or replaced depends on the size and depth of the damage.
Cracks fewer than three inches can typically be repaired. However, it might be safer to have the windshield replaced altogether.
11. The wiper blades don’t work.
Wiper blades are probably the most vastly ignored car parts that exist, which is why many drivers get caught out in the rain with non-working blades.
Some don’t work because of defective or worn rubber, and others have more mechanical issues, such as blown fuses or broken motors.
In the worst-case situation, wiper blades fail to work because of an underlying electrical problem. Worn blades will be evident through a visual inspection.
Check the fuse that powers your blades if they aren’t moving. An appointment with an automotive shop might be necessary if you can’t find the issue but your blades still don’t function.
Read on for more information: Windshield Wiper Problems: 5 Common Issues & Fixes
12. The engine stalls.
Stalling and hesitation typically happen when the air-fuel mixture is terrible. This problem can be caused by a clogged air filter or an issue with the fuel system.
Alternatively, your vehicle could have bad sensors or a failing battery.
You may have to dig a wee bit to pinpoint the problem, but you can start by having someone check for trouble codes. You have a superb chance of getting a code that will reveal the issue if your “check engine” light is illuminated.
A diagnostic scan will narrow the possibilities so that you can repair the issue soon.
13. The car fails inspection.
If you live in a US state that requires vehicle inspections, you’ve probably been rejected a few times. Anything from worn tires to dead lights can prompt failure, but it happens mostly because of emissions issues.
Worn spark plugs, dirty air filters, leaky gas caps, and problems with the catalytic converter or EVAP system can cause a car to fail.
If you fail emissions, you’ll need to follow up with an auto repair shop and have them connect your vehicle to a diagnostic machine.
The technician can then explain to you what the problem is and what you need to do to have it fixed.
14. The “Check Engine” light illuminates.
The “check engine” light also goes by the name of the “malfunction indicator lamp.” It alerts automobile drivers about problems with signals to the engine’s computer that aren’t correct.
Because vehicles have so many chips and computerized systems, diagnosing an issue without scanning it can be difficult.
The easiest way to assess the problem is to connect an OBD2 scanner to pull a code from the car’s computer to decipher.
The code will give you an idea of what needs to be fixed. For example, P0301 means cylinder one is misfiring, and you need to examine the possible problems that could cause that issue.
15. The car overheats.
The three main reasons for overheating are missing coolant, restricted coolant, and missing oil. Overheating can also occur if fans or other components like the water pump and thermostat break.
Note, electric cars like Teslas don’t overheat as much.
Low or missing coolant might come from cracked or punctured hoses.
Internal leaks through a blown head gasket can cause overheating as well. Oil leaks that come from worn gaskets and loose parts can affect the engine’s temperature immensely.
Therefore, it’s vital to get the car off the road and find the leak’s cause right away. Refill the depleted coolant and keep an eye on it; the culprit will eventually reveal itself.
16. The car makes whining sounds.
All vehicles make sounds, but a whining sound isn’t typical. Thus, you can feel confident that you have an upcoming repair if your car ever whines.
Bad alternator bearings, low power steering fluid, and internal transmission problems are common causes of engine whines. Less commonly, whining comes from defective air compressors.
Perform the easiest checks first by reading your power steering and transmission dipstick to check the fluid levels. If nothing seems low or abnormal, you can move on to performing alternator tests and so on.
17. You hear grinding sounds.
Grinding sounds often come from the braking system. They occur when drivers ignore early signs of brake pad wear, like screeching and squealing, and wear the brake pads down to nothing. The metal-to-metal action then causes a grinding sound.
Bad wheel bearings can also be the cause of grinding noises, especially if it happens when turning.
In some rare cases, grinding noises can come from faulty motor mounts, transmission issues, and defective CV joints or differentials.
However, you can almost be sure that your brakes are grinding if you hear the noise a few weeks after hearing them squeak.
18. The engine is loud.
Engine noise is what makes a motor seem like it’s alive.
But too much noise can indicate a problem. Loose accessory belts, spark plugs, or exhaust components can cause your engine to sound louder than usual.
For example, a holey muffler can make your car sound like a motorcycle.
Loose belts can cause clacking, and bad spark plugs can make a putt-putt sound. To assess the problem, you must first listen to the sound with your ear or use a mechanic’s stethoscope to pinpoint it.
19. The serpentine belt breaks.
Serpentine belts are only built to last so long, and bad weather, improper tension, and high mileage can cause them to fail earlier than usual.
It’s always wise to inspect your belts for cracks and looseness frequently. Furthermore, belts should be changed every 60,000 to 100,000, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
20. The timing belt pops.
Timing belts are not as strong as timing chains, and they need to be adjusted and changed. They often fail without warning and cause catastrophic damage to vehicles with interference engines.
A good practice is to change the timing belt at the 100,000-mile mark to prevent a random incident.
21. The car vibrates.
Vibrations can come from numerous problems, from bad motor mounts to unbalanced tires and ignition coil issues. The key to pinpointing the problem is to note when the shaking occurs.
It’s more likely to be a motor mount problem or an issue with the ignition system if it occurs at idle.
Wheels and suspension are more likely to be the culprits if the problem only happens on the road.
22. The engine sputters.
The engine typically sputters when it can’t get enough air or fuel.
Problems that can cause these problems include fouled spark plugs, dirty air or fuel filters, dirty injectors, or faulty sensors. Diagnostic scans or tests can narrow down the possibilities of what you need to work on.
23. The transmission slips.
Transmission slippage is a scary problem that happens to many cars. This issue can have a minor or major reason for occurring. Low transmission fluid is the cause in many cases.
The solution is to refill the fluid and search for the leak’s cause. However, the issue can arise from a worn transmission band, worn gear, or a faulty torque converter.
25. The windows don’t roll up or down.
Power windows that won’t roll up or down can be annoying, but they usually have easy fixes.
Fuse switches or window motor replacements can resolve such issues.
Alternatively, you might have child safety locks engaged and can solve the problem by disabling them.
26. The car loses power.
Fuel and air filter problems are usually the causes of lost power.
However, your vehicle may also lose power from more severe problems like blown head gaskets and internal engine damage. A scan or test can reveal the cause.
27. The radio dies.
A dead fuse is likely if the radio stops working while you’re jamming. The first step is finding which fuse controls the radio and checking it for damage. Replace it if necessary and consider checking the alternator or electrical system if the problem is elsewhere.
28. You hear a clicking noise when turning.
CV axles and joints are usually at fault when cars make clicking sounds when turning.
But dead starters, faulty alternators, and malfunctioning starters can produce similar sounds.
Diagnosing and fixing the issue involves isolating the noise and noting the what and when to narrow the possibilities.
29. The cabin stinks.
Stinky cabin smells can indicate issues with the heater core, faulty catalytic converters, and burning fluids or wires. In other words, you need to park your car and figure out why it stinks.
Assessing the smell can give you a good idea of where to start.
Sweet smells come from the coolant and are good indicators of failing heater cores.
30. The AC stops working.
Low coolant can be a reason for a non-functional AC, and a reliable shop can fill it up for you.
More severe problems that can cause your AC not to work are a bad air compressor, a damaged belt, or a blown fuse.
Don’t panic if you experience one of these common problems. Instead, speak to someone at a respectable shop who can assess it quickly and help you conquer it.