Do You Know Your Car Symptoms and Solutions?

Steven Symes

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

VROOM VROOM! What would life be without cars? Before the late 1800s, most people were settling for transportation by horse or maybe even a bike. The introduction of cars would change the entire world, and many people might be car fanatics, but it takes a lot to be a gearhead! Do you know your car symptoms and solutions?

The late 1800s brought the invention of cars by German Karl Benz. While there had been previous attempts before, Benz's creation with an internal engine is what set his invention apart from the rest. Since then, the car industry would boom.

When it comes to vehicles, many people are able to recognize the cars and their countries. Germany has the Mercedes-Benz named after Karl Benz as well as the Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen. Car lovers might recognize Japanese vehicles Toytota and Nissan. Luxury fanatics might be obsessed with Maserati, Porsche, or a Corvette. While all these cars are beautiful on the outside, it takes a real gearhead to know these cars inside and out! If something was wrong with your car, could you play doctor and fix it?

Could you figure out what to do if one headlight is out? What could you do to fix streaks from a windshield wiper or a sweet smell coming through the vents? If you can answer these questions, you just might be a true gearhead! There's only one way to find out!

Take this quiz and let's see if you know your car symptoms and solutions! 

Fasten those seat belts!

One headlight stops shining.

Your headlights work like any other light. If the bulb burns out, they just stop shining, making the solution relatively easy. Depending on your car, getting to the old bulb to remove it and install a new one could be a fairly simple or slightly complex process.

Nothing happens when you turn the ignition key.

While this won't always fix the problem, nine times out of ten a dead battery is the reason for a car that won't do anything, including make a single noise, when you turn the key. Either it just needs to be charged, or the battery is done for.

The lights in your car dim suddenly as you're driving.

Dimming lights, including lights that suddenly dim as you're driving, is a classic sign of an alternator that's going out. You might notice problems with other electricity-drive features, including the sound system and the windows, which are all powered by the alternator while the car's cruising.

The oil has milky swirls in it.

If you see swirls of white, milky stuff in your oil, that's coolant which has leaked out of the water jacket in the engine. Almost certainly, this is caused by a blown head gasket, although there is a possibility of another crack somewhere that's allowed the mixture, depending on your engine's design.

Your spark plug's electrode is pitted or uneven on the surface.

As your engine overheats, the spark plugs do as well. Just like any other type of metal, the electrode will begin to melt, but since it's made of nickel, the engine temperatures must exceed 2,200 to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the coolant system for the cause of the overheating.

There's red fluid under your car.

Transmission fluid is purposely dyed red so you can easily distinguish it from other fluids from your car. If you find something that looks like blood, but is oily, that means somewhere in your transmission fluid is leaking, and you need help tracking down and repairing the leak.

Green or orange speckles seemingly have sprayed all over your engine compartment.

On some cars the coolant is purple, so remember that, but finding these colors splashed around inside the engine bay comes from coolant leaking, then hitting something hot and spitting all over, like oil hitting a hot pan. Track down the source of the leak, which could be a cracking hose, loose fitting, or the water pump.

Your engine keeps overheating, but the coolant level is just fine and the fan runs constantly.

While overheating can be caused by a number of issues, when you eliminate the chance of a coolant leak that drops the fluid level too low, and a malfunctioning fan, the next most likely scenario is that the thermostat isn't working properly. As the regulator of coolant flow, when this part stops working properly, the engine can easily overheat.

You turn on the heater and run it for a while, but the air never turns very warm, even though the engine temperature is normal.

Most people don't realize that their car's heater runs off the heat extracted by the coolant. If there isn't enough coolant, the heater core won't fill up enough or at all, which is where a fan will blow the hot air into the car's interior. Refilling the coolant will fix this problem in a hurry.

As you drive down the road, you notice the tires vibrate constantly and even begin to bounce up and down.

Usually, this problem is caused by tires that are out of balance, which is something a professional shop should fix. There is a slight chance your tires are worn or have flat spots, making it necessary to replace them to completely fix the situation.

You hear something sizzling and maybe even see smoke or steam coming from under the hood.

If you hear sizzling and/or see smoke/steam coming from under your car's hood, that's reason to stop as soon as it's safely possible to do so. A massive oil leak could lead to a seized engine in short order, while too much coolant lost too suddenly would overheat the engine. Both can have catastrophic consequences, so it's worth checking out the source of the sizzle.

Your engine pops and pings like you're making popcorn inside the cylinders.

The combustion of gas inside the cylinders should be a highly controlled event, and detonation or engine knock is when it happens at uncontrolled times. A number of things can cause it, including carbon deposits, bad spark plugs, gas with a low octane rating, etc. If you don't do something, this problem could trigger some big time engine damage.

The sound of something like a hammer comes from deep inside your engine as it runs.

When the rod bearings are too worn to do their job correctly, you'll start to hear this hard knocking sound. It's not a good sound, because you'll need to tear apart the engine to repair the damage, and often need to replace far more than just the rod bearings.

You try to start the engine multiple times, but all you hear is a clicking, and the smell of gas is strong. Some black smoke curled out the tailpipe as you were trying to start the engine.

While more often a problem with older cars, if you keep trying to fire up the engine without any breaks, you can flood it. At that point, you need to wait a while before attempting to start the engine again, or the problem will just continue.

White smoke always curls out of the car's tailpipe, no matter how long the engine's been running or what temperature it is outside.

You definitely shouldn't ignore white smoke that doesn't go away once your engine warms up, since it usually comes from coolant being where it shouldn't in the engine. Any one of these problems could be the source of this symptom.

The exhaust gases coming out of your car's tailpipe have turned faintly blue.

While some oil leaks won't cause this symptom, if the oil is combusting or burning, it can result in blue smoke. Like most problems, ignoring this symptom can make things worsen, instead of catching the issue when it's small and easily managed.

When you remove the spark plugs, they're black and wet.

Several things could be the cause of oil fouling, namely Leaking or worn pistons, valve stem seals, or rings. If you put too much oil in the engine, the sump will overflow, and that can foul the spark plugs. The solution is simple enough: install new spark plugs.

Your trunk smells like mold or mildew each time you open it up.

The weather stripping around your trunk opening should seal out all rain and water from any other source, no matter how hard it comes down. If the weather stripping is worn and cracking or shrinking, it won't work properly. Damage also creates gaps the water can seep through, so water gets in the trunk and causes the smell. Replace the weather stripping and the problem will be fixed.

A squealing sound comes from the wheels each time you push on the brake pedal.

As your pads wear to the point they should be replaced soon, a wear strip is exposed. Since it's harder than the material the pads are made of, it causes a really annoying sound each time you apply the brakes, especially when you press on the pedal hard. If you have the pads changed, the problem will stop.

Your car squeals as you start it up and drive.

Most people have heard about squealing belts, but many have no idea that the pulleys those belts rotate on can wear out, making the same noise. It's not a bad idea to have the pulleys replaced at the same time, considering the most expensive part of the job is the labor to get to the belts.

The windshield wipers leave streaks on the glass.

Your wiper blades are made of rubber, and that rubber endures all kinds of temperature extremes. Eventually, the blades crack dry up, etc. and no longer swipe the glass as well as they should, and so must be replaced. Sometimes, the solution is just a simple cleaning with a microfiber towel, which removes dirt buildup from the rubber, eliminating the streaking.

Your tire tread is wearing faster in the middle of the tire, versus either side.

If you overfill your tires, it actually will cause the edges of the tread to touch the road less often, so it wears unevenly. This isn't good, because you're hurting performance and wearing out your tires faster than if you followed the vehicle manufacturer inflation recommendations.

Your car idles rough and you can hear a slight hissing sound coming from the engine compartment.

Your car has many vacuum hoses, which are critical to the proper operation of the vehicle. Like all hoses, they can wear out and crack, or might even be damaged somehow, which results in the rough idle, hissing, and sometimes in noticeably poor fuel economy.

You suddenly smell something sweet coming through the air vents, and you're not near a bakery.

Your car's engine doesn't normally produce sweet smells, but when it does, that's an indication the coolant is cooking. If that's the case, the engine is also overheating, and you need to address that problem right away.

The engine RPMs fluctuate up and down as you're cruising on the highway, pressing on the accelerator consistently.

Called surging, this is a problem with not enough fuel reaching the cylinders. The source could be a clog in the fuel filter or injectors, or maybe that the gas tank is almost empty.

The engine oil pressure light turns on while you're driving.

If you see this light come on while driving, pull over and turn off the engine immediately, since continuing to drive could result in serious damage to the engine. The loss of pressure could be as simple as not enough oil in the sump, or that the oil pump has stopped working. In a few rare instances, the gauge or warning light malfunctioned.

The dome light won't come on when you open any of the doors.

The dome light is triggered by small buttons or sensors in the doorjambs, so there's a slight chance a button could stick. But when opening any of the doors doesn't turn on the light, either the bulb needs to be replaced, or someone set the light to not turn on when the doors open.

The key sticks in the door and trunk locks.

If you have a car that doesn't come with a remote, which is a rare thing these days, or your remote isn't working, you might find yourself using the key to unlock and lock the doors. Over time, the key will wear down or might even become damaged, so you must replace it if lubricating the locks with graphite doesn't fix the problem.

You're traveling downhill and the brake pedal suddenly has no pressure.

If you ride on the brakes, or press them continuously, while going down a steep grade as a way to keep the car's speed in check, that can vaporize the fluid in the brake lines. The emergency brake will still work, but you should only pull that once the car has come to a stop. Use the different gear settings on the transmission to slow your vehicle so you can do that, and the next time, use those lower gears to control your speed, instead of just relying on the brakes.

Each time the air conditioning comes on, the stench of vinegar fills the car cabin.

As you run the air conditioning in the car, the cold air generates condensation in the air conditioning system. If you draw in outside air, that condensation evaporates, but constantly recirculating the air means the drain for condensation buildup can back up, allowing mildew to start growing. Have your mechanic clear the drain, and run the air conditioning with outside air more often.

A squealing sound comes from under the hood as the car makes turns at lower speeds.

Check the power steering fill reservoir to see if the fluid is topped off, which could be the cause. If it is, the pump might be failing, or the belt that powers it is worn and needs to be replaced.

The windshield spray nozzles suddenly stop working, but you hear a motor running.

If you hear the motor running when you turn on the nozzles, the problem might be that there's no washer fluid. If the reservoir is full, insert a needle into the washer nozzles to clear any salt, sand, etc. that might be clogging them up.

The engine fan keeps running after you shut off the car and are walking away.

The engine fan can and will run independently, based on the engine temperature. That means if you hear it kick on after you shut the car off, the engine is so hot, the fan needs to be running to prevent damage. Check the coolant level, once things have cooled off, and refill it above the minimum line. The thermostat could be failing.

The steering wheel shakes as you apply the brakes.

Over time, the brake rotors might wear unevenly, and that causes vibrations. It can start off light but over time, it becomes more pronounced, to the point that you can feel it through the steering wheel. The solution is to either resurface the rotors or replace them.

One or more tires constantly lose air pressure and need to be refilled multiple times a week.

You might have driven over a nail or something sharp, causing damage that allows air to leak out slowly. Other common sources of slow leaks are worn valve stems and improperly mounted tires. While air temperature changes can cause the tire pressure to fluctuate, it wouldn't cause a continual slow leak. Have a qualified tire shop inspect the tires to locate the source of this problem.

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