The Car Engine Symptoms and Solutions Quiz

Robin Tyler

Image: Cravetiger/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The fact that you are here means that you love cars. But not in the way that other people love cars. You know a little more than most. You have a good idea of how cars work, how engine parts work in perfect harmony to get you from one destination to the other. Chances are good that you have been covered in some grease from time to time as you spend weekends tinkering with your vehicle.  But no matter what, cars are complicated, and things go wrong on them.

Modern cars are a little more involved than their older counterparts; that’s for sure. When things go wrong with them, serious things, it's better to call in a mechanic, preferably a specialist that knows exactly how your particular make and model works. Sure, changing the oil or battery isn’t that difficult — something you can still do — but why worry about that? It's probably covered by the maintenance plan

Classics are a little easier to work on, if you can find the parts. And it's great to spend some time tinkering away, getting your classic car purring for a nice weekend cruise. 

But enough about that. We want to test your knowledge about cars and the problems that affect them. We want to see just how much you really know. Are you ready to take the test?

A puddle of liquid under a car is usually an indication that which of these may be leaking?

A leaking radiator is a massive problem. If it's not fixed, coolant levels will drop, your engine will overheat, and it could seize. A quick fix is to use a radiator sealant, but ultimately it will need to be replaced.

What should the voltage reading on a battery be?

If a battery is in perfect working order, a voltmeter or multimeter should read 12.6 volts or more when connected to it. For an accurate reading, let the car sit for at least an hour — or preferably overnight — before testing.

What's the mechanic's secret when tightening a new oil filter?

Always tighten a new oil filter with just a three-quarter turn. This ensures the new O-ring will make contact and complete the seal. Overtightening the oil filter can strip the threads.

Your car won't start. You have checked the fuel pump, battery and starter motor, and they are all working. What else could you check?

A spark is needed for the engine to turn over, as this helps ignite the fuel/air mixture. With a broken distributor, the spark won't happen. If you're lucky, the cap might not be broken, but it might not be fitted securely.

If a car won't start but the battery is fully charged, there could be a problem with which of these?

The alternator helps keep your battery charged. If it is not working, the battery will slowly drain. A dead alternator will eventually mean a car that is going nowhere. Luckily, it is fairly easy to replace.

While driving your '60s muscle car, you notice a lack of power and engine backfiring. What could be wrong?

A problem with the fuel/air mixture could cause the engine to run poorly. The carburetor regulates this and should be the first thing you check. Carburetors are not found in modern vehicles.

Black smoke coming out the tailpipe usually means a problem with which of these?

Black smoke coming out of the rear of the car from the tailpipe could indicate a plethora of problems. The first thing to check is whether the air filter is dirty or clogged. If it isn't, you might need to consult a mechanic.

If a modern diesel vehicle is struggling to start, which part, exclusive to diesel vehicles, might be failing?

Glow plugs are essential parts of a diesel engine. They ensure that ignition will take place during compression, even if the engine is cold. If a glow plug fails, a vehicle may struggle to start.

When a car develops transmission trouble and changing gears is a problem, what should you check first?

Any car with a transmission problem should be checked out immediately. The first thing to do is to see if the transmission fluid level is correct. If it is, the problem might be more severe.

If your car is making a high-pitched squeaking sound, what should you have checked?

A wearing belt, which is generally easy to spot due to fraying, can be replaced fairly simply. That will probably solve your squeaking problem. More often than not it is the fan belt, but check with a mechanic for other possibilities.

Older cars can develop problems with starting and rough idling. What's an easy check to perform when this happens?

Fouled up spark plugs will not fire properly. This can certainly lead to your engine misfiring. In fact, it's a good idea to clean them regularly, especially in an older car. And if you ever flood your car while trying to start it, clean the plugs immediately.

A yellow glowing light on your dashboard in the shape of a car engine means you should do what?

The engine warning light can indicate a small problem or it could indicate a big problem. It's better to get it checked out as soon as possible — especially if the light is flashing.

An oil leak under a vehicle would produce which colored liquid?

Most oil is amber when new, but it will turn brown once cycled through the engine as a lubricant. If you smell the liquid, it should have the distinct smell of oil as well.

After performing an oil change, what should you do with the used oil?

Oil can contaminate groundwater and should never be disposed of in the ground, poured in a sewer or flushed away. Many auto parts stores and service stations will accept old oil and dispose of it correctly.

A light is flashing on a car's dashboard. It shows a thermometer with wavy lines underneath. What should you check first?

A temperature warning light indicates that the engine is overheating. The first thing to check in this regard is the fluid level in the radiator. If that seems fine, you might need to replace the thermostat.

Which part turns an engine over just enough to get it rotating by itself?

The primary role of the starter is to turn the engine over, causing it to fire and to run on its own. When the starter motor fails, the engine cannot be started. The starter motor is powered by the car's battery.

What part delivers a spark to the combustion chamber in the engine, causing it to fire?

The spark plugs are crucial components in getting any engine to start. The sparks they create cause combustion in the engine, which helps it to run. Engine knocks may indicate worn spark plugs.

In a car engine, which of these is not part of the ignition system?

The muffler on your car is all about keeping the noise down. The muffler will reflect the sounds created by an engine, which helps cancel them out. Not all sounds are canceled, of course, or we would have silent cars. And no, the muffler certainly is not part of the ignition system of your vehicle.

When a car won't start and tests show the battery and alternator are in perfect working order, what can you check next?

A jammed starter motor can stop a car from starting. Sometimes a light tap with a hammer can unjam it, if you are lucky. Otherwise, the starter motor might need to be replaced. It's time to check with a mechanic.

When performing an oil change, which is the best oil to use?

Check your owner's manual — that will mention which oil viscosity is best for your engine. Remember, depending on the variance in temperatures between winter and summer where you live, the viscosity of oil may change, depending on the season.

Of the options listed, which can cause your engine to misfire?

A clogged fuel filter means that the engine is not receiving fuel correctly, which can cause a misfire. Eventually, the engine may stall, if the problem is not addressed. A new fuel filter is relatively inexpensive.

Which part of the car powers electrical systems and should be checked if they fail?

The alternator is an important part of your car's engine. It takes mechanical energy, converts it into electrical energy and then uses that to keep the battery charged. It also powers electrical components within the car, such as power windows.

What part of the engine ensures that high voltage moves through the coil of the ignition and reaches the spark plugs, making them fire in the right sequence?

The distributor is connected to the coil. It then sends voltage through high-tension leads to the spark plugs so that they fire in the correct sequence to make the engine run smoothly.

When mechanical energy produced by the engine does not result in movement of the vehicle, which is the first in a long line of parts you can check?

Well, it's not always that simple, but the power produced by an engine is turned into movement through the crankshaft and then a whole host of other engine parts. The crankshaft is a great place to start.

Your car won't start and you get a heavy smell of gas. What is the problem?

A flooded engine simply will not start. This is because the gas/air mixture is too rich — there is too much gasoline for combustion to take place. Open the hood and wait 20 minutes, then try again but do not press the accelerator when starting the car.

Which of these warning lights would indicate a problem with your battery?

This is the warning indicator that something is wrong with your battery. It could be that it is not charging properly, that one of the cells has died or that the car's alternator is faulty.

Your car is pouring black smoke out the exhaust. Of the options here, what could the problem be?

If your engine is running too rich, too much gas is being pumped into it, and the gas cannot be burned effectively. Not only are you wasting money, but also the engine is not running at the optimal level.

A vehicle in front of you in traffic has white smoke pouring out of the tailpipe. What is the likely cause?

When white smoke comes out of a car's tailpipe, it is an indication that there is a problem with the cylinder head. Either the gasket needs to be replaced, or, worse still, the cylinder head is actually cracked.

Modern cars have onboard computers. Their diagnostics can be accessed through a connection port. Where is this found?

All modern cars have a connection port for the onboard computer in the cabin near the driver. Check your car's manual for the exact location, which may be hard to find.

When a car suddenly won't start but has gas in the tank, what could the problem be?

If your car started yesterday but doesn't today and you have gas in the tank, the first thing to check is the battery. Begin by checking that the terminals are tight. A loose battery terminal could cause your car not to start.

A car that is running hot but not losing coolant indicates a problem with which other part?

If your radiator is not leaking or using water but the car is overheating, check the thermostat next. This regulates when coolant is passed to the engine — basically when it is getting too hot. If the thermostat is broken, it will not perform its task properly.

A diesel-powered car is blowing white smoke on startup. It also takes longer to fire, and when it does, it runs rough. What should be checked?

Diesel engines are very different from petrol engines. In a diesel engine, glow plugs heat the motor to help it start. If they are faulty, starting will be difficult or impossible.

If you see an oil can with a drop glowing on your dashboard, what should you check?

That light should not be ignored! If it starts to glow, check your oil immediately. If the oil in your engine is too low, it can cause massive damage, as no lubrication is taking place and metal parts will begin to grind on metal parts.

The condition of your car's catalytic converter is measured by which of these?

The condition of a catalytic converter is measured through the quality of the oxygen that comes from it. This is measured by oxygen sensors placed at the front and back of the converter.

What does LSD mean when dealing with engine parts?

The limited-slip differential usually ensures that power is spread to the wheels of the vehicle equally, whether it is a two-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle. If a wheel loses grip for some reason, however, its spin will be reduced.

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