No, troubleshooting doesn’t mean shooting your car if it gives you trouble! Troubleshooting means finding and fixing the source of car trouble. You don’t necessarily have to fix the problem yourself-you can hire someone to do it-but you do need to know what the problem is. Why? So that you can demand, “Try that again?!” when the mechanic snickers, “A million dollars for a new muffler bearing.”
This article offers a number of proven tips for troubleshooting your car and getting it repaired at a reasonable cost. The remainder of this Website describes how specific repairs are done on unspecific cars.
How to Listen When Your Car Talks
So what kinds of noises might you hear as you merrily roll along?
Knowing the type, location, and time of the sound often can help you pinpoint the problem. A growling sound from below the middle of the back seat when the car ismoving is probably caused by a problem in the differential (on a rear-wheel-drive car), for example. If you hear a sound from the engine when accelerating that sounds like a bunch of marbles banging around, the problem is probably pre-ignition caused by low octane fuel or incorrect engine timing. A siren from behind accompanied by flashing lights might mean you were driving too fast. Knowing what you now know about cars, you might be able to identify the source of the problem. If not, you can save money by accurately describing the sound, its source, and when you hear it to your mechanic. How about smells? What kinds of unusual odors emanate from a vehicle that operates on gas?
- Burning oil
- Burning plastic
- Burning fabric
- Burning putridity
The smell of burning oil can be something as simple as oil spilled on the engine’s exhaust manifold or as serious as engine piston rings failing. The smell of burning plastic can mean a problem with the electrical wiring or interior parts. Smells like burning day at the city dump are either that or the catalytic converter failing. A smell like a dirty diaper probably means the baby in the back seat needs a rest stop. To troubleshoot smells, first stop the car as soon as safely possible, and then tum off the ignition. Get out and walk around the car, sniffing to identify the location of the odor. After you identify the odor, you can decide whether it’s safe to go on or whether you should call for a tow truck. Your sense of touch can also playa part in troubleshooting. Descriptive terms follow:
- As hot as a radiator cap
- Colder than it usually is
- Mushy, not firm like normal
- Very smooth or very rough
- As hard as the proverbial rock
Hot or cold, soft or hard-you’ve determined that its touch is not normal. That’s a start toward troubleshooting.
If Your Car Is in a Coma
So how can you troubleshoot a car that isn’t running? There’s nothing abnormal to see, smell, or touch. About all you can do is review what happened just before it stopped. An older car may show no symptoms of problems, but then stop running a week after a tune-up, for example. Knowing this, troubleshooting could lead to the distributor, where you discover that the wire on the new condenser had vibrated loose. No spark = no go. Most car parts that fail don’t just give up the ghost at a young age. They fail due to abuse or neglect. Reviewing the last few days or weeks of driving may offer a number of ideas on why your car quit. You might ignore a clunking sound in the engine, for example, until one day, both the engine and the car quit. A leaking battery may not be immediately discovered and cleaned up, and acid can eat through some wiring. A transmission that refuses to go into gear could have been acting up for a month. Handwriting on the wall-but you’re learning to interpret that handwriting and understand what to do about it.
Do Idiot Lights Have an IQ?
A gauge measures and numerically reports the status of something. Coolant temperature is 175°. Oil pressure is 40 psi. The speedometer is broken, officer.
A warning light gives you a yes or no answer. Coolant temperature okay? Off is yes and on is no. Oil pressure okay? Off is yes and on is no. Driving under the speed limit? Flashing light off is yes and on is no.
How can you be sure your car’s gauges are telling you the truth? Experience. Yes, you can test them, but driving your car gives you the experience to know which readings are normal and which aren’t. Gauges report trends.
How can you be sure your car’s warning lights are equally honest? Warning lights report status. You can make sure your warning lights work by watching the dashboard as you tum on the ignition. Most modem cars light all warning devices then to let you know that the bulbs work. Your car’s owner’s manual will tell you what the lights mean and whether they are tested as the ignition switch is moved.
Hold on. There is a point to this. The point is this: Whether you are dealing with gauges or lights, learn to read them. Make a habit of scanning your car’s dashboard on a regular basis. When starting your car, tum the ignition switch to the on position and watch the gauges and/or lights. With gauges, know what’s normal. If necessary, apply a piece of tape on gauges to clearly identify normal operating ranges (some gauges are as useless as warning lights).
Va Gonna Fix It or Pass the Buck?
Okay, you’ve identified the problem. Is the solution to replace a part or to repair it? With all the firmness I can muster, I respond: That depends. Read on. Repairing many car components requires tools you probably don’t have or want. Why buy a $2,000 tool to fix a $50 part? Okay, maybe you won Lotto America! Otherwise, don’t bother. The total cost of starter parts, for example, is greater than the cost of a rebuilt starter-as long as you give them your old starter in exchange so that it can be rebuilt. The same goes for engines, transmissions, and many other parts: Buy and replace them as a unit, making sure the new parts are the same model numbers as the old ones.An exception is any part that is difficult to replace. Just try to find a generator for a 1956 Continental Mark II! In such cases, take the old part to a specialized repair shop and give them joint custody of your wallet.