As most car owners know, your vehicle will more than likely have some issues if you own it long enough. Some car problems are more frustrating than others. Some can be time-consuming and expensive to repair, while others are an easy fix that you can do on your own. Knowing how to diagnose and fix common problems can save you a lot of money and headaches over the course of your vehicle ownership. If you own a car, you need to read this guide! We’ll tell you about 15 of the most common car problems you may experience and how to fix them.
15 Most Common Car Problems & Fixes
Some car parts almost never fail, but others are more prone to problems. Here are some of the issues that you might encounter with your vehicle and what you will have to do to fix them.
1. Warning Lights Illuminated
One of the most common issues that you will experience with your vehicle is seeing warning lights illuminated on your dash. Your car has many lights on your dash that are meant to warn you of potential problems. These include the check engine light, traction control light, tire pressure warning light, brake warning light, and many others.
When you see one of these warning lights, you should not ignore it! Some of the warning lights are fairly obvious fixes. If you have a flat tire, then repairing the tire will fix the tire pressure warning light. Others, like the check engine light, will require more diagnosis. Get your car to an auto repair shop and have them read the trouble code. Your car’s computer will give you additional information about the problem so that you can identify the necessary repair. Just remember that the lights are illuminated for a reason, and you should not ignore them and continue driving!
2. Dead Battery
Car batteries are a critical part of your car’s electrical system, and your vehicle will not start with a dead battery. If you turn the key and nothing happens, you probably have a dead battery. Cold weather and extremely hot weather can be detrimental to car batteries, and many people have battery problems after the first cold wave of the winter season. You should also be aware that corrosion on the battery terminals can also cause a similar issue. A simple cleaning of the terminals will fix the problem in that case.
If you have a dead battery because you left your lights on or did something else to drain the battery, you can simply jump start the car and recharge the battery to fix the problem. However, if the battery is bad, then it will need to be replaced. Battery replacement usually costs you $200 – $400, and many auto parts stores will install a new battery for free if you purchase it from them. Car batteries usually last anywhere from two to five years, depending on your area’s climate and your specific battery.
3. Steering Wheel Shaking
Another common issue that many car owners experience is the steering wheel shaking when they drive. There are two leading causes for this problem, both of which are pretty simple fixes. First, if the steering wheel shakes while you are driving, you probably have a tire that is out of balance. Visiting a tire shop and balancing your tires will usually correct the problem.
On the other hand, if your steering wheel shakes while you are braking, you have warped brake rotors. The shaking will be especially noticeable while braking on a downhill slope or gently applying the brakes at highway speeds. This problem will require a repair to your braking system. You will need to replace your brake rotors, and you should probably go ahead and replace the brake pads at the same time. New pads and rotors should address the problem, and the shaking in the steering wheel will be gone.
4. Flat Tire
The dreaded flat tire can happen at any time, and this problem is usually caused from road debris. A nail or screw can get lodged into your tire and cause it to go flat. If this happens, you will need to change the tire. Many vehicles have a spare tire that can be placed on the vehicle temporarily, but some vehicles do not have spares. If your vehicle is equipped with run-flat tires, you can drive the vehicle a few miles to a repair shop, even if your tire has no air pressure in it.
A tire repair shop can advise you whether the tire can be repaired. You can usually repair a flat tire for about $25, although some flats cannot be repaired due to the nature of the damage. In that case, you will need to replace the damaged tire.
5. Failed Emissions Test
If you live in a state that requires emissions testing, you might experience a failed test at some point. Older vehicles are more likely to fail emissions tests than newer ones, and there are a few reasons why your car might not pass the annual inspection and emissions test. One of the biggest reasons you might fail your test is that your vehicle has bad catalytic converters. Unfortunately, catalytic converters are expensive and need to be replaced by a professional mechanic. First, you can use some catalytic converter cleaner in your vehicle and see if that solves the problem before replacing the converters.
You might also find that your car has bad O2 sensors. When these sensors fail, your exhaust may have more harmful gases in it than it should. Replacing these sensors will correct the problem, and you can feel confident that you will pass your emissions test on the next try.
6. Bad Alternator
We’ve already discussed the problems related to a dead battery, but that issue could be caused by a bad alternator. Your car’s alternator produces an electrical current, and it keeps your battery charged while you drive. Since all the car’s electrical components run off the battery, the battery would quickly die without a properly working alternator. When the alternator starts to fail, you might receive a warning on your dash, such as the low voltage light or the battery light.
Replacing an alternator is not extremely difficult in most cases, although the part is difficult to access on some vehicles. A repair shop can test your alternator to confirm that it is bad, and replacement will usually cost you $300-$500 on most vehicles. Once you get a new alternator in place, your car should run smoothly again.
7. Engine Sputtering
As your car gets older, you might notice your engine start sputtering. The performance might not be what it once was, and there are a few reasons this can happen. First, you could have bad spark plugs that need to be replaced. Spark plugs that are not firing properly will cause engine misfires and sputtering. You might also have dirty fuel injectors or a clogged fuel filter. Both of these problems can cause similar issues. Finally, your air filter might be dirty, and your engine could be starving for oxygen.
The fix for a sputtering engine is usually a simple tune-up. Replace your air filter and clean your fuel system. Put a new set of spark plugs in your engine, and replace the plug wires if necessary. For just a few hundred dollars, your engine should be running like new again. Do not ignore these important pieces of car maintenance, or you could be left with a vehicle that no longer runs as it should.
8. Engine Overheating
Engine overheating can cause serious problems, like a blown head gasket or other significant issues. So, if your car starts to overheat, you should shut it down immediately until the problem is diagnosed and repaired. Overheating is usually caused by a bad radiator, a faulty thermostat, a bad water pump, or a burst coolant hose. In some cases, old coolant can also cause your car to overheat slowly.
If you have a bad radiator, water pump, or thermostat, you must replace the faulty part. Leaks in your cooling system will need to be tracked down and repaired. This might include replacing hoses or even your heater core inside the car’s dashboard. Radiator replacement could cost you up to $1,000, and replacing the heater core will be even more expensive due to the amount of labor required. However, you cannot drive a car that is overheating. It will lead to detrimental car engine damage and very costly repairs.
9. Worn Brake Pads
Squealing and squeaking noises when you press the brake pedal usually mean that your brake pads are worn. Worn brake pads can also cause your car to require a longer stopping distance than normal. Brake pads last anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 miles, but they must be replaced when they become too worn. An auto repair shop can measure the thickness of your pads to determine whether they need to be replaced. Thankfully, replacing the brake pads should only cost you a few hundred dollars. Once you have new pads in place, the squealing should be gone, and your car will stop within a safe distance.
10. Air Conditioner Not Working
For those who live in a warm climate, a working air conditioner is a must! Unfortunately, a problem with the A/C system is something that many car owners experience. This common car issue is usually caused by low refrigerant in the system. Many owners attempt to perform this car repair on their own by purchasing a can of refrigerant from their local parts store.
However, working on the air conditioning system can be dangerous for those without some mechanical experience. If your air conditioner is blowing hot air, you should seek the help of a qualified mechanic. If there is a leak in your system, you might need to replace the seals or gaskets inside the compressor. Thankfully, you can always drive without a working air conditioner. It might be a hassle and uncomfortable, but it’s not something that must be fixed immediately.
11. Automatic Transmission Slipping
The automatic transmission in your car is highly complex, and there are many working parts inside the transmission. As your car ages, the bands and gears inside the transmission can become worn. This might lead to your transmission slipping as you drive. You might notice your engine RPMs going higher without any corresponding response to your speed, but the cause is probably not an engine problem. You may also notice the car jerking when you press the accelerator.
A slipping transmission is not cheap to repair. You will likely need either a transmission rebuild or replacement. This could cost you anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000. To help avoid this problem, make sure you perform regular maintenance on your transmission. Performing regular transmission fluid flushes will keep the fluid fresh and keep the internal parts lubricated. That is the best thing you can do to help extend the life of your transmission.
12. Poor Fuel Economy
If you have owned your car for a few years, you might start to notice that the fuel economy is decreasing. This is not uncommon, and lack of maintenance will only intensify the problem. Poor fuel economy could be caused by carbon deposits in the combustion chamber, a dirty fuel system, or even low tire pressure. To solve the problem, you should start with the easiest solutions first.
Go ahead and perform a routine tune-up, including an engine oil change, fresh air filter, fuel system cleaner, and new spark plugs if necessary. More than likely, you’ll notice your fuel economy go back to where it should be. If that doesn’t fix the problem, you might need to get the help of a mechanic who can further troubleshoot and diagnose the problem.
13. Fluid Leaks
Nobody wants to see a puddle underneath their car, but fluid leaks are almost inevitable if you drive your car long enough. Engine oil leaks, coolant leaks, and power steering leaks are the most common culprits. Usually, the problem is a bad gasket that has gotten so old and brittle that it starts to leak. To fix the problem, you will need to find the source of the problem and replace the faulty part. You should know that some engine gaskets are difficult to access, and it could cost you more than $1,000 to fix the leak in some cases.
14. Uneven Tire Wear
In a perfect world, your tires will wear evenly and maintain consistent tread depth across the whole tire. However, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you might notice that some of your tires are wearing more quickly than others. You might also notice that the inside or outside of your tire is wearing faster than the middle of the tire. Uneven tire wear is almost always caused by bad wheel alignment. Get your car to a repair shop and have a wheel alignment service performed. This should fix the issue, and it will cost you less than $150 in most cases.
15. Cosmetic Problems
Most people like to keep their cars looking brand new, but cosmetic blemishes are bound to happen eventually. Whether it be a ding, dent, scratch, or other problem, you might find yourself wondering how to repair cosmetic problems. Some issues are fairly simple to fix, while others are much more difficult. It is usually best to get the help of a professional when repairing a cosmetic problem, especially if you are trying to make things look perfect again. Professional technicians can remove many dents and dings without having to repaint the vehicle, and these repairs can be fairly cheap. However, larger problems will need painting, and a quality paint job is not cheap. Get your car to a repair shop and have them give you a repair estimate so you can determine whether the blemish is worth fixing. Unlike most mechanical problems, cosmetic issues are usually not urgent!
The Bottom Line
If you are wondering, “What’s wrong with my car,” you should now have a much better idea of the potential problem. Both new and used cars will eventually have some problems, and some of these problems are fairly common. Knowing how to repair these common problems can save you some money, and it can also save you a lot of frustration if you know what to expect from your vehicle. These 15 common car issues happen a lot more often than other problems, so now you should know what to do if one of these problems happens to you. If you can’t fix the problem yourself, get your car to a trusted repair shop so they can take care of the issue for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What usually fails first in a car?
There is no way to know which part will fail first in a car, but some parts almost always fail sooner than others. Car batteries typically last no more than five years, and maintenance items, like brake pads, air filters, and spark plugs, must be replaced at regular intervals. Engine accessories, like the alternator or water pump, are often some of the first major parts to need replacement. The car’s engine and transmission usually last the longest, although that is not always the case in every vehicle. Some car complaints about newer vehicles are related to the engine and transmission, although this is pretty rare.
What are the best ways to fix car problems?
The best way to fix car trouble depends on the problem itself. Fixing a battery that has been drained because the lights were left on can be as simple as a jump start with a set of jumper cables. However, fixing a slipping transmission can be an extremely complex and expensive job. The best place to start when fixing a problem is to properly diagnose the cause of the problem. Once you have determined the issue, you can then assess what will be needed to repair the problem. If you cannot do this on your own, then seek the help of a professional mechanic.
Can I keep driving my car if it has a minor problem?
Yes, most of the time, you can keep driving your car if it only has a minor problem. Problems like cosmetic issues, a malfunctioning air conditioner, or uneven tire wear do not have to be fixed immediately. However, bigger problems, like an engine that is overheating, need to be repaired right away. Your mechanic can advise you whether it is safe to continue driving the vehicle or if it should be fixed immediately.