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Diagnosing and Troubleshooting Common Car Problems

Troubleshooting Car Problems
A car is a machine and how well it performs depends on how well you take care of it. Regular car maintenance is very important and will help increase the life of your car, not to mention not getting stuck in untimely and sticky situations. Remember, if you get your car serviced regularly, you won't be troubleshooting any problems often.
Shrinivas Deshpande
Last Updated: Jan 24, 2018
Owning a car is no doubt a boon, but it comes with its share of problems as well. There are high chances that you are going to encounter some problems with the car, and the best one can hope for is that these do not occur while you are traveling. Car problems can range from the simple to the frustratingly complex, which can at times baffle even the most experienced mechanics. Thankfully, not all of these are very complex, and troubleshooting car problems can help you get on the road again in fairly quick time.
Remember though, that for most car problems it takes a while to get repaired, and will, in all likelihood, have to be taken to a garage, or if you are on the road, towed away. Given in this article are some of the common problems that all cars face in their lifetime, and tips on how you can detect the same. This will not only help in checking if everything is fine before you go for that road trip, but will also give you some basic knowledge about what is wrong with your car, and what you can expect your mechanic to tell you.
► Common Car Problems
Here are a few of the most common problems that you might face with your car, and what you need to do to try to solve these. If you are not sure about tinkering with the car, then it is best that you call a mechanic and get the problem attended to.
checking the battery
Engine won't start : Engine makes a sound while starting known as cranking
• If you don't hear the cranking sound when the ignition key is turned on to start the car, this generally means that there could be something wrong with the starter or the battery (assuming you are not out of gas). A simple way to check if your battery is weak or completely discharged is to test the windshield wipers, lights, radio or fan. If they do not work then the battery may be completely dead or may have faulty battery connections.
• Check the battery connectors at the terminals. Make sure that the connections are clean, tight and free from corrosion. Call your garage mechanic or towing service if this does not work.
Starter makes a clicking sound and won't operate :
You hear a loud clicking noise while starting your car, but the starter does not operate.
• Check if the lights, windshield wiper work. If yes, then maybe there is a problem with the starter. Either it is jammed or there could be a problem with the starter motor. Locate the starter motor and tap it with a spanner or a suitable tool.

• If your car has a manual gearbox, try to push-start or call your car mechanic or towing service.
Engine starts slowly : Engine stops cranking after you release the key or engine cranks very slowly.
• If the engine stops cranking after you release the key or if you hear the engine crank very slowly, you may have a weak or dead battery.

• Check the connections at the battery terminal. Clean and tighten them if necessary. Recharge the battery. You can get your car moving by jump-starting the car (please refer to your car user manual for details) or push-starting a manual gearbox car.
car does not start
Engine turns on, but car won't move : Car does not move after selecting the transmission gear
• If the engine is running and the car does not move after selecting the transmission gear, the first thing that comes to the mind is the car's transmission or drive (assuming that the parking brake is released). For manual shift transmission, check the condition of the clutch. Most probably, chances are that you may only need a clutch adjustment. Burned clutch facings may result in frequent slipping and need replacement.
• For cars with automatic transmission, check level of Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF). Allowing the engine to continue running, check the level of ATF with the ATF dipstick. Pull the dipstick completely out and wipe it with a rag before inserting it back in the engine and remove it again. If the fluid level is sufficient, then it could be the gearshift that has disconnected. If the fluid level is very low or if you don't see any fluid on the dipstick, call for your car mechanic or towing service.
Troubleshooting Other Problems
You can troubleshoot a problem with your car with the diagnosis of the odd smells, odors, fumes, smoke and sounds coming from various compartments of your car. Timely detection and diagnosis may help you take preventive and corrective actions for your car problems.
► Diagnosing and Troubleshooting Common Problems
▶ Smells
If you smell gasoline odor inside or anywhere near the car, there is probably a leakage with the fuel delivery system. Pull the car over, and step out immediately. Inspect the gas tank for any leak underneath. Call a nearby repair facility or towing service immediately. Do not attempt to continue driving if you smell gasoline odor in your vehicle.
Burning Plastic
The most common cause is a plastic bag stuck to the exhaust. If you smell rubber burning, check if the parking brake is accidentally kept engaged. Driving your car with parking brake can cause burning smell due to excessive surface friction of the brake pads. Electrical shorts may result in overheating and burning of the insulation material giving out a strong smell of burning plastic. In this case, disconnect the battery immediately and contact your car mechanic to locate the problem and prevent further damage to the system.
Mildew and Mold
It is an unpleasant smell that comes from your car upholstery, carpets or air-conditioner evaporator. An accidental liquid spill, rainwater seeping in or car flooding can cause the affected area to accumulate moisture and remain damp, giving a chance for mold formation and strong mildew stink. This can lead to serious problems like rust and weakening of your car body. Check for the source of odor. Dry the affected area thoroughly, by blowing hot air with a hair dryer to evaporate the moisture. Take care that the dryer does not heat up or is held too close to the upholstery fabric. Open the windows and let the air out. Keeping a couple of charcoal briquettes underneath your car seat absorbs moisture and odor. If everything fails, get your car cleaned at a professional car cleaning facility.
Fumes of exhaust especially inside the passenger compartment of the car can be very dangerous as it contains traces of carbon monoxide, which is quite harmful. It may be the result of a leak in the exhaust system and needs to be attended immediately.
Hot or Burning Oil
It is generally a result of oil or fluid leaking on a hot surface such as a hot exhaust manifold. Call the mechanic to look for the leak and fix the problem.
Burning Coolant
The burning of coolant produces a sweet smell, which indicates a faulty intake manifold gasket. Get the car inspected by your mechanic at once.
▶ Smoke
Blue Smoke
When engine oil enters into the engine combustion chamber and burns along with fuel and air mixture, you can see blue smoke coming out of the exhaust tailpipe. Call your mechanic to check the leak and correct the problem.
Black Smoke
This is the result of an excessively rich mixture of air and fuel entering into the cylinder area. The proportion of fuel is more in the air to fuel ratio. This mixture does not burn completely in the combustion chamber and produces black smoke coming out of the tailpipe, thus affecting engine performance and fuel economy. Although rich mixture is necessary for engine start-up, black smoke is indication for a faulty injection system or sensors in the engine computer. Get your car tested for emission and call your mechanic for engine tune-up.
white smoke
White Smoke
The white smoke coming from the exhaust tailpipe is actually steam, which indicates that water or antifreeze is being burned along with the fuel and air mixture in the engine. This can also be diagnosed if you have to add water and antifreeze more frequently than normal. Water or antifreeze if mixed with the engine oil entering into the engine cylinder can damage the engine seriously. Have your mechanic check for leaks and fix the problem immediately.
▶ Leaks
Oily and Black or Dark
The leaking fluid is most likely engine oil. Check the oil level by removing the dipstick and measuring the fluid level. Refill the oil according to the mark on the dipstick and observe the level for a next few days. If you find the oil level dropped and/or spot the puddle again, it's time to get the leak inspected by your mechanic.
oily and red
Oily and Red
If you notice oily and red leakage, it is most likely to be transmission fluid. Check the transmission fluid level, refill it and observe for the next few days. If you find that the level has dropped, get it checked by your mechanic to avoid damage to the transmission.
Green or Yellow
Green or yellow leaks are most likely to be coolant leaks. Get the leak identified and fixed by your mechanic.
Clear Fluid
Clear fluid is most likely to be drain water from the car's air conditioning unit or windshield washer fluid. You may have to touch and feel the fluid or smell it to determine if it is water.
Clear and Oily
If you notice a leak that is clear and oily then it is most likely brake fluid, which is a more serious type of leak. Get the leak identified and repaired by your mechanic to avoid brake failure.
The common causes of trouble and troubleshooting techniques contained in this article is only an indication to the possible automotive problems and their probable causes. You can save yourself from costly repairs by taking timely action to fix the problem. You may have to visit a qualified car repair facility or take technician's advice to examine, diagnose and repair your car.
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