The Fix-It Club offers free repair advice for cars as well as household repairs. Start here when you want to troubleshoot car problems.
What can go wrong on a car? Just about anything! Entire engines have been known to drop out of a car while driving! Fortunately, it happens so infrequently (with lots of warning signs) that car owners don’t need to worry about it. However, there are many other problems that can ruin a vacation—or a trip to the store.
So let’s first talk about warning signs. In the case of an engine falling out, an attentive owner doing her or his car’s maintenance would have seen broken supports, noticed that engine mounts were damage (or missing), and seen the engine shaking hard when idling. Some problems are that obvious while others aren’t. The most important skill you can pick up is troubleshooting or learning how to hear what your car is telling you.
Performing automotive maintenance, even just the easy jobs, acquaints you more with your car, how it runs, and what’s “normal.” It also helps you develop Car Logic. You begin to think like a car—or at least a car designer. That’s good. So when you hear a rattle near the front of the engine you can quickly troubleshoot it to see if the coolant pump is failing—or the engine’s going to fall out!
Service manuals typically include a troubleshooting chart or a section on diagnostic procedures. For example:
Engine turns over, but will not start.
- Check fuel level in fuel tank, add fuel if empty (Hey, it happens!).
- Check battery condition and state of charge.
- Check fuel delivery system.
- Check for contamination (water, rust) in the fuel.
- Check for ignition system failure.
- Check engine management system for a failed sensor or control module.
See how it works? The service manual will give you pages and pages of problems and procedures for troubleshooting your specific car. In fact, reading through the troubleshooting section can help you understand how car systems work together. It’s also a cure for insomnia.