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The Sounds of Trouble Brewing Under the Hood: a Symptomatic Approach to Vehicle Care

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Nothing could be worse than driving home after a long day at work and hearing a strange knocking or pinging sound coming from under the hood of your vehicle. Well, it could be worse…you could be driving on a deserted highway around 10pm at night and hear the sound. Wherever you may find yourself, this is not music to your ears. Your next thought may be to erupt into a full-fledged panic because you are sure this is an eminent sign that your vehicle is just about to break down.

While this may be a bit melodramatic to take this approach, there are reasons to be concerned if your car is creaking and groaning. Your vehicle is not throwing a temper tantrum, but it is clearly trying to get your attention. Although you may maintenance your vehicle regularly and track its progress on an online e-log, there are things that can still go wrong between service visits.

It is good to be proactive about these early warning signals and address them as soon as possible rather than hoping that the sound does not return. By addressing these potential problems early, you can save yourself the hassle of bigger repair bills in the future.

There are Rumbles and There are Grumbles

While some noise from cars makes us happy and excited, such as the rumble of the engine or the hum from the shifting gears, there are other sounds that are not what we want to hear. It could be a rattle, scrape, squeak, groan, pinging, or a thumping sound. Some sounds speed up as the vehicle accelerates while others are steady or rhythmic.

Whatever the reason, it is a clear signal that there is a problem.

  • Knocking could be a sign of transmission problems or a worn crankshaft.
  • Pinging means that you are using a gasoline grade that is lower than what you should be using for your vehicle. This happens frequently to people who are driving luxury vehicles and are trying to save a few pennies by using a lower octane gas. It only hurts your vehicle, so it is best to bite the bullet and pay a bit more on gas. If you cannot do that, then you should opt for a car that runs on the economy gas.
  • Clunking seems to be attributed to older vehicles because many parts tend to be loose and sagging, such as a muffler, exhaust pipe, shock absorber, or suspension.
  • Rumbling could be indicative of a number of problems, such as a bad tire, exhaust, converter, muffler, or universal joint.
  • Screeching is usually caused by a problem with the brakes or worn out break pads.
  • Clicking is also tied to a number of things – from loose wheel covers and blades to more serious issues with the axle, universal joint, or low engine oil.
  • Squealing could relate to the power steering, fan or air conditioning.
  • Grinding could mean that your brakes are in need of replacement.

Any of the aforementioned sounds means that it is time to get your vehicle serviced so the noise can be diagnosed and fixed before the problem gets worse.

Other Signs and Symptoms

While noise may be one of the most obvious signs that something is wrong with your vehicle, there are other symptoms to keep in mind and look into if they appear. There are other sensory experiences that tell us something does not “feel” right about our vehicle.

You may sense a change in the way the car is handling or if it is pulling to one side. You may see strange stains under the car. And you may smell something that gives off an unpleasant odor. Here are some signals that you will need to follow-up on with a service visit if they happen:

  • Frequent colorful wet spots under your vehicle means that there is a leak. If the liquid appears to be yellow-green, blue, or fluorescent orange, it is related to an overheated engine or antifreeze problem. Dark green, blue or red leaks could relate to a leak in a hydraulic clutch. Red or pink stains indicate a power steering leak. A golden color may indicate brake fluid leaks and a dark or brown stain relates to an oil leak. Other fluids of various colors can relate to leaks in a gasket, seal, transmission, or washers. All of these are signs to get examined immediately.
  • There may be something rotten in Denmark, but it really only is a concern when that smell is coming from your vehicle. A burning smell could mean an electrical short or a burned wire, which could lead to a fire. The smell of rotten eggs has to do with a problem in your exhaust system, catalytic converter or other device related to the vehicle’s emissions. A thick smoky smell means that the vehicle is burning oil while a chemical odor relates to overheated breaks or clutch.
  • Lastly, you may have an intuitive connection with your vehicle that allows you to feel if it is performing well or not. The vehicle may pull, which indicates that it is misaligned or tires are under-inflated. The handling and ride may feel rougher than it usually does, sending the signal that it is time to look at shock absorbers, the suspension, tire balance, and springs. When your brake pedal feels mushy when you press on it, it means they are worn out. Slipping gears when accelerating is a sign that your transmission needs a tune-up. Rough idling, poor fuel economy, and weak acceleration are also signals that your vehicle is not feeling like itself.

Recording the Good and the Bad

While you may feel apprehensive about tracking any vehicle breakdowns and repairs, it is a good way to gauge performance and identify other deeper issues about the vehicle that should be addressed. Additionally, and prospective buyer might appreciate the detailed notes that you have kept on your maintenance log about what was right and what went wrong.

Many of the signs and symptoms mentioned in this article could be avoided if you stick to a regular maintenance plan or work with a company that provides you with reminders about service through your email, PDA, or cell phone.


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