Our cars and trucks actually do speak their own secret language, one which it seems they only speak fluently to an automotive repair guru or a super advanced D.I.Y. automotive repair type person, but with a little guidance and some practice, even the most average driver can learn to understand these everyday complaints which their mechanical baby may be sending to them.
Most things that can go wrong with a vehicle on a regular basis are typically going to be the simple things, and while these may not leave you stranded by the highway, they can still cause you misery and cost you extra cash that many of us probably cannot afford right now.
Some of the most basic noise complaints that your car is making can be used to help you diagnose at least the area on your vehicle where the problem is coming from. One first thing that a responsible driver might do once in a while is to turn off the radio and ride a few miles in silence just listening for any odd squeaks, grinds, tics, and groaning or thumping type sounds. The next thing to do on this same trip would be to open all the windows and see if there are any sounds which can not be heard with them closed, since today’s vehicles are much more sound-proofed these noises may never make it to the driver when the windows are closed.
Now shut the car off and listen for any strange noises and or smells coming from the vehicle. Next open the hood and observe the hoses and radiator reservoir, looking for antifreeze and smelling for any burning oil or any other odd smells under the hood. No matter if you fix your own vehicles or you have a shop do the work for you, it is wise to catalog any odd behavior that you observe as this information may help you find a resolution to your problems faster and cheaper than if you have not collected any data on the failure.
So what are the specific warning signs and items that can be easily overlooked? Many of them are not exactly detailed for you on the dashboard, especially the ones which are not being monitored by any of the gauges or lights on the dash. An example of this may be the transmission fluid level. Even with our super modern sensors and other technologies that have enhanced the performance and reliability of our cars we still have no clue what our automatic transmission is doing. There is no pressure or temperature readout, and with the newer transmission fluids you can hardly tell when the system is experiencing a failure until it is far too late to do anything about the problem. So checking the dipstick on your transmission is a very important step that many people tend to overlook.
Another common thing we tend to overlook is whether all of our lights are working or not? I had an incident recently where the brake light switch failed on my 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and thankfully another driver was kind enough to point this out to me before I had any serious problems. The odd thing about this is that I check my lights daily, and even have a hole drilled into the third eye brake light so that I can see the lights go on when the brakes are being applied. The point of this is that there are a lot of people driving around right now with some important lights broken on their car or truck. It is our responsibility as a good driver to keep all the lights working properly.
Windshield wipers tend to fail right when you need them most!
This is a true statement but an odd one as well since you typically would not test the wipers in between rain and snow events. So when it does rain or snow is when you find out that those discount blades you put on last year have become so worn that they are actually making things worse! It is very important to check your wiper blades often and definitely do this before it gets nasty outside as this will probably save you a lot of grief! Go to the parts store and get some mid- priced blades and if the old ones are still okay then keep them in the trunk in a bag as spares in case something happens to your new set of blades. Did you know that scrubbing a wiper blade with a good dish detergent and then running a fine sand paper across the rubber edges can rejuvenate an old set of wiper blades? Try it because the steps are really easy and it also works great!
Fan belts can quit at any time, and the best time to check all of your belts is when you are changing the oil. The belts can become frayed and cracked leading to a failure at the worst possible times. Usually the belt will break when you are all dressed up and heading somewhere important like a job interview, a wedding, or the bank for a loan, then when you walk in late with grease on your new suit from fixing the car in the street everyone will stare and whisper, trust me as I have lived it. The highest stress on these belts can be when you run the air conditioning, also when it is extremely hot or cold outside. Changing the belts periodically can save you a lot of hassles, and possibly even save you the cost of having the car towed to a garage.
The most important thing on your car that can fail second to your engine is the brakes. These usually will let you know they are going downhill by squealing like fingernails down a chalkboard. This is intentional and is a warning signal that your brake pads are expiring soon. You can do a visual inspection on disc brake rotors and pads looking to see that the rotors are not heavily scored and that the pads are sufficiently thick to get you through to the next scheduled maintenance date.
If your brakes are squealing every time you apply them you are in need of brake pads at a minimum, and if they are thumping it could mean that your rotors are warped and need replaced. This can also mean that some brake hardware is coming loose and you should stop driving the vehicle immediately to investigate the cause. Brake drums are harder to check but if they are failing you could smell hot drums even after a short trip, and you may experience a loss of braking capacity with the front brakes doing more than their fair share of the stopping work. This shows up as extended distances while braking to a stop, and really hot front brakes with excess brake dust everywhere.
Checking and greasing Universal joints and greased fittings all around is very important!
Even though we are all very diligent about changing the oil in our engines it is rare that anyone checks the grease fittings under our cars and trucks. Neglecting to grease these important fittings can lead to premature failure of steering and drive train components. Most of these failures can cause serious damage to the vehicle if it is being driven when the failure takes place. Your engine oil may be considered the life blood of your machine but the grease keeps many of the other drive-train parts moving smoothly for you.
We all tend to check the radiator after the steam is already escaping from under your hood. Checking the temperature gauge on the dash is very important and so is checking the level of fluid in the overflow reservoir when you check your engine oil and transmission fluid.
Checking tire pressure can help improve mileage and can make your car ride more safely. Under-inflated tires can cause major vehicle accidents and can also reduce your fuel mileage significantly. Also checking your tires for tread wear patterns and lost tread is super important to do on a weekly basis.
So in summary I feel that the best thing you can do is to use for recording vehicle maintenance is a log book of some sort, and even the notes section of your owners manual can help you keep track of things like how many tires were replaced and when? Also include the dates and types of other fluids and parts which may have been changed over time.
Keeping your car or truck in good mechanical shape improves your vehicles safety and improves your peace of mind!
Good luck, and thanks for reading my articles here on AC/Yahoo!