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Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Today’s vehicles are incredibly safe, comfortable and sophisticated. They are also generally very reliable.  With regular maintenance, most cars and trucks are likely to see 100k miles, or more, without major repairs to any expensive components.

That said, vehicle problems do sometimes occur, especially as mileage increases. Over time parts wear down, become damaged, and cause problems. Repairing them can be costly and will become increasingly expensive if ignored.

Paying attention to early warning signs can help prevent you from added frustrations and costs in repairs, not to mention extend the life of your vehicle.

To keep you safe on the road and help prevent expensive repairs, here are car warning signs that should never be ignored.


Many things can cause your car to smoke, but common culprits are leaking fluids, electrical issues, or a seized brake caliper. Thick blue or black smoke indicates the vehicle is burning oil, meaning oil is somehow leaking into your engine’s combustion chamber. Burning oil like this can cause a wide range of issues from reduced fuel economy to less-than-stellar acceleration.

White smoke can combined with coolant loss can mean a cracked or warped cylinder head, a cracked engine block, or head gasket failure caused by overheating. A cracked head may allow coolant to leak into one or more cylinders or into the combustion chamber of the engine. It’s dangerous to keep driving if you see or smell smoke in your car. Don’t drive until you’ve had one of our trained technicians locate and fix the problem that’s causing the smoke – otherwise you risk a vehicular bonfire.

Temperature Gauge: 

Indicates your engine is running too hot or overheating.  This should not happen, even during stop & go traffic or when it’s hot if the coolant system is working properly.  If your temperature gauge light is glowing, turn off your vehicle to let it cool before continuing to drive or checking to see if your coolant fluid is low.

Tire bulges:

If you hit a piece of debris or overinflate your tires, a tire bulge can form. Tire bulges are bubbles of air in the sidewall where air has forced its way through the inner lining. They’re a visible weak point that can burst unexpectedly. To avoid a dangerous situation, get bulging tires replaced immediately.

Jerky shifting:

Rough shifting is a sign there’s a problem with your car’s transmission. Worn clutches, stripped gears, and low transmission fluid can all result in jerky or clunky shifting. Whatever the cause, the problem will get worse each time your car changes gears, potentially leading to total transmission failure. A new transmission can cost thousands of dollars, so it’s always cheaper to get the problem inspected.

Squeaky belts:

Drive, serpentine, or timing belts help keep your engine running in time and power electrical systems. If you hear a squeaking or chirping noise from under the hood, it’s a sign that a belt is worn down. Sometimes a fix is as simple as making an adjustment, but some cars have belts which can’t be adjusted. Either way, get it fixed ASAP – worn belts can snap and damage your engine beyond repair.

Stinky exhaust:

Car exhaust always has some smell, but if it smells stronger or worse than usual, it means something is wrong. Leaking fluids can burn up on hot surfaces, producing unusual odors. Catalytic converters are designed to filter the exhaust, so a strong exhaust smell could mean this part is failing. The air/fuel mixture could also be off, which wastes fuel and makes the exhaust smelly. If you smell something abnormal, bring your car in immediately.

Wobbly steering wheel:

Different problems can all lead to the same feeling of shakiness when you hold the steering wheel. Failing or improperly aligned suspension could be a cause. An out of balance wheel and tire, which also results in premature tire wear, could be the culprit. If a wheel bearing is worn it could cause shaking, and in a worst case scenario could fail and let the wheel detach from the car. Regardless of the cause, a wobbly steering wheel limits the amount of control you have over your car.

Squealing brakes:

Generally, squealing or squeaking brakes indicate that it’s time for a new set of brake pads. Brake pads have a metal tab that becomes exposed as pad material wears away. When this tab contacts the brake rotor, it makes a high-pitched sound. It’s an audible signal that the pads need to be replaced, and the longer you wait, the worse the sound (and your braking ability) is going to become.

Check Engine Light:

The Check Engine Light on your dashboard can be a real mystery. It tells you something is wrong, but never tells you what that something is. Is it electrical or mechanical? Major or minor? You’ll never know unless you scan for error codes, so it’s best to get a diagnosis right away to prevent further problems.

Engine Light: 

The engine light indicates a problem with vehicle’s systems and should never be ignored.  Reasons for it engaging vary from a loose gas cap to a malfunctioning sensor to a faulty catalytic convertor. The cost for these repairs range from a few bucks to thousands of dollars.  The most important thing to remember… whatever the issue, it won’t solve itself and ignoring it longer will only increase the cost of repairing the issue.

Oil Pressure Light: 

Indicates there is a problem with your oil pressure and can be caused from low oil, defective oil pressure sending unit, faulty oil pump, warning light switch or oil pressure gauge.  How dangerous to your vehicle’s health to continue driving once it makes its appearance?  Extremely!!  Oil is your vehicle’s lifeblood and driving when there’s an issue with it can lead to expensive repairs or possibly having to replace the engine.

Low Battery Light: 

Indicates a battery charging problem. This could indicate a problem with the battery itself, a problem with the alternator which recharges it or more commonly, an alternator belt.  Differing from other mechanical issues, keep the engine running to recharge the battery if at all possible or at the very least will help you avoid having to restart it which is one of the biggest tasks that drains your battery.

Brake Warning Light: 

Indicates there is something wrong with the brake hydraulic system.  This could be as easy as forgetting to release the parking brake to hydraulic pressure being lost in one of the brake systems to brake fluid in the master cylinder being dangerously low.  Issues with your braking system are serious because they can lead to brake failure, resulting in a dangerous situation where you can’t stop.

Leaking Fluids:

While it’s never a good thing to have a leak, some fluids matter more than others.  Probably one of the easiest to identify is oil which is black.  Green fluid is coolant and one of the most common fluids to leak. Gas can be easily identified by its odor and location, which will be towards the rear of the vehicle.  Brake fluid is yellow and is somewhat thicker.  If you suspect you are low on this fluid, it’s best not to risk driving to the shop and instead calling a tow truck.  Red fluid is transmission fluid and without it, you risk destroying your engine.

Strange Noises:

After a while you get to know your vehicle… how it handles and how it sounds when it’s running smoothly.  If you suddenly start to hear strange noises from it, it means it’s trying to tell you something.  Take care to notice any thumping while braking, any sounds while turning, grinding while shifting into a different gear, knocking from the engine compartment or loud bangs, you should get it checked out.

Your car is worth maintaining.  A well-maintained vehicle will not only help keep you safe but will hold its value much better than a neglected car.   For more information on vehicle maintenance read our blog “Preventive Maintenance That Will Save You Money”.

The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.

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