How serious is this thing my car is doing?

How serious is this thing my car is doing?

We depend on our cars every day to get us from point A to point B and back again. But when they start to act “funny,” how do you know if the problem is minor or needs immediate attention? You don’t have to be a certified technician to diagnose every issue, and our highly rated auto repair experts share their advice on what problems can wait and when you should drive directly to the auto shop for service.

1. Look out for leaks

Bob Waeiss, owner of highly rated Integrity Automotive in Carmel, Ind., says small drips or spots found on the ground under the car aren’t an immediate threat. “With major leaks, have the car towed to your shop as soon as possible for an inspection,” he says.

2. Chugging, racing or shaking?

A poorly running engine could mean a component in the fuel and ignition systems is failing and should be looked at by a professional, says Gloria Heath, vice president of highly rated Euro Motorworks in Indianapolis. “A less [frequent] cause is bad fuel,” she says.

3. Pop the hood

The most common cause of smoke from under the hood is a ruptured cooling system. “The ‘smoke’ is actually steam escaping from a hose, radiator or water pump,” Heath says. “Continued driving will cause a severe overheating of the engine, which leads to further internal damage.”

4. Engine issues

If the “check engine” light comes on, have your car checked at your earliest convenience, says Jim Trump, owner of highly rated Castleton Auto Repair in Castleton, Ind. “However, if [the light is] flashing, have it checked out right away,” he says.

5. What’s that noise?

If strange noises are accompanying your daily commute, call the auto shop. “Talk to a service advisor about the details of the noise and be as specific as possible,” Waeiss says. They will determine if you can continue driving or need a tow.

6. Smoking tailpipe

Other than the “smoke” from a cold car in cold weather, there should never be any smoke coming from the exhaust, Trump says. “If there is, it could be as simple as a tune-up problem or as serious as a major engine problem,” he says.


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