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Top 5 Signs of Car Trouble

Man looking under hood of a car

Owning a motor vehicle involves a lot more than just paying your monthly auto loan. You also need to think ahead to upkeep costs, including those associated with getting your oil changed, purchasing new tires, and performing regular maintenance.

Something as simple as getting an oil change every six months or 3,000 miles—whichever comes first—and taking your car to a trusted auto mechanic for maintenance every 12 months can extend the life of your car. These preventative measures can also lower the chances of experiencing car trouble and causing a car accident.

Motor vehicles can still encounter problems despite regular maintenance, so it’s important that you be able to recognize the top five signs of car trouble.

5 Signs of Car Trouble

You know your own car better than anyone. Whether you commute daily for work or spend a few days a week behind the wheel running errands, you are better equipped to detect subtle but noticeable changes in your vehicle before anyone else.

While not every change might be an indication of car troubles, here are a few signs that your car could be experiencing vehicle problems.

The Dashboard Indicator Light Is On

Your dashboard has multiple indicator lights that are meant to alert you to potential problems. The meaning behind these lights is not always clear, which can make them easy to ignore. Never get used to driving with indicator lights on. Instead, take the time to learn what each symbol means.

  • Check engine light – The check engine light might be the most dreaded of all dashboard indicator lights and is shaped like the silhouette of an engine. Instead of the engine silhouette, some vehicles have an all-caps message that reads “CHECK ENGINE.” While scary, this light is also one of the most confusing and ambiguous. It could indicate something as serious as mechanical failings in the engine, or as easily addressed as a loose gas cap. The best way to find out what’s going on is to get your vehicle into a trusted auto mechanic who can run a diagnostic.
  • Battery light – The bright red warning of the battery light should never be overlooked or ignored. When it first comes on your car might still be driving normally, but that may not last for long. This light is triggered when your vehicle’s battery is dangerously low, and if you ignore it, you could get stuck somewhere with a flat battery. If you see the battery light illuminated, it could mean that you need a new battery, or that there is something wrong with your car’s alternator, wiring, or electrical components.
  • Coolant temperature light – This blue light looks like an old-fashioned thermometer standing among a couple squiggly waves. If you see it, it means that your car is running much too hot. The coolant temperature light usually only comes on when there are serious issues at play, such as a burst or leaking coolant hose, a broken water pump, or a damaged radiator. If you continue to drive an overheating vehicle without addressing the issue, it could ultimately cause irreparable damage.

Visit an auto mechanic right away if you ever see the above lights illuminated on your dashboard. You should also take your car in if you see any other type of dashboard indicator lights, including lights for:

  • Transmission temperature
  • Tire pressure
  • Oil pressure
  • Brake system

Vibrations or Strange Noises

The vibrations you feel when driving on rough, uneven, or old roads can be annoying. Any vibrations you feel when traveling on smooth pavement can be much more sinister. This could be an indication of:

  • Defective or out of balance tires
  • A worn-out driveline U-joint
  • A bent wheel

If your gas pedal is shaking or vibrating, it could mean that there is an exhaust leak. Vibrations or shaking in the brake pedal is usually a sign that the rotors are warped and need to be replaced.

These vibrations, shakes, or movements may be silent or coincide with new or worrying noises. If your car is making a strange or unexpected noise, try to identify if it seems to be happening at random or at specific times. If you hear a grinding noise when your transmission shifts, you probably need more transmission fluid. A grinding noise when you brake is more likely an indication that you need new brake pads.

Never ignore a strange noise or new and worrying vibrations. While these could be signs of easily fixed problems, they are also common indicators of serious mechanical issues that may shorten the life of your vehicle.


Generally speaking, the fluids inside your car should stay there. Your vehicle requires several different specialized fluids to safely operate, and a leak compromises the integrity of the systems that rely on the specialty fluids. A leak might even coincide with one of your dashboard indicator lights, although this is not always the case. If you notice fluid actively leaking from your vehicle or mysterious wet spots in your driveway, it could be:

  • Brake fluid
  • Power steering fluid
  • Coolant
  • Transmission fluid
  • Differential fluid

Addressing a leak is often an easy fix, so if you notice one be sure to visit an auto mechanic as soon as possible. If you wait too long, the leak could turn into a much bigger problem, such as transmission failure and more.

Performance Issues

You know how your car performs when it’s in tip top shape. Any deviation from its normal performance is a likely indicator that car problems are on the horizon. It could be an easy fix or something much more serious, but there is simply no way of knowing until you have it evaluated by a trusted mechanic. If you start noticing any of the following performance issues, get your vehicle in as soon as possible:

  • Your vehicle pulling to one side when driving
  • Having to fill up on gas much more frequently than in the past
  • Problems with acceleration, like accelerating much more quickly or slowly
  • Taking longer to come to a complete stop after applying the brakes

Not only could these signs mean that there is something wrong with your car, they could also put you at an increased risk of causing a car accident.

Increase in Exhaust Fumes

Your vehicle’s exhaust system is uniquely designed to deal with the toxic emissions that motor vehicles produce. If you suddenly notice that your car is producing a lot more exhaust fumes than normal, there is a good chance your car has developed engine problems. The color of the fumes may give you a clue as to what the problem is:

  • Black – If black exhaust fumes or smoke is coming out of your vehicle’s exhaust pipe, your car is likely burning excess fuel.
  • White – White smoke indicates that coolant has gotten into the engine’s combustion chamber.
  • Blue – When there is blue smoke coming from your exhaust, it typically indicates that there is engine oil getting into the fuel system. You may also notice a burning smell.

Engine problems can be dangerous and may even cause permanent damage to your vehicle. If you are ever worried about safely getting your vehicle to an auto mechanic, you can always call a towing service to transport it for you.

Who Was Responsible for Your Accident?

As a driver, you have a duty of care to other drivers and passengers on the road. Maintaining a safe vehicle in good working order is just one way in which you can be sure you uphold that duty.

Not everyone is so careful with vehicle maintenance, though. Drivers who ignore the top 5 signs of car trouble and continue driving are putting themselves and everyone else at risk. If a driver with a poor maintenance record caused your accident, Buckingham & Vega Law Firm has what it takes to get you the compensation you deserve.

We can help compile evidence of negligence—including improper maintenance—that proves the other driver was at fault. We can also help properly value your claim and deal with the insurance company on your behalf. If you’re ready to learn more about your options, contact us today for your free consultation. 

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