Ah, cars. Driving an automobile is a fundamental part of 21st century life, but unfortunately, dealing with the issues that come up under the hood is just as fundamental. It’d be great if all of us were mechanics—and maybe we should be—but unfortunately, most people don’t know the difference between a drive shaft and an idle jet, which means that car issues can quickly become a confusing, costly mess.
Even if you hedge your bets and buy a brand new car right off the lot, you’re kidding yourself if you think that you’ll never have to be buy new parts at some point. In the end, driving a car means knowing what issues to look out for, and dealing with them when they do come up. Here is an assortment of the most common car problems that the average person experiences… and perhaps, more importantly, some tips on what you can do to fix the issues when they come up.
Okay, so this issue isn’t so much a “common” problem as it is an inevitable one. If you took a survey of every single driver in the world who has had their license for a good few years, we’d be willing to bet that there’s not a single person in the world who hasn’t faced the annoying reality of a flat tire at some point.
Either way, before your tire does go flat, the first thing to do is preventative maintenance, well in advance. For one thing, do regular check ups on the air pressure in your tires: many gas stations will have little machines that pump the air for you, in addition to measuring them, so take advantage. Don’t worry about it if you don’t carry coins, because lots of machines take cards now. As far as maintenance goes, the second big thing you want to do is have a good, strong, spare tire in the back of your car. Always. No matter what. You never know when a tire will burst.
Now, on the other hand… what should you do if the tire is already toast?
If you have a spare, this shouldn’t be a problem. Get out your lug wrench, get your jack—two other tools to always have in the trunk, by the way—then remove the old tire, and put on the spare. It might look complicated, but once you do it once, you’ll never forget how. Just don’t go all 1970s Incredible Hulk on it.
You get in the car. You have your key. You try to start the ignition. And then… nothing.
No lights, no engine revving, none of that? Then you, dear friend, have a dead battery. And the solution for this problem is, as you might’ve heard, to jumpstart it. For this reason alone, you should always make a point to keep jumper cables in your car. You can get them at any auto parts store, and trust us, they’ll save your life—and on the flipside, make it easier for you to help other drivers, as well.
If you have the cables, then all you need is for someone else—could be anyone—to drive their car up to yours, face-first, then attach the cables between both batteries. As they rev up their engine, it should get yours going again in no time.
If the car doesn’t jump, though, it points toward a deeper problem, in which case you should probably bring it to the shop.
This is it, the bane of modern existence, the little orange light that means either your savings account is about to go bust, or your credit card is going to be maxed out. Despite the fact that everyone knows that the Check Engine light is bad news, far too many people simply leave it on, trying not to notice it, telling themselves they’ll just get it looked at whenever they have their next inspection.
Here’s the problem: again, the Check Engine light is bad news. Often, it can point to real, serious damage in the vehicle, which could leave you stranded—or dead—if you ignore it too long. On the other hand, sometimes the light is just there for something minor, like a faulty gas cap.
Either way, you’ll never know unless you examine the cause. While you’re probably going to be bringing the car to a mechanic anyway, we wouldn’t recommend getting a diagnosis from them, which costs a hefty $88 bucks or more. Instead, get an easy to understand OBD-II reader like FIXD, which simply plugs into the car and sends push notifications to your phone about whatever is ailing it.
Sometimes, you notice this on your own, when you start wondering why nighttime driving seems so much darker than it used to be. More likely, though, you got pulled over by a police officer, who just wanted to inform you that one of your headlights is out.
Crap, more money! But actually… not really. Most of the time, when a headlight or tail light goes out, it’s just that the bulb is burnt out, and a new bulb is surprisingly cheap. Replacing the bulb in a car is pretty much identical to replacing the bulb in a lamp, overhead light, or just about anything else. Honestly, anyone can do it. Before you go buying the part, though, make sure to open up the light, through under the hood, and make sure about which bulb is out.
Oh, that awful sound. You know it when you hear it. And as important as you know the brakes are, the high cost of getting them repaired makes it all-too-easy to put them off for too long, and potentially cause a major accident.
Brake fixes aren’t always as costly as you might think, though. The first thing to check, of course, is that you have the proper amount of brake fluid. After that, if problems persist or get worse, you’ll want to figure out which brakes you need to replace—the front, or the back. From there, there are a number of different materials you can use for new brake pads, from ceramic to non-asbestos organic, all of which have different price points.
While changing your own brakes sounds like a hefty job, it’s actually something a layperson can do... with supervision from someone more experienced, of course. But if it scares you too much to do it on your own, stop putting it off, and get new brakes today.