Your car is composed of multiple moving parts with many dependent on fluids to keep them lubricated. Likely, you know the importance of changing your oil, replacing the battery and checking tires on a regular basis. But there are three top car problems you may overlook, especially if you don’t familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual. These car problems often suffer from a case of “out of sight, out of mind” but once they rear their ugly heads, your wallet can feel the consequences.
Easily Overlooked Car Problems
1. Coolant Flush
Also known as antifreeze, coolant is a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and water. It’s used to keep your engine from overheating and freezing, and it also protects costly engine parts. Your car won’t run without it (unless it is air-cooled). But even if you have it, coolant is no good if it isn’t regularly checked and occasionally flushed.
Aged coolant will wear away your engine’s metallic parts if it isn’t replaced. Coolant becomes more acidic over time and must be checked with a test strip to verify acidity levels. A pH level of 10 is acceptable. If it comes in lower, then you need to add coolant.
But coolant eventually breaks down and the entire system must be flushed. In doing so you’ll remove rust, dirt, sludge and old coolant from your radiator as well as from the water hoses, the water pump and the engine’s cooling passages. Neglect this and you’re looking at repairs involving anything from replacing a radiator or a water pump to facing a major engine repair in the worst case scenario.
2. Brake Care
Your tires are the only components separating your car from the road and should be routinely checked, inflated and rotated. Bringing your heavy rolling machinery to a stop is the job of your brake system, which is composed of brakes on all four wheels operated by a hydraulic system. You may have disc brakes up front and drum brakes at the rear, or disc brakes both front and rear (luckily front drum brakes went away decades ago).
The majority of extreme brake problems follow small problems that were neglected. A regular check of your brake pads, discs and lines will help you avoid more expensive repairs such as replacing warped or worn out brake rotors. If your car requires a complete brake job involving pads, rotors, drums, calipers, and wheel cylinders, you’re looking at a far more expensive repair. Even if the parts prices are reasonable, the time involved can add up either for you wrenching in the driveway or by the hour at the shop. Labor times can vary wildly from vehicle to vehicle depending on the brake design.
Perhaps the worse thing about neglecting this top car problem is the danger you put yourself and other drivers in when your vehicle can no longer stop on a dime. Keep in mind that not all brake problems happen suddenly. You may not notice that your vehicle takes longer and longer to stop until it is too late. That’s why preemptive brake maintenance is so important.
3. Transmission Flush
Your transmission along with your engine comprise your car’s main powertrain parts. You likely change your oil and oil filter regularly. But what about the transmission? A flush should be conducted at the intervals outlined in your owner’s manual. If your vehicle’s manual says the transmission fluid is “lifetime fill”, you still may want to change it depending on how you drive. Click here to read more about lifetime fill fluids.
But if you begin to hear strange noises, have trouble shifting, encounter transmission slippage or notice some other problem, then flushing the transmission is a must.
Replacing or rebuilding a transmission can cost you several thousand dollars. If the transmission begins to act erratically, the damage may have already been done. Have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic to determine what course of action to take next.
4. Suspension Care
Suspension problems typically happen slowly over a long period of time. Shocks and struts lose their ability to absorb shocks and control motion gradually. What used to be a sporty ride can turn into a wallowing marshmallow after a few years. Check the condition of your shocks and struts with the simple bounce test. Walk to once corner of the vehicle and simply push down on it firmly. Let go quickly and observe what happens. The vehicle should bounce upward when you let go and then settle into normal ride height with no additional movements. If the vehicle bounces up and down more than twice (or worse case like a basketball) the shocks or struts are likely done. Just remember to replace shocks and struts as a pair. Shocks are usually easy to replace, while struts require specials tools to safely remove the coil spring.
Suspension bushings also wear out over time. Pretty much anywhere a joint needs to flex in a suspension there is a rubber bushing to control it. Bumps, jolts, heat, and time all affect the rubber used in suspension bushings. You may hear rattles going over bumps or notice abnormal tire wear. Bushings usually need to be pressed in and out for replacement, but it isn’t outside the realm of the DIYer. Lastly the coil springs themselves can collapse leaving the vehicle riding lower than intended and leading to bottoming out. Collapsed coil springs can also affect suspension and steering geometry. If your vehicle looks like a custom low rider it might be time to replace the springs. Luckily this is a repair that rarely needs to be done more than once over the life of a vehicle.
Top Car Problems
Keeping tabs on your owner’s manual maintenance schedule can help you handle those tasks that can become big problems later on if your ignore them now. What you can’t handle yourself should be placed in the hands of a trusted mechanic.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on top car problems, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.