How to Diagnose Car Problems

If you’re not especially familiar with cars, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out what’s wrong with your car. You don’t want to overpay for a quick fix at a mechanic, but leaving a problem to continue can cause more serious damage to your vehicle. Your safest bet is usually to have your car looked at by a professional, but you can use your senses to make a best guess on what could be wrong.


There are some warnings that your car will give you that only require you to use your eyes:

  • Check Engine Light
  • Engine Temperature Light
  • Tire Pressure Light
  • Oil Light
  • Tire Treads Low
  • Fluid Puddling Below Vehicle

Of these, your Check Engine light is the least straightforward, as it can signal that the lid to your gas tank isn’t screwed on properly, or that you need major work done. But pay attention to tire pressure and oil change schedules, as ignoring them can lead to much bigger problems. The same goes for when your tire treads get low, as it decreases the tire’s ability to grip the road, and can lead to hydroplaning.

Always check for if your car is leaking fluid; brake fluid, steering fluid, coolant, and oil leaks should all be fixed as soon as possible.


There are many reasons that your car will make some unusual and unwelcome sounds, from creaking to screeching to thumping, and none of them are good. Here’s some direction on what each can mean.

  • Clunking/Creaking: Worn-out suspension components
  • Ticking: Belt issue
  • Squealing: Stretched out belt
  • High-Pitched Squeal: Worn-out brake pads
  • Popping/Banging: Engine backfiring due to fuel igniting when it shouldn’t
  • Grinding: Transmission problems or bad brake rotors
  • Bubbling/Gurgling: Air mixing with fluid, typically related to the cooling system


When driving your car, you may notice that something feels off… maybe there’s a vibration or shakiness that wasn’t there before. You may feel resistance from the steering wheel or pedals. Pay attention to these changes, as they can signal a variety of problems.

Vibrating/Shaking could be due to:

  • Misaligned wheels
  • Loose lug nuts
  • Worn-out mounts on the engine or transmission
  • Failing suspension
  • Warped brake rotors
  • Problems with engine timing
  • Loose bolts on seats

Leaning/Pulling could be due to:

  1. Tire pressure
  2. Failed shocks
  3. Steering column
  4. Alignment
  5. Suspension

Change in Brake Pedal is usually due to:

  • Air in brake line
  • Low or old brake fluid

Difficulty Steering can be linked to:

  1. The tie rods or tie rod ends
  2. Power steering fluid, pump, or belt


There are some odors that may come from your car that you’re better off not covering up with an air freshener; instead, you need to look for the source and stop any potential leaks or burning.

Mold/Mildew could be coming from:

  • Leak letting water in
  • Dirty cabin air filter
  • Air conditioning system

Smoke/Burning could be due to:

  • Overheated brake pads due to braking too long or too often
  • Worn clutch in a manual transmission
  • Leaking fluid burning on the engine or exhaust

Exhaust/Fuel could come from:

  • A hole in the fuel or exhaust system

Sulfur smell would indicate:

  • Battery
  • Catalytic Converter

Sweet smell can be attributed to:

  • Coolant leak

The more that you know about your, and the better that you can explain your best guess of what’s wrong to a mechanic, the less likely you are to be taken advantage of when getting it fixed. Since you rely on your car to get you around safely on the roads, be sure to have any issues with it fixed ASAP, before they become more dangerous or permanently damage your vehicle.