Car Tips Everyone Should Know
As of 2017, there were over 250 different types of cars on the roads in America. Whether you drive a 2018 Ford F-150, a 2001 Honda Civic, or any other vehicle, there are many common issues that can arise for any driver. The key is to understand your vehicle’s exact issue and to know how to fix it. In some cases, going to your mechanic is important since they are professionals who not only understand your car but also have the proper tools and expertise to safely repair anything. On the other hand, sometimes even the most inexperienced driver can fix an issue that occurs with their car.
The most common indication that there is an issue with your car will appear on the dashboard. No matter what make, model or brand of car you have, there are universal symbols that all drivers should understand. There are over twenty different warning lights on all cars (and more for diesel fuel vehicles), so it can be hard to keep track of all of them. If you would like to see which symbols your specific car has, and what they mean, you can check your vehicle’s owner’s manual. However, no matter what kind of vehicle you have, if any warning light turns on, you should address the issue promptly.
The Light On Your Dashboard
ECU/Emission System/Check Engine Warning Light
Unfortunately, if the check engine light is illuminated, it can be for any number of reasons and your best option will always be to go to a mechanic immediately, so they can determine the exact problem, as well as how to fix it. The top five reasons for your check engine light to come on are as follows:
- Oxygen Sensor - If there is an issue with the oxygen in your car’s exhaust system, your engine will burn more fuel than it needs to and damage can eventually be done to your spark plugs and catalytic converters.
- Gas Cap - If your gas cap is loose, damaged or missing, you will lose fuel and the pressure in your gas tank will be off.
- Catalytic Converter - Catalytic converters work to not only reduce the number of harmful gasses your car produces and puts into the environment, but they also work to keep your fuel economy and car temperature. It is very important to ensure that your catalytic converters are working properly and that they are replaced when necessary.
- Mass Airflow Sensor (MAF) - A mass airflow sensor monitors the amount of air that is in the engine and, in turn, it decides how efficiently your engine is running. If there is an issue with your MAF, then it is important to replace it as soon as possible. If your MAF is not replaced in a timely fashion, you will not only see a reduced performance in your car, but your spark plugs, oxygen sensors, and catalytic converters can be affected as well.
- Spark Plugs or Plug Wires - Spark plugs ignite the combustion chamber of your vehicle - allowing it to run. If either the spark plugs (or the plug wires themselves) have an issue, you should replace them as soon as you can. If they are left untouched, your car will run poorly and additional long-term issues with other aspects of your vehicle will occur.
An Engine Warning Light can be caused from anything as small as an electrical issue to something major, which is why it’s important to see a mechanic who can identify the issue if the engine warning light does come on.
Brake System Warning Light
If your Brake System Warning Light goes on, it can mean one of three things. Either your parking brake is on, there is a problem with your braking system, or there is an issue with your ABS. If your parking brake is on, you simply need to fully release it. However, if there is an issue with your braking system, then the solution could be more complicated. For instance, if your brake fluid is low, you should have a mechanic check your braking system if the warning light comes on.
ABS Warning Light
If your ABS Warning Light is illuminated, that means you have a problem with your Anti-Lock Brake System. Your ABS system senses the speed that each wheel moves at to ensure that they all rotate at the same speed. In addition, when road conditions are slippery, your ABS system can help you control not only your four wheels but also your brake pedal. If your ABS Warning Light comes on, you should safely pull over, turn off your car and then start it up again. This essentially reboots your vehicle’s system, and if it had simply made a technical error before, this will solve the problem and turn off the light. However, if your ABS Warning Light is still illuminated, you should bring it to the mechanic because they can use a tool to see if your ABS system has any trouble codes. This doesn’t need to be done immediately, as your ABS system doesn’t affect your normal breaking, but you should drive with caution until you fix your ABS system because if it is not working properly, you will get no assistance in the case of skidding.
Air Bag Warning Light
Airbags were designed to keep both the driver, as well as his/her passengers, safe. If your airbag light is illuminated, it is extremely important to look into this. While there is a chance it could simply be a wiring issue that is causing the warning to be illuminated, there is also a very real possibility that your airbag has an issue. It is important to see a mechanic about this issue because your airbag might not deploy during a crash, which would put anyone in your car at risk. Furthermore, there is also a risk that your airbags will deploy at a random time, which is not only shocking but can also be very dangerous. Therefore, it is important to see your mechanic about any air bag-related concerns. You should also check that your vehicle is not on Takata’s list of recalled airbags. For more information Takata’s recalled airbags, you can read Protect My Car’s blog post about it here.
EPAS (Power Steering)
If your EPAS, or power steering, the warning light goes on, this means that there is most likely something wrong with your steering system. If your steering system fails, your steering will become heavy, which means you will need to put much more effort into turning your steering wheel. This is an annoyance (at a slow speed) and a danger (at higher speeds). If you need to suddenly change directions and it is difficult for you to do so, you should see a mechanic as soon as possible.
Coolant Warning Light
If your Coolant Warning Light illuminates, it could simply mean that your coolant levels are running low. You can double check this by looking at the gauge on the side of the coolant tank. If this is the case, there is a simple fix: adding more coolant. But, if your coolant light goes on while your temperate gauge is also rising, then your engine may be overheating and you should immediately turn your heat on all the way and point your air vents towards open windows. This will take all of the excess heat from your engine, move it towards the heater core, and eventually move it out of the car entirely. This will help cool down your engine and avoid any issues such as warping. Once your car has cooled down, if your coolant level doesn’t look to be the issue, you should bring your car to a mechanic to see what is causing your car to overheat and to prevent it from happening again, as well as to prevent a large repair bill in the near future.
Oil Warning Light
The Oil Warning Light can mean many things if it is illuminated. However, in most cases, it can be an easy fix. Some cars come equipped with a dashboard light that will say “Change Engine Oil”. If this lights up, then the issue (as well as the fix) is very straightforward. But, in other cases, a simple oil pressure warning light can become illuminated. If your car’s oil level is low, or if your oil pressure is too low, then you should replace your oil and seek out professional help. Low oil pressure is an issue that can lead to your engine not being lubricated enough, which can lead to very expensive engine damage due to the engine seizing. For this reason, it is best to seek a professional’s help instead of risking a large expense.
Battery Charge Warning Light
In almost every vehicle, upon the car being started, the Battery Charge Warning Light becomes illumined. This isn’t something to be concerned about. However, if the light doesn’t go away within a few seconds, you could have any number of issues. To see where exactly the issue lies, you should check your car’s battery terminals, battery conditions, and alternator belt, as well as any issues that could be related to the belt (such as your engine’s cooling pump or your car’s power steering). Because there are so many issues that could be the cause of this issue, it is best to seek out a mechanic’s help, so that their professional opinion can help keep you safe, as well as potentially save you a lot of money in the long run.
Service Vehicle Soon/Maintenance Warning Light
If the Service Vehicle Soon Light comes on, it can be for a number of different reasons. First, you should check all the lights in your vehicle, including your headlights, taillights, turn signals, brake lights and hazards. If there is not an issue with any of your lights, then you should check your traction control system, which helps your car accelerate, as well as helping your wheels work correctly while driving on slippery roads. Another issue that is less common with the Service Vehicle Soon Light can occur after you visit the mechanic. If they happen to forget to turn off the vehicle service light (after you visit your mechanic), you don’t need to see them again to get it fixed. While every car is different, if you follow these steps, it is likely that your car will reset the Service Vehicle Soon Light:
- Turn the ignition switch to the ON position, where the battery is on, but the engine has not started.
- Set the odometer/trip display to the ODO mode.
- Turn the ignition switch to the OFF position.
- Press and hold the trip meter reset button while turning the ignition switch to the ON position.
- The Service Vehicle Soon Light will illuminate for three seconds, blink for two seconds, illuminate for one solid second, and then turn off.
- Release the Trip Meter reset button.
- Turn the ignition to the OFF position.
- Turn the ignition to the ON position and confirm that the Service Vehicle Soon Light does not turn back on. If the Service Vehicle Soon Light is still illuminated, then repeat the process from step one.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System
While older cars were not equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, most newer cars (even if they are not a luxury car), come with one. If your vehicle has a Tire Pressure Monitoring System and the light goes on, that means that at least one of your tires has low air pressure. This will likely be due to damage that has caused your tire to leak air. If the warning light comes on, then you need to address this issue immediately. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System light only illuminates if your tire has less than 25% of the pressure that’s needed, which means not only should you check your tire pressure at least monthly, but if you are warned that you have low tire pressure, you need to add air as soon as possible and then find any damage to the tire and possibly replace the tire (if needed). It is dangerous to drive with a tire that has low tire pressure (especially if it is under 25%) because it damages your tire, which can lead to a blowout and potentially cause an accident. For this reason, you should always address your tires when the Tire Pressure Monitoring System is illuminated (for your safety, as well as the safety of others on the road).
Be Your Own Auto Warranty
Other issues that can occur, but will not be obvious on your dashboard, including an issue with your headlights or taillights. While newer cars typically have a warning light on the dashboard (to notify you if a bulb goes out), if you notice your blinker is going faster than normal, then it is likely an issue. Typically, replacing bulbs isn’t difficult. You simply need to figure out which sized bulbs your car requires, turn your car off to remove the power connector and dust covers from the back of the headlight, and gently pull out the housing of the bulb. For more specific instructions on your vehicle, refer to your owner’s manual. However, if this becomes a repeated issue, you should look into your alternator voltage. If that is too high, your car may constantly be burning out headlights or taillights, and this could ultimately lead to bigger problems.
Remember that you should investigate all warning lights that may appear on your dashboard, as well as any other concerns that you may notice with your car, and if you ever have any doubts about even the simplest of things, you shouldn’t hesitate to talk to a mechanic about it.