Taking care of your car is essential to keeping it running smoothly and avoiding major repairs down the road. But how do you know when it’s time to get your vehicle serviced? Paying attention to certain signs can help you identify issues early and get your car the maintenance it needs.
We will go over the top 8 signs that your car is due for a tune-up or other service. Being aware of these indicators and responding promptly can save you money and headaches by preventing small problems from turning into big ones.
Importance of Regular Car Servicing
Getting your car serviced regularly is one of the best ways to extend its life and performance. The recommended service intervals vary based on factors like make, model, age and mileage – generally between 5,000-10,000 miles is advised. During a service, technicians will inspect critical systems and components, making repairs and replacements as needed. Fluids are topped off, filters are changed, and parts are lubricated to prevent wear and tear.
Without periodic servicing, minor issues can go undetected and escalate into major repair jobs or even complete breakdowns. The costs of ignoring maintenance needs tend to compound over time. Staying on top of services ensures your car runs efficiently, get better mileage, produces fewer emissions and remains reliable for many more miles.
Check Engine Light
The significance of the check engine light
One of the most obvious and important indicators that your car needs attention is the check engine light illuminating on your dashboard. This light is connected to your vehicle’s on board diagnostics computer, which monitors emissions controls, engine functions and other key systems.
Hundreds of issues can trigger the check engine light to turn on. It may be alerting you to a minor problem like a loose gas cap, or a more serious failure that could damage components if left unchecked. You should never ignore this light – it’s your car’s way of telling you to check things out.
Possible issues and repairs needed
Diagnosing the exact cause of a check engine light will require hooking a scan tool up to your car’s computer system. From there, a technician can read any diagnostic trouble codes that point to the source. In some cases, the light indicates faulty oxygen sensors, spark plugs, mass airflow sensors, or emission control components that need replacement.
The issue may also stem from problems with ignition, fuel delivery, or other engine systems. In severe cases, the light could signal damaged cylinders, catalytic converters or other major repairs. Getting the codes read promptly can help prevent small issues from cascading into bigger problems down the line.
Low Oil Light
The importance of monitoring oil levels
Another warning light to take seriously is the low oil indicator. Oil is the lifeblood of your engine, keeping critical components lubricated and preventing excessive wear. Running your engine when oil levels are low can allow metal parts to grind together, causing damage.
Your car’s oil supply needs to be maintained at the proper level and changed regularly as directed in your owner’s manual. Over time, oil breaks down from heat and contamination. Old oil loses its lubricating properties, while particulates from combustion can thicken it and clog passages.
The consequences of low oil levels
If your low oil light comes on, you should immediately pull over and turn off the engine if possible. Continuing to drive can ruin internal parts like bearings and rods. The repairs often involve a full engine rebuild or replacement.
Before the light even appears, you may notice signs like oil leaks, smoke from the exhaust, knocking or ticking sounds from the engine, or difficulty starting. Have your technician check for leaks and change the oil if needed. Damaged engines from low oil often require extensive repairs or a new engine altogether.
Tire Pressure Gauge
The impact of tire pressure on car performance
Maintaining the correct tire pressure is important for safe handling, fuel economy and extending the life of your tires. Underinflated tires can cause accelerated wear on the edges, reducing traction and making blowouts more likely.
Every car has a recommended tire pressure printed in the owner’s manual or on a placard inside the car. This number is based on the vehicle’s weight and tires when loaded to capacity. Proper inflation prevents excess friction and rolling resistance, saving fuel and preventing uneven tread wear.
The benefits of maintaining proper tire pressure
Checking pressures monthly with a gauge allows you to identify when a tire is low before it becomes a serious issue. Tires can lose 1-2 psi per month through normal use. Temperature drops in winter also lower pressure. Keeping them inflated preserves handling and braking abilities.
Proper inflation will also help you get the most miles out of your tires before they need to be replaced. Rotating and aligning them at recommended intervals will further maximise their lifespan. Don’t wait for them to appear low – be proactive with pressure checks and service.
Other Warning Lights
Various warning lights and their meanings
Along with the check engine and oil lights, there are a number of other warning lights on your dashboard that signal issues needing attention. Symbols for the battery, temperature, brake system, traction control and more are tied into sensors throughout your vehicle.
The exact meaning depends on the symbol and your make/model’s indicators. Your owner’s manual will explain the specifics. Anything that illuminates unexpectedly should be looked at immediately for your safety and to prevent damage. Don’t ignore red or yellow lights.
Potential problems indicated by these lights
The battery light could indicate problems charging or a failing alternator. Temperature lights relate to engine overheating or low coolant levels. Brake system lights often mean brake fluid is low or there is a problem with the anti-lock brake sensors. Traction control lights point to issues with that system.
On some cars, a tire pressure monitoring system light will let you know if a tire is underinflated. Other notifications provide maintenance reminders for scheduled services and fluid changes. Whatever the indicator, don’t delay in having a mechanic diagnose and repair the underlying issue.
Whining Under the Hood
Causes and implications of a whining noise under the hood
Hearing a high-pitched whining or squealing from under your hood when accelerating is usually a sign of trouble with a belt or pulley. Engine accessories like the alternator, power steering pump and water pump are often run via belts connected to the crankshaft pulley.
A loose, worn or cracked belt could be slipping. The pulleys themselves might be seizing up and in need of lubrication or replacement. Ignoring whining belts and pulleys can lead to loss of power steering or charging, plus overheating from a malfunctioning water pump. Get any unusual noises checked out promptly to avoid being stranded.
Necessary repairs for this issue
Your mechanic will listen to the noise and determine if it’s coming from a loose belt that just needs tightening or a worn component like the belt tensioner or pulleys that requires replacement. Sometimes misaligned pulleys or a locked up bearing is the culprit.
Replacing belts and pulleys before they fail prevents getting stuck with a broken down vehicle. The labour costs are reasonable for minor belt repairs. But extensive repairs for seized components like an alternator or water pump can be costly. Act quickly to minimise costs.
Unusual Engine Noise When Idling
The significance of unusual engine noises
Strange sounds coming from under the hood when your engine is idling can indicate an issue is developing. With the engine at rest, technicians can better isolate the location and cause of noises that might be masked while driving.
Problems like low oil level or pressure, failing pumps, bad bearings, loose components causing vibration and early engine knock can often be detected with the engine idling. Identifying these problems quickly reduces risk of extensive damage.
Potential engine problems causing these noises
Knocking or rattling noises from the engine bay at idle could stem from low oil allowing the bearings or rods to knock together. It may also be caused by a loose timing chain hitting the timing cover, or problems with the valves and lifters.
Hissing could indicate a vacuum leak, bad gasket or disconnected hose. Unusual whining or grinding noises may point to issues with the alternator, power steering pump or cooling fan. Getting unusual sounds diagnosed quickly can save you from expensive repairs.
Reasons behind grinding metal noises in a car
One of the most unsettling sounds from your engine bay is a harsh grinding noise, which usually indicates that metal components are rubbing together when they shouldn’t be. This metal-on-metal contact signifies advanced wear and tear.
The most common causes include worn brake pads scraping the rotor when engaged, worn bearings that allow metal parts to rub, and low transmission fluid causing grinding gears. In each case, the grinding means that critical components are at risk of imminent failure.
Potential repairs required for this issue
To pinpoint the issue, your mechanic will listen for where the grinding is coming from. Worn brake pads need replacement right away to avoid damaging the rotor. Bearing noises mean those bearings need to be replaced and properly lubricated.
Low transmission fluid requires topping off the levels and checking for any leaks. Repairs to damaged transmission gears or other components may be necessary. Addressing grinding noises right away reduces the chances of a breakdown and resulting high repair bills.
The importance of addressing squealing brakes
One of the most common signs your car needs service is hearing a high-pitched squeal whenever you apply the brakes. The friction material on brake pads wears over time through normal use, eventually getting thin enough to make this sound.
Squealing indicates that the brake pads are nearly worn out. Continuing to drive with squealing brakes risks wearing the pads down completely, at which point metal backing contacts the rotor and causes grinding damage.
Potential brake system issues causing the noise
Sometimes the squeal stems from cheap, low-quality pads rather than wear, especially right after a brake service. Contaminants like dirt and oil on the rotor can also cause squeaking. And hardware issues like caliper sticking or misaligned pads may be to blame.
Regardless of the cause, squealing brake pads are the most obvious audible sign your brake system needs attention. Getting them inspected and replaced promptly maintains proper braking performance and prevents damage from occurring. Addressing any other hardware problems at the same time restores quiet operation.
Summary of the signs indicating the need for car servicing
Paying attention to your car’s signals and responding promptly to issues prevents small problems from becoming major ones. Watch for these common signs that your vehicle needs servicing:
- The check engine or service engine soon light comes on.
- The oil pressure/level warning light illuminates.
- The tire pressure monitoring light indicates under-inflation.
- Any other warning lights like temperature, battery, brake system activate.
- You hear squealing, whining or grinding noises from under the hood.
- The engine makes knocking, ticking or rattling sounds.
- You notice any drips, leaks or puddles under the car.
- The brakes make high-pitched squealing noises when stopping.
- The car runs rough or backfires.
- Performance seems sluggish.
Prioritise regular car maintenance
Making car care a priority provides peace of mind, prevents safety issues, and saves you money over the long run. Address problems promptly and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for oil changes, tire rotations, fluid flushes and component replacements.
Investing a little time and money upfront to fix minor issues keeps your vehicle in peak condition for a longer service life. Watch and listen for any of these warning signs, and take action by scheduling a service appointment as soon as possible. Your car will thank you!