The majority of modern vehicles have very little need for a mechanic in-between services, but on the odd occasion you may need some expert help. And if your vehicle is no longer under warranty, you’ll want to pay close attention to the warning signs. Here’s what to look out for:
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This may seem like an obvious point, but there are many people who either don’t notice warning lights or assume they’re not urgent. Make a point of checking the dashboard when you switch on the vehicle – if any warning lights are showing, first check what they are. Depending on which light is showing, make the call if your car can be driven or not. If you’re unsure what the warning light means, it’s best to contact the manufacturer or dealership. Engine warning lights, for example, can indicate a very serious problem and you could cause major and expensive damage if you ignore it.
A rough ride
If you’ve recently undertaken a tough journey, such as a holiday off-road, it’s a good idea to get your car checked by your mechanic or dealership – especially if you notice any difference in the steering (the wheel alignment might be out), or new engine sounds. Even cars that are built for off-road need to be well maintained in order to stay in top shape, so if anything seems a bit ‘off’ after your bundu-bashing holiday, have it checked.
Potholes and poor road conditions are a leading cause of mechanical faults, so if you’ve recently hit a monster pothole, or regularly drive very bad roads, keep a close eye on your vehicle’s ‘behaviour’. If the steering becomes sluggish, petrol consumption suddenly skyrockets, or the engine sounds different, make an appointment with your mechanic. Some faults start out small due to wear & tear on poor roads, and if they’re caught early, you can avoid expensive repairs.
Yes, sometimes it’s as simple as something just not sounding ‘right’. Most drivers know their cars well (we spend a lot of time in them), and if you pick up any sounds that seem concerning, it’s best to get it checked by an expert. First check that it’s not something rolling around in the boot though (happens to the best of us).
If you notice any liquids leaking out of your car, it needs to be checked. Some cars tend to leak a little bit of coolant or water, especially if they’ve been driven over long distances, but regular puddles under your car could indicate a bigger problem. If it’s clear that the liquid is fuel or oil, it’s best to call your mechanic and ask how to proceed. If it’s a fuel leak, or serious oil leak, you might not be able to drive it at all and will need to have the vehicle towed.
Increased fuel consumption
With fluctuating fuel prices, it feels like we’re always paying more for fuel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your car is consuming more. Keep track of your litres/km, as a sudden and noticeable increase in consumption (without any change in your driving habits) is often the first sign that your car could do with a visit to the mechanic.
If things get foggy
If there is any kind of smoke or steam coming out of the engine, pull over and call an expert. There are rare cases where a little bit of excess oil is burning off, but as a rule you should never see any smoke or steam coming from the engine – no matter what car you drive.
In many cases you will smell something burning before things get really bad, but we need to use our logic for this one. If you smell fire and happen to be driving past a veld fire, it’s probably not your car. If you often notice a faint burning odour whilst driving, it could be an indication that something in the engine or electronics needs attention. If you clearly smell something burning – don’t drive the car, and get hold of your mechanic immediately – whether there’s smoke or not.
Loss of power
Any loss of power can indicate a fault with the engine. It might be gradual, or you may notice an overnight difference, but if your car suddenly becomes sluggish when you try to accelerate it’s a clear warning sign that the engine needs attention. In some newer cars it could simply require a software adjustment, but it’s best not to take any risks.
Erratic acceleration or over-revving
If you’re a smooth driver, your car should behave the same. If, however, your car’s reactions become erratic (slow to react when you press the accelerator and then suddenly starts forward unexpectedly), you definitely need to book it in with a mechanic. This could be a sign of problems with the fuel line, or even software that needs to be updated.
Also, watch out for over-revving - when the rpm remains unnecessarily high even after you’ve stopped accelerating. This can also be a sign of various problems ranging from the gearbox, software, fuel line or even the accelerator mechanism itself.
Small electronic ‘glitches’ will make their way into most vehicles over time. The radio might be sluggish to switch on, or the windows might not open as smoothly as they used to. If your car is showing a number of electronic glitches, it may mean there’s a bigger underlying problem. So, if you start picking up unnecessary delays or certain functions are unresponsive, your car definitely needs to be looked at.
As with any other ‘appliance’, you need to pay attention to your car and be aware of signs that could indicate yours need some attention. Even minor things, such as electronic glitches, can be a sign of a serious underlying problem that can leave you stranded if you don’t get it looked at as soon as possible.
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To find out more about keeping your car running smoothly and keeping costs down, download our guide: Extending the Lifespan of Your Car.
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