10 Common Car Problems

Owning a car provides a sense of freedom, but freedom always comes with a share of responsibility, in this case, understanding common car problems and some of their solutions. Read on for a list of 10 of the top common car problems, so that you can be prepared.

Low or Flat Tires

how to plug a tire

Your tires serve as the primary contact with the road surface, and so become not only a comfort issue but also a safety issue. Having your tires properly inflated is essential for fuel efficiency, safety, and just general comfort. On the door sill of the driver’s door, you will find a sticker that indicates the optimum inflation numbers for your tires, in pounds per square inch, or PSI. Always carry an inexpensive tire gauge in your glove box so that you can check tires every month for proper inflation.


Dashboard Warning Lights 

An illuminated dashboard warning light is an indication that something with the vehicle is not operating properly and needs to be dealt with. Not every manufacturer uses exactly the same set of dashboard warning lights, but there are many similarities that are standard in the industry. Use this handy guide to determine what your dashboard warning lights mean.


Squeaky or Grinding Brakes

It’s normal to hear the brakes engaging to slow down the vehicle because they use friction to stop the car, but if you hear squeaking or grinding noises when you apply the brakes then that is a symptom that your brakes need some work. 

Squealing brakes indicate that the brake pads or worn out and need to be replaced. Brake pad replacement is not an expensive maintenance item, but if you leave them too long you could damage other parts of the system and it will become costlier.

If you hear a grinding noise, that could be a sign that you’ve left your brake pad replacement for too long and the brake pad lining is completely worn out, causing the brake pad backing to grind against the brake rotor. This requires an immediate trip to either AutoZone for parts to replace your brakes, or to your mechanic.


Burnt Out or Broken Light Bulbs

A burnt-out or broken light bulb, whether it’s a taillight or a headlight, is an immediate safety issue because it reduces your ability to either see or be seen on the road. Luckily, many bulbs are inexpensive and not incredibly difficult to replace by yourself. If you are replacing a headlight, the cost may be higher, especially on newer vehicles that use LED or another high-tech lighting systems.


Dead or Low Battery

Battery indicator light lit up on the dash panel

Automotive batteries have a life of between three and five years, under typical usage. It’s a good proactive maintenance habit to replace your battery within that time frame so that you can avoid the inconvenience of being stranded with a dead battery. A set of jumper cables or a jump starter in the trunk is a good insurance policy for a situation like this, as they will allow you to start your car with someone else’s help and get to a destination where you can replace the battery.


A Lagging or Sputtering Engine

Most vehicles on the road today are powered by an internal combustion engine, which uses air, fuel, and a spark to create power. If any one of those three components is either missing or is not being provided at the right time and with the right quantity, then the engine will not run as well as it can. Checking the air filter for the engine, ensuring that you have adequate fuel supply, and maintaining parts like spark plugs can preempt this condition with your vehicle.


Bad Alternator

The alternator in your vehicle uses force from the engine to drive a generator that recharges the battery, and it also powers all the other electrical systems in the vehicle. If your alternator is failing, your battery will eventually die because it is not being recharged sufficiently.


Shaking Steering Wheel

If your steering wheel shakes at higher speeds, it is usually the fault of an unbalanced tire. Bring your vehicle into a tire shop and ask them to check the balance on your tires.

If the steering wheel is vibrating or shaking at very low speeds, you may have a suspension or wheel bearing issue and you should avoid driving at high speeds in that situation before you have checked the problem out.

Overheating Engine

Your car’s water pump circulates a fluid called engine coolant through the engine, where it picks up heat that is the byproduct of internal combustion. It cycles it through the radiator where it dissipates that heat by flowing through hundreds of small tubes that are being blown over by the cooling fan. Engine coolant is sometimes called antifreeze. 

  • If your engine is overheating, it could be a result of a lack of engine coolant or a poorly mixed batch of coolant that does not have the proper combination of water and coolant concentrate. 
  • You may have a blockage from corrosion, due to old coolant.
  • It could also mean that your water pump has failed and needs to be replaced. 

Start by allowing the engine to cool off before adding a proper mixture of coolant, to see if that solves the problem, and be aware if you find any puddles of liquid other than water under the car.

No Heat or Air Conditioning

If the heating or air conditioning system in your car is failing it can be extremely uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst, especially if you live in a cold climate and the windows are fogging up. For heating issues, you can check to see that your heater core is not leaking coolant, and for air conditioning issues, the culprit is often a lack of air conditioning refrigerant.


Where Can I Find More Help?

AutoZone has all the parts and tools that you need to maintain your vehicle for the long term, as well as a wealth of helpful information and hints about car care and maintenance for the amateur home mechanic or just the curious person. Visit an AutoZone near your today!

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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