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How to Detect Car Problems | Using Your 4 Senses


How to Detect Car Problems with Your 4 Senses!

Reading time: 4 mins

Being able to detect problems that your car may be facing in advance, can allow you to get it fixed before it develops into major repairs. Of course, some car issues are hard to identify without the experience of a professional mechanic, but it’s good to perform a car maintenance check regularly on your own, to prevent further problems. Besides that, by following the guidelines in this article, you should be able to uncover some basic complications just by using your 4 senses. 

Yes, you read that right! Sometimes your senses are the best tools to detect potential car trouble. By training yourself to see, smell, hear or feel anything unusual while driving (or even before you hit the road), you’ll be able to diagnose any issues your car may have before it gets worse or poses potential danger. 

In saying that, undoubtedly you would need to be familiar with your car before you can ‘sense’ trouble. But, it’s definitely a skill that you can hone. Besides, there are many clues to tell you that something’s not right with your car, if you’re paying close attention. 

We’ve put together some helpful tips in determining basic vehicle issues, by using your sense of sight, smell, sound and touch to pick-up these telltale signs. If you suspect an issue, head to a mechanic for proper diagnostics and repairs, if required.

1. Sense of Sight: See something that looks amiss?

Have you heard of the saying, “What you see, depends on what you look for?” We’re not suggesting that you strain to look for problems in your car, but there are a few common visible clues you should take note of. 

Here’s a quick list of what you may see and what it could mean:

  • Excessive exhaust smoke – if you see thick white, blue or black smoke coming out from your exhaust pipe, whether you’re stationary or when accelerating, there may be a problem with your car’s engine. White smoke could mean your engine coolant is leaking or your gasket head needs to be replaced. Blue smoke is a clear sign that your engine is burning oil and black smoke suggests too much fuel is being burned and could be a sign of air filter or fuel injector problems. Either way, you should get your engine checked immediately. 
  • Bald tyres – if you notice that your car’s tyres are worn out and the treads are low and uneven, then it’s time to get them changed. Uneven wear and tear could just mean you are due for a tyre rotation or wheel alignment. However, driving with bald tyres can be very dangerous, especially on wet roads. Plus, it is illegal to drive on Singapore roads if the tread of your car’s tyre is less than 1.6mm. If this is the case, you must get it changed.
  • Fluid leaks - your car relies on several fluids for proper operation. There’s engine oil, transmission oil, brake fluid, and coolant fluid for your car’s air-conditioning system. Bear in mind that occasional wetness under your car is normal and can come from condensed water droplets from the air-con. But, if you notice any darker fluids dripping from your car or you constantly find a wet puddle underneath it whenever you park, then it’s time to head to the auto repair shop. 

2. Sense of Smell: Sniff something strange?

Your nose can be useful to detect certain car issues too. If you start smelling something funky inside your car, get it checked immediately as it can be hazardous to your health, besides causing serious damage to your car.

Here are some distinct smells to be concerned about:

  • Petrol smell – if you get a strong whiff of petrol as you try to start your car, this could mean that your car’s engine is flooding. 
  • Musky or damp smell – this could be another indication that your air-con filter is clogged and needs to be replaced. 
  • Burning smell – if you get a whiff of something burning from inside your car, you should be concerned. This could mean that your engine is burning oil, or if you drive a manual vehicle, it could mean it’s time to repair your clutch. Either way, take it to your auto repair shop as soon as possible.
  • Chemical smell – this could be from a leak of the various fluids in your car. If it smells very sharp and unusual, it’s best to get it checked to be sure.

3. Sense of Sound - Hear weird noises?

It can be hard to detect unusual sounds from your car while driving if there’s other loud noises distracting you. So, turn off your music every now and then to gauge if anything is amiss. You may hear the purr of your car’s engines, which is absolutely normal or there may be other clunking noises that shouldn’t be there. Determine if these sounds are constant or intermittent, and whether it only happens when you make a turn or hit the brakes. This quick sound diagnosis could help you isolate the problem and convey it to your mechanic, so that the fault can be easily assessed.

Here are some sounds to listen out for:

  • High-pitched squealing – this sound could be caused by a worn-out or damaged driving belt. 
  • Sharp click – this may be warning of a loose wheel cover or fan blade. It could also be due to low engine oil or a stuck engine valve.
  • Piercing screech – if you hear this while driving, it’s a reminder that it’s time to replace your brake pads.
  • Backfiring "pops" – this can be the result of engine or exhaust system issues.
  • Clunks – it’s time to check your suspension and shock absorber.
  • Low-pitched rumbling sound – this noise could mean there are problems with your car’s exhaust pipe.
  • Constant whining from the front – it could be a warning that your power steering fluid is low.
  • Heavy knocking –  could be caused by a bad crankshaft or faulty rod bearings. It could also suggest a loose tyre cover.
  • Scratching – if this is coming from your car’s wipers, then they need to be replaced.

4. Sense of Touch - Something doesn’t feel right?

If something just doesn't feel right when you’re driving your car, then it’s also time to get it checked. Maybe your car’s acceleration is not smooth as usual. This could be a transmission, engine or fuel system issue. If your car is pulling hard to one side, it could be a sign of bad wheel alignment, under inflated tyres, or brake, power steering, clutch system and suspension problems.

Here are some other tremors you may feel as warning signs:

  • Shaky steering wheel – you may have a problem with the power steering system or wheel alignment. 
  • Spongy brake pedals – there may be something wrong with the brakes, which must be inspected immediately.

Trust Your Senses!

It is important to be able to recognize problems your car may be facing on your own. This will help eliminate the risk of accidents which are often caused by undetected car troubles. 

Of course, you should also invest in good car insurance. You should also opt for 24-hour breakdown assistance, should anything give way while you’re driving and leave you stranded.

Bottom line is, don’t ignore your senses if they’re nagging at you. Get your car checked immediately and drive safely!