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The 5 most important signs of a major car repair

GIF by Brian Cooley / Roadshow

Modern cars accept an astonishing amount of abuse. But if you keep gas in them and do a occasional oil change they'll just keep going. Nevertheless, they have no endless durability. Vehicle noise and warning lights indicate that something pretty drastic and expensive needs to be seriously repaired. Here are my five most important signs that you will take an unplanned walk.


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Engine Light

Many cars cheat you with meaningful displays and instead give you a "motor light" that stands for overheating, low oil levels, or a series of other serious conditions. Do not confuse this with the "Check Engine" light, which may also be present in your car and often indicates a less critical problem with the exhaust system. Know which engine status lights your car has and which indicates that you will soon need a bus pass.

  Engine Light

Know the critical difference between a motor light and a test light. [19659013] CNET

To guess what the engine light complains about, invest in a low-cost OBD code reader connected to a connector found since 1996 under the dashboard of a car sold in the US. There are readers that work wirelessly Show the problem through an app on your phone or through wired readers that do not require a phone at all. Here are examples of each guy I was lucky with in my cars.


Actron produces reliable dedicated code readers that do not require a smartphone Usually formulated in plain language what the "engine" light and the Mean error code of your car.


Bafx Products Bluetooth Wireless OBD Code Reader is a reliable way to retrieve codes from your car when the engine light is on. You may also be able to temporarily delete the code to make sure it is not an incorrect one. Bafx also makes a version of this device for Android phones.

Tire pressure gauge

Vehicles sold since the end of 2007 must have tire pressure monitoring system sensors and at least a basic dashboard display that indicates if the sensors have a tire inflation pressure problem.

  TPMS Tire Pressure Sensor

A typical TPMS sensor installed in every tire in your car.


Many cars also have a detailed dash indicator that indicates which tire is low. In any case, a TPMS system will warn you when a tire is 25% below the right tire pressure. That may not sound bad, but riding a 19 PSI tire instead of 26 PSI is a big step in the direction of a car that is driving on a different lane without your intervention.


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Groaning brakes

This is not the same thing as squealing brakes. Groaning brakes generally mean that they are worn beyond the actual pad material and now have metal-to-metal contact in your brake system. This leads to unpredictable results. They have now adjusted to a more expensive braking work. Stop now (if you can) and let your brakes wait.

  Metal on metal brake pad wear

An ugly sight: The topping is worn to the point that the metal plate touches the brake disc of the car. The pad on the bottom should look like a healthy pad thickness on the backing plate.

NAPA Online


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Rattling at Start

When you start your car, does it sound like someone is rolling a coffee can full of nuts and bolts? This is often an indication that there is virtually no oil pressure, or that one valve control system fails, or both. There is no version of this low priority death rattle. Now stop it, check the oil level, and if refilling does not reduce the noise, bring your car to a store before an expensive repair becomes impossible.


There has been so much change to cars, but that has not: heat kills. Overheating warps parts, ruptures castings, loosens seals, melts plastics, and can even set your car on fire. Overheating is also the most common engine problem that affects the entire engine.

  High Temp Display

This 1967 Mercury does what modern cars almost never do: it runs quite hot. If your late model car is near the top of the temperature gauge or displays a temperature warning light, take it seriously.

Brian Cooley / Roadshow

Modern cars almost always drive close to the correct temperature, unlike older cars, which drive on their spacious displays in a variety of temperatures and yet are "normal". If your modern car shows a high temperature needle or a heat indicator lamp, this is far more alarming than it used to be.

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