A few signs your car needs service soon
I feel it’s only fair that, if I’m writing about signs that you might want to take your car into the shop, I should tell you about the most dramatic sign that I needed to take my car to a professional.
My first real car was what, in respect to its state and function, might be described as ‘interesting.’ I’d say ‘colorful,’ but ‘colorful’ didn’t quite fit the odd, somewhat faded metallic olive drab (sort of green—it wouldn’t look out of place on a 1970s refrigerator, if you gave it a metallic undertone). It was old, it was dented, but it was mine.
I took it to college with me over at CSU. The old beast was tough, and the old V8 engine just ate up the mountains (the rear wheel drive, however, was ‘interesting’ to drive in the snow).
After a few months of back-and-forth driving home to Grand Junction, I started noticing that it would vibrate around 65-75 mph. It was consistent, didn’t happen at lower speeds, really, and sort of faded out at higher speeds. Consulting with my team of experts (meaning my Dad…) over long distance, we tried rebalancing the recently bought tires to no effect.
While this was a sign that I needed to take it in to the shop, this was not the sign that I started talking about.
Ultimately, I was driving it down to Denver to meet my girlfriend at the time. The vibrating seemed to be a little worse that day. I even pulled over and checked the engine and looked as I could under the car, to no real success. Finally, it made a noise. Or, should I type it as NOISE. The vibrating was much worse and happened at all speeds. Something was very wrong.
I managed to make it to the exit where I was to meet my girlfriend, which led me onto Colfax. At around 5 p.m. On a Friday.
The final sign came, when I stopped at a stoplight at Colfax and Speer, and it made one last horrible noise, followed by a bang and a dragging metal noise. And then my engine stopped vibrating, running fast like there was no resistance.
My driveshaft (since it was rear-wheel drive) fell out. Fell. Out. On Colfax and Speer. At 5 p.m. on a Friday. There were literally other drivers laughing at me as they pulled away (as I picked up my driveshaft and put it in my trunk).
I was a little late to see my girlfriend, and it invovled an incredibly illuminating walk eastward on Colfax, which is a long story of itself.
My object lesson should be that other drivers should not ignore the signs their car is giving them. Granted, in the modern age of cell phones and apps, the wait time might not be as long, but you’ll still want to avoid the hassle and the cost, so check early, check often.
Here’s some ideas to keep your car from dying in rush hour traffic:
Lights and Warnings: Always pay attention to the lights that linger. Recent cars have a bewildering array of lights (and even more recent cars have infocenters that will often give very specific information). Those lights may be faulty, but as far as their sensors are concerned, they’re never joking. Check your owner’s manual for how dire they are as soon as you see them. A quick response to some lights might save you a lot of money.
The Wrong Sensation: Vibrations, squeaks, scrapes, rattles, pangs and bangs are just a few of the fun sounds that can await you. You know your car better than anyone. A vibration can be simply off-balance tires, or it can be something much more…shafting.
Major Leaks: A puddle can be an ill-omen. While in the summer time, the air conditioner can condense water and seem like a more serious drip, pay special attention to colored puddles: red, green, brown/black. Brake fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze and oil are all bad signs, especially if the puddles are new, sudden and dramatic. Keep the oil up enough, especially with a leak, to get to the shop, or have it towed, an engine without oil might seize up into a big, expensive paperweight, and who uses paperweights that much anymore?
Smoke: A smoking car means that something is burning where something shouldn’t be. Black smoke usually means extra gas burning, white smoke is usually oil burning. Exceptions exist, and it’s usually not good. Like, for example, at the very least, leaving your parking brake on. Not that that has ever happened to me. Ahem. Not that anyone can prove. Now.
Maintenance Lights and Service Tags: Keep up with the scheduled maintenance, and you’re probably more likely to have unbalanced tires than collapsing driveshafts. At the very least, your service mechanics have a better chance of spotting a problem before you’re trying to block office parking lot entrances so that someone will help push your car up the humps and off the road.
Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer, there’s plenty of advantages of taking it to the shop. It can save time, since they might have teams to accomplish what you’re trying to do alone, and it might save money, since cars these days often require special tools that aren’t worth the expense to buy or rent for one job. Finally, it might help the environment, as shops are better prepared to deal with old parts and spent fluids like oil and antifreeze.
Keep watch on your car and keep up with maintenance to avoid the problems dropping right out of them.