Is Your Car Working Right? Avoid Expensive Auto Repair

Cars can be finicky, even new ones, and it can even be hard to tell when a car isn't working right. Know your car and care for it to avoid expensive auto repair - or worse

Is Aaa Worth It Roadside Assistance

It can be hard to tell when something is really wrong.

You might think it would be obvious when your car isn’t working right. Red lights on the dashboard? Horrible, grinding noise? Just plain refusal to start? Sure, those are definite signs something is wrong, and you may be in need of auto repair, but the signals that something isn’t right can be far more subtle.

Modern cars have about a gazillion components and different levels of function, and not all cars, even those of the same type or built by the same manufacturer, work the same way. And, with all those parts, software, and differences, it’s easy for something to go awry.

All this means it can be hard to tell if your car is not working the way it should.

Related: 4 Awesome Car Maintenance Apps to Keep Your Car Running Smooth

Is Aaa Worth It Roadside Assistance

AAA can be a lifesaver, even if your car is brand new. Photo: AAA

Even New Cars Can Malfunction 

This has happened to me several times — with brand new cars. Usually, the fix is simple, and always, it’s cheaper to address it as soon as it happens rather than waiting to see if it “self heals” — which is actually a thing in the era of over-the-air updates. 

Not to worry. New cars have warranties; electric cars have longer warranties that cover batteries and power trains, typically 8 years or more. And there are lots of ways to diagnose a problem and find a practical solution. 

Related: The Secret To Easy Car Care – and Keeping Repair Bills Low

How to Know if Something Is Wrong with Your Car

First, set your expectations. Get to know your car and all the things it does; what does it sound like? How does it feel when braking and accelerating? What does it feel like when merging onto the highway? Going over a hill? Learn to feel for these things so if they change, you’ll know. 

Then, learn all your car’s important functions, such as the rearview camera, which should work consistently. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto should have a regular sequence. Navigation and other multimedia systems should be reliably useful. Electric cars should have reliable feedback systems to tell you the battery charge level, miles left on the range, and navigation to help you find a charge station.

Mercedes Bens Eqc Dashboard Future Cars

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz EQC also features the brand’s beautiful technology. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What New Technology Does Your Car Have?

Not long ago, I test drove an electric car for a week. I knew that it should have one-pedal driving, regenerative braking, and auto hold, the function that holds the car in place once you’ve pressed the brake, such as at a traffic light or stop sign (I love this feature, BTW). 

I noticed right away that regenerative braking wasn’t working; the battery wasn’t gaining the expected charge of energy that it should when braking in traffic or coasting downhill in maximum regenerative mode. The auto hold wasn’t working, either; these two things made me believe that something was wrong with the battery system, though the battery itself was working properly; usage per mile was typical, and it recharged just fine.

OK, so that’s a lot to know about a new car, especially if it’s been a while since you had a new car. How would you be expected to know? You can do a quick internet search, look at YouTube, or ask other owners. Learn how these features work to know if your car working the way it should. 

During that test drive, I also noticed that Apple CarPlay started to work sporadically, as did navigation. Then I would see some dashboard lights come on and go off. There was a ghost in the machine, and it needed to be looked at by the dealer. That was exactly what was in order.

Had this been completely new to me, I might have simply thought that this car was a terrible car with weird technology. But it wasn’t the car; it was something wrong with the system that needed to be fixed. The car is actually a great car; any car can have a software issue or something else that causes it to malfunction.

Front Collision Warning Not Only Lights Up On The Dashboard But Also Vibrate Your Seat.

Front collision warning not only lights up on the dashboard but also vibrates the driver seat. Photo: Deb Thompson

When Should I Be Worried About My Car?

In addition to really odd noises, things that don’t work properly, and anything that feels really wrong, notice your dashboard lights. 

Here’s a general rule of thumb for dashboard lights: 

  • Green light = everything is OK
  • Yellow light = there may be an issue; have someone take a look
  • Red light = driving your car may be dangerous or damage the engine

Different lights have different meanings; you can always snap a photo of the light and either check the owner’s manual, find it on the internet, or call a dealership or mechanic to find out what they think the problem could be. RepairPal has a nice symptom guide that is helpful too. If the consensus is that the problem is serious, you should probably have your car towed to a mechanic.

Why Won’t My Car Start?

This is the most confounding one: Your car simply won’t start. Most often, the culprit is a dead battery, but it could be something else. It’s always best to keep jumper cables or a quick start battery in your car, especially if your car is out of warranty; maintain a roadside assistance membership, such as AAA; and keep up your maintenance schedule so you’re never in this situation. 

Replacing the battery, alternator, and other key components when they are due for replacement will help avoid being stuck with a car that won’t start.

Elysias Diagnostics Show What Impacts Battery Life

Elysias diagnostics show what impacts battery life

Will an Auto Parts Stores Scan Your Car For Free?

Every car has an OBD reader, or onboard diagnostics reader; a mechanic can plug in a device to find out what codes your car is generating that indicate malfunctioning systems or service needed. Some auto parts stores will scan your car and give you a list of things that need to be tended to; some of these you can do yourself, others you probably want to see a mechanic for. 

Or, you can just go right to the mechanic for a reading. It’s always fair to ask for a list of suggested maintenance and pick the services you want the mechanic to do and the ones you can do yourself. If you’re adept at replacing a headlight, why should you pay someone to do it for you?

Cars keep getting more and more complicated. But they also last longer and go further than ever, as long as they are well-maintained, that is. Knowing your car, just like you know any other important piece of equipment in your life, will help you keep it healthy and know when something just isn’t right. 

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss