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Sarge's Car Blog
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Identifying Your Car Problems

When money is tight, the last thing you want to do is pay out to a mechanic for fixing something that you probably could have done yourself if you'd given it 10 minutes to find the problem. That's why we're going to tell you how to simply identify some problems you might face with your car! So you can get to fixing them before it ends in disaster! So next time something happens to your car, grab a manual or just give it some time to think about the problem before you hand over your hard-earned cash to a mechanic to do 2 minutes work or even less, just tell you the problem.

So where is the problem originating and what are the tell-tale signs that there is something going on there?!

Spark Plug

Here are the signs to look out for that indicate you may have a bad spark plug:

  • Misfires - An engine misfire is super easy to identify if your car engine stops while driving and then suddenly out of no-where jumps back to life with a burst of pace, then you've had an engine misfire. This will require you checking all your spark plugs as the problem could be with one or more.
  • Starting Trouble - The most common symptom of a bad spark plug is engine's starting troubles. The engine won't start even after attempting it several times? The reason for the problem may be the spark plug failing to produce a spark. A faulty spark plug can cause quick discharge of the battery, so changing this out as soon as possible is always a good idea.
  • Rough Engine Idle - If your car bounces when the engine is running and makes a vibration, this may signify that your spark plug isn't sparking as it should.
  • Engine Surging - This is similar to an engine misfire, your car will make sharp jerks forward and then slow down. This is quite dangerous in traffic.
  • Low Milage - A bad plug will mean you use more petrol by reducing performance and so reducing mileage.
  • Poor Acceleration - A bad plug will also reduce your acceleration if you find yourself pulling away from the lights slower than normal but giving it more gas or even finding a delay between your action of giving it gas and actually moving, then you may have a faulty plug.

Before you go ahead and start pulling your spark plugs, just have a quick check that all plugs are tightly fitted and secure. Give the engine another try and if this hasn't done anything then it's time to check those plugs. This is a simple procedure.


A few signs that would signify you need your brakes checking or changing would be:

  • Worn Pads - If you notice that your brake pads are wearing down a little then it's best to change them asap.
  • Sounds - If you hear any strange sounds coming from the brakes then it might mean they're on their way out, best get somewhere and give them a check.
  • Pulling - If you ever find your car pulling itself to one side them it may be a sign of bad brakes in the braking system. Best get it checked.
  • Vibrations - If you feel vibrations then it might be a sign of work or warped rotors.
  • Bad pedals - A bad brake pedal isn't going to stop you from hitting the car in front of you. Be sure to keep your eye on the pressure and ease of using the braking pedal, this way you can tell when something may be amiss.

Be sure to check your brakes are working properly before leaving for a long journey and be sure they're not working before you start pulling them apart.


Your oil may need changing if you notice any of the following:

  • Black Oil - If you ever notice the oil in your car engine has turned a dark black colour, this is an indication it needs changing.
  • Sound - If your engine is running and seems louder than usual, this could also be a sign that your oil is in need of a change
  • You simply don't remember when you last changed it - If you don't remember the last time you changed your oil, the best bet is to change it now.
  • Level - If you just happen to check your oil dipper level and notice it's low, a top up or complete change is always good.
  • Engine Warning Light - Possibly the simplest way to know is when your engine warning light comes on to say "HEY! I need changing".

Changing your oil is alway important, even if you think the oil is good, a change won't do any harm. This keeps your engine in tip top condition.


It's fairly easy to see when your tyres might need changing, but just in case, it's when they display the following:

  • Flat - If you find your tyre is flat then you obviously need to have it changed.
  • Worn - Tyres are extremely durable but sometimes they get so worn that they become extremely dangerous, it's actually illegal to allow your tyres to become overly worn without having them replaced.
  • Tread - All tyres must have a tread depth of 1.6mm or more by law. Tyres will no tread will have reduced grip which in bad weather conditions can be very dangerous. You can check your tread with a 20p coin, if the outer rim of the coin is visible when you place the coin in the tread then you are close to the legal minimum.

Never let the tread on your tyres get too low, this is dangerous for yourself and others on the road.


You may need to have your headlights looked at if any of the following occurs:

  • No light - If the light won't come on, you could have one problem or another. You may have blown a bulb but you may also have blown a fuse. Check both.
  • Water - Sometimes water can get inside your headlights, this won't always cause them to stop working but can dim them a lot, this should always be checked.

Headlights are a very easy one to sort out, if your car has removable headlights then you can do the job, no problem. Some cars do not have removable beam headlights and so can be quite difficult or tricky. It's also worth mentioning that blown fuses can also cause your light not to work.


You may be having radiator problems if you encounter any of the following:

  • Leaking - One of the obvious signs of a radiator problem is if you find it leaking when the car is not in use. This requires immediate attention as it can cause serious damage to your engine if you run out of coolant. As well as this the coolant is toxic to people and animals. If you're unsure as to what coolant looks like, it's a red or green slimy mixture. Any other liquids will be other problems.
  • Overheating - The radiator's job is to cool the engine as it runs. If you find your car overheating then you probably have a problem with your radiator, this could be as simple as low levels of coolant or something else like a leak.
  • Drop in Pressure - Your radiator is pressurised, this means that if you have a hole or leak somewhere some of this pressure will be escaping, reducing the pressure. The normal PSI produced by a radiator is between 10 - 12. A pressure gauge will help you identify what pressure your radiator is at.
  • Low Coolant Level - If the coolant levels in the radiator are low, then you probably have a leak, obviously coolant will become lower over time but a sudden drop would signify a leak.
  • Rust - Any rust around the radiator usually signifies a leak or corrosion of coolant, this is because as the liquid is leaking onto the outside of the radiator, the running engine heats it and causes it to rust.

If you're having troubles with your radiator it's best to make sure you have identified the correct area and problem as if something goes wrong you don't want to have just made things worse.


Your battery may need replacing or charging if you find the following:

  • Engine cranks but won't start - This signifies that your battery is dead, this doesn't always mean that it needs replacing, but this does mean that your battery isn't holding it's charge. So you may need to get a new battery soon.
  • You've got nothing - If you get in your car, it won't start, won't crank and you don't have any lights, then your battery is totally dead and will need jumping. This is a sign that you need a new battery soon before you end up stranded somewhere you don't want to be.
  • It's fine, then it's not - If one day you can start your car fine, and the next you have problems starting it, then you may have a dead battery, again this could be just a one-off or it could be a sing that it's time to get a new battery.
  • You find you're jumping it a lot - If you find yourself jumping your car a lot then it's probably telling you that your battery has given up holding a charge and it's time to get a new one.

Replacing your battery is easy and even if your old battery isn't completely busted, a new one will still do a better job and you now have a spare just in case! Be sure to check the battery terminals and wiring before requesting a jump or buying a new battery, they might just be loose.

Starter Motor

A starter motor is a must, yours might be failing you if it does the following:

  • Grinding Noise - If when you crank the engine, you hear a grinding noise, this usually means that the starter drive gear is worn out or isn't engaging properly. This can damage the engine if ignored.
  • Freewheeling - Freewheeling is when you crank the engine and simply hear a whirring noise from the starter without the engine cranking. If this happens it means the starter gear isn't engaging with the flywheel. This could need a whole replacement motor.
  • Smoke - Seeing smoke is always a concern but if it's coming from the starter motor then this can indicate multiple problems. Smoke usually indicates that there is too much power being drawn from the electrical supply to the starter. This can be for many reasons. If you see smoke, you're probably best getting a tow instead of driving.
  • Oil Soak - If you have a leak, this is it's own problem but may also lead to soaking your starter motor, and a starter motor soaked in oil isn't going to last too long.
  • Faulty Solenoid -The job of the solenoid is to transmit electrical current from the battery to the starter motor when you turn the key, but also pushed the starter drive into the flywheel which allows cranking. If you have a faulty solenoid then this can't happen so leaves you needing a repair!

Your starter motor isn't something you should mess with unless you understand what you're doing, but doing it yourself will save you a lot of money.

Fuel Problems

Literally the one thing no car can go without, we need fuel. You might find yourself with fuel problems if you're experiencing:

  • Engine sputtering at high speeds - If you find your car sputters after driving for a while and then returning to normal, you may have issues with your fuel pump supplying your engine with fuel. This is due to the loss of pressure in the fuel line. You may need to have this replaced.
  • Car losing power when accelerating - If you find yourself pulling away from a stop with a splutter and jump then you might have a fuel problem.
  • Sudden power loss when driving up a hill - When driving up a hill this puts your car under stress, this causes your car to work harder and need more fuel to maintain a speed up this incline. If this stream of fuel can't be produced the car loses power.
  • Surging - If you find your car suddenly surging with an increase in speed and then returning back to normal speeds without you applying any more gas than earlier, you could have problems with your fuel delivery system.
  • The engine won't start- An engine needs fuel to start, if your engine isn't starting then it could be a number fo things, including a faulty fuel filter.

A problematic fuel line isn't something you want to have to deal with as they can be very temperamental and fuel shouldn't be messed with. So only work on this if you know what the problem is.


Your alternator recharges your battery giving you use of all electricals, if your alternator is faulty then you're going to find a problem with power. You might have a dodgy alternator if you find any of the following:

  • Warning light - If you have a modern car, you'll be automatically warned your alternator is playing up by a warning light on the dash, if this happens, be sure to check the problem out.
  • Dead battery - If you end up with a dead battery, the chances are you're having alternator problems. You should get it looked at as soon as possible, as you don't want to end up with a dead battery when you're out somewhere.
  • Smells & Sounds - your alternator works with a system of belts, usually, if one of these belts isn't running properly or freely it'll cause friction, this will definitely be something you can smell as it heats up. As with sounds, there are multiple moving parts to an engine, if one of these parts becomes worn or broken you'll likely hear it trying it's hardest to carry on working. You should check these out straight away before they cause more damage.
  • Visual - You could be changing your oil, refilling your washer liquid and you might spot a worn, tight or loose belt. Doing a visual inspection also allows you to spot any other problems.

A worn belt is easily replaceable but if a moving part becomes broken this could require a full engine being taken apart just to get at the small fiddly bits.

Well, now you know what to listen/look out for when you think your car is playing games, If you find you don't have the tools somewhere, then you should probably check this post out and get yourself  some of the lists! You never know when you're going to need them.

Posted by Mark Harris
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