It might be a noise like a ping or a squeal. Or it could be a warning light. Whatever the sign, it can be stressful to think you might suddenly have a car issue. But you shouldn’t have to wonder! Consider this your guide to the 7 most common car problems and how to diagnose them.

Common car problem #1: Squeaking or screeching brakes

What it could mean: Your brakes are starting to wear down, which can cause problems both for safety and potential vehicle damage if you don’t take care of it. Typically you’ll just need to replace the brake pads. But it could be that your rotors are damaged, which is a more expensive fix.  

Common car problem #2: Burning smells from the transmission

What it could mean: Your transmission’s overheating. The fix is probably relatively easy: you haven’t been checking your fluids as you should. Top off your transmission fluid. Then, going forward, pay attention to see if the problem resolves itself. If it doesn’t, it could indicate a leak you need to attend to.

Common car problem #3: Noisy transmission

What it could mean: If your transmission’s talking to you when you’re idling in neutral, it also could be because of that low transmission fuel. But, there could be a more involved issue, such as mechanical wear, that could call for new parts. You’ll want to get it checked out so that you don’t start having even larger (and more dangerous) problems, such as gear slippage, which means the car can pop out of gear while you’re driving. (Yikes!)

Common car problem #4: Slow acceleration

What it could mean: If you feel like you’ve got the pedal to the metal, and your car is taking its sweet time to merge, you likely need to replace your spark plugs. These little devices are workhorses, creating the “spark” that sets your car’s engine into motion. Over time, they can break down from wear and tear, resulting in your car losing some of that get-up and go.

Common car problem #5: High gas usage

What it could mean: Is your car gulping gas when it normally sips it? There could be a number of problems, such as worn-out fuel injectors or spark plugs. But one common and often-overlooked culprit is incorrect tire pressure. Find out your manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, and then check yours the next time you fill up. Adding air is a lot cheaper than adding gas. (And pay attention to your driving habits, which could be an equal concern. Accelerate and decelerate s-l-o-w-l-y in order to conserve gas.)

Common car problem #6: Dim or flickering headlights

What it could mean: Whether your headlights seem to have taken it down a notch or they alternate between bright/dim/bright/dim, the problem is probably the same: the alternator. What’s happening is that it’s not generating enough power to keep your headlights going at full strength. So in some cases, it reacts by just keeping the lights dim all the time. And in others, it’ll do the flicker thing — which means you should go get it tested.

Common car problem #7: Shaking steering wheel

What it could mean: Do you feel your steering wheel vibrating as you accelerate on the freeway? The main cause of a shaking steering wheel is tires that’re out of balance. It’s pretty easy to check if that’s the culprit, as you’ll probably see visible scuff marks on one side of the tire — likely indicating that you hit a curb, which knocked it out of balance. It also can just be caused by normal wear and tear. Next time you have an oil change and tire rotation, ask for a rebalance and see if that solves the problem.  

Most common car problem of all

Another issue that’s easily fixed: not having the right car insurance. Contact Esurance today to find out how surprisingly painless it is to get a fix for that!



Safe and smart | Car safety


about Cathie

Cathie Ericson writes about personal finance, real estate, health, lifestyle, and business topics. When she's not writing she loves to read, hike, and run. Find her @CathieEricson.