How to Diagnose What’s Wrong With Your Car

John Linden is a master ASE certified technician and the North America training manager for Midas International Corporation. He’s presenting this video to tell you something about common car problems… and, especially, how you can diagnose what’s gone wrong when your car isn’t performing correctly or perhaps when it’s making an odd or unusual sound.

Problem areas

What are the areas that can be most problematic and that you should think about first? Well, there are often issues around your brakes, one of the most vital areas of your car. You want to pay attention, also, when your oil light comes on, especially if it happens when you’re driving. And then there’s the temperature gauge—it can give you clues that you have a real problem on your hands. And, finally, a wobbly steering wheel can point to a number of issues.

In all of this, your car is talking to you. Its means of communication is the instrument panel on your dashboard, so you have to do your part in the communication and really pay attention to what that instrument panel is telling you. It’s essential to understand the instrument panel’s “language”: each little light has its own symbol or light, and you need to know ahead of time what each one means so that you can respond to it if it shows up while you’re driving out and about..

The oil light

So you’re driving along and suddenly you notice that the oil light comes on. “Oh,” you think, “I’ll talk to my mechanic about that sometime.” Wrong answer! Your car is giving you vital information that must be acted on at once. If your engine is running low on oil, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for your next tune-up. Oil lubricates a whole lot of moving parts inside your car’s engine. If you run low, it can cause premature wear and if you run out, it can cause permanent damage: an engine run without oil to lubricate it will seize, and it’s bye-bye, engine.

So how do you respond to the oil light coming on? Pull over immediately in the first safe spot that you can. Open the hood, and be careful: your engine is super-hot.

Check your oil level by taking the dipstick out, wiping it clean, inserting it again to get a true reading without splashes, and checking where the oil comes on the dipstick lines. If you have to continue driving, add oil immediately. Otherwise, get it to your mechanic as quickly as possible.

Steering wheel shaking syndrome

If the steering wheel shakes while you’re driving, this is a danger sign. You have to have that checked out immediately. Shaking or wobbling can mean that a part is bent, or that it’s broken, or even that it’s missing. This is a serious problem that could cause an accident, so do not drive on it any longer. Take it to your mechanic to properly diagnose and fix the problem.

What do they all look like?

The oil light icon on your dashboard looks like an oil bottle with oil dripping out of it. The check engine light icon looks like an engine. The brake warning light icon it looks like a circle with an exclamation point (!) inside of it. The one main thing to remember about all these lights is that red alerts you to danger. Never, ever ignore a red light on your dashboard!