How to spot early signs of engine trouble

Jace Koblun with files

Without a functioning engine, a vehicle is just an expensive driveway ornament. Engines keep vehicles moving, much in the same way the heart provides oxygen and blood to keep the human body running strong.

Modern engines are a mixture of mechanical moveable parts and complex computerized systems. Many different parts work in unison to keep a vehicle moving. Engines can be challenging for experienced mechanics, not to mention downright confusing for people who are unfamiliar with what’s under the hood of their vehicle. But any vehicle owner can learn to recognize certain signs that an engine may be on its last legs.

Engine shaking

“An engine that is shaking while running may just have bad spark plugs or loose or damaged hoses,” said Sturtevant Used Auto Parts in Wisconsin. “However, if those fixes don’t work, it could be an indication of a deeper problem that requires a mechanic, such as fuel intake system issues, compromised motor mounts or timing belt problems.”

Excessive smoke

An engine in trouble typically has to work harder. That results in heating up more quickly, which can lead to overheating. Smoke may be white, blue or black (each colour indicates a separate problem). Any sign of excessive smoke is a reason to consult a mechanic.

Warning lights

The dashboard tends to light up when the vehicle is started, and one by one those lights diminish as the car’s computer checks that all systems are working correctly. If the “check engine” light remains on, it is notifying the driver of a problem. The issue could be a faulty sensor or something more ominous. Mechanics can hook the vehicle up to a scanning tool that runs diagnostics to “speak” to the car’s computer helping to diagnose the issue, advises How Stuff Works.

Strange noises

Popping or tapping noises may suggest that fuel is igniting prematurely in the combustion chambers of the cylinders. Grinding noises may tell you that the starter motor needs to be changed or replaced. Transmission issues also can produce grinding sounds. Generally speaking, if the vehicle is making sounds it does not normally make, schedule a service appointment.

Poor fuel efficiency

Engine trouble may cause the truck to consume fuel faster than normal, according to the car information site Carsoid. The engine or one of its components may be faulty. Problems could arise in the spark plugs, oxygen sensor or fuel injector.

Trouble starting

Failure to turn over is a clear indicator of engine troubles. It could be the battery, but if the battery is new, look for other causes. Engine trouble does not generally come out of nowhere. Certain signs can warn drivers their vehicles need servicing.

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