Your car is making a strange noise, rattles, or pulls to one side. What could this mean? By determining on your own what is wrong with your vehicle you may be able to avoid a costly trip to the mechanic, as many mechanics (and virtually all service facilities at dealerships) charge you to diagnose a problem. By diagnosing a problem on your own, at the very least you will sound like you know what you are talking about when you bring the car into the mechanic.
If you are not confident in your ability to diagnose a problem on your own there is a company, CarMD, that sells a diagnostic device that plugs into your car's onboard computer system, determining what problems, if any, exist. The device also comes with software that you install on your PC or Mac that allows you to upload the results of the diagnostic test directly to your computer. Once uploaded to your computer, the information is presented in an easy-to-understand format, and also provides an estimate of repair costs. The device works on every car built since 1996, and the CarMD website provides a diagram of the location of the onboard computer connection. The beauty of the system is that it diagnoses not only problems that have already occurred, but also problems that might be lurking on the horizon.
The most recent CarMD Vehicle Health Index found the following top 5 reasons that the check engine light might illuminate: 1) Replace oxygen (O2) sensor (9.3%), 2) replace gas cap (9.3%), 3) replace catalytic converter (6.4%), 4) replace mass air flow sensor (4.4%) and 5) replace spark plugs/wires (3.7%). It's important to note that the third most common repair, "replace catalytic converter," points to consumers needlessly putting off maintenance. A catalytic converter normally won't fail unless related parts, like a spark plug, are ignored too long. Replacement costs upwards of $2,000 to repair. Find Out What's Wrong With Your Car Instantly. Order Online Today!
This alone will save you money as disreputable mechanics often prey on people that know little or nothing about their cars. If you do decide to take your car or truck to a mechanic we strongly recommend first heading to Angie's List to see how reputable the mechanic is. Angie's List provides it's members with reviews of local mechanics. Their certified data collection process prevents companies and providers from reporting on themselves or their competitors. The reviews on Angie's List are written entirely by consumers so you no longer have to rely on one person's experience. It's like having thousands of friends and neighbors to talk to for information about a company. Car problem? Find the best mechanics with local unbiased reviews. Try Angie’s List.
If you do decide to make your own repairs, auto parts suppliers like AutoPartsWarehouse (also known as Parts Train) offer substantial discounts. Save as much as 75% on dealer pricing on all Performance and Replacement Auto Parts from Parts Train. Remember, unless you are fully comfortable making repairs to your car or truck do not attempt to do them on your own.
||Level of Difficulty
|Battery and Cables
||- Headlights and interior lights dim
- "Check Engine" and/or battery light on
- Accessories fail to operate
|Replace the battery
||Batteries start at $45 at auto parts stores, but a mechanic would charge $100 to do the job. Find Great Deals On Batteries When You Shop Online At Advance Auto Parts!
||Easy; should take roughly 30 minutes for a novice
|Engine Air Filter
||- Poor gas mileage
- Hesitation while accelerating
- Musty odor in the cabin
|Replace the filter
||Filters cost roughly $25 at auto parts stores, but a mechanic would charge $100 to do the job. Shop Engine Parts At Advance Auto For Great Deals On Everything You Need To Get Your Engine Repair Job Done Right!
||Easy; should take roughly 30 minutes for a novice
- Brake pedal pulsates when you apply the brakes
- Brake pedal feels “mushy”
- Noise when you step on the brake pedal
- Repeatedly need to add brake fluid to the master cylinder
- Car pulls to one side during braking
|Replace the brake pads and resurface the rotors. Advance Auto Brake Headquarters - Learn How To Properly Install & Care For Your Brakes With Helpful How-To Videos And Rich Content!
||Brake pads and calipers cost roughly $15 to $30 a piece, and new rotors cost up to $75 a piece. A mechanic would charge up to $500 to do the job.
||Moderate; if you are just changing the pads it shouldn't take longer than an hour. Add a little more time if the rotors need to be replaced. Add a couple hours if the rotors need turning by a local mechanic. More on brakes.
|Steering and Suspension
- Uneven tire wear
- Noise and vibration while cornering
- Loss of control
|Inflate tires evenly, align wheels, repair tie rods and steering rack, replace shocks and/or struts, add power steering fluid, replace or tighten power steering belt
||Cost ranges from negligible (tire inflation/rotation/alignment, power steering fluid or belt tightening) to moderate (shocks start at $30 a piece) to significant (struts start at $300 to replace). You can expect dealers to charge for up to 5 hours of labor to replace shocks and struts. Tire Air Gauges maintain accurate air pressure and help save money at the pump. Available at Tire Rack.
||Easy to moderate; replacing the shocks and struts are the most difficult task, but not impossible as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions. More on shock absorbers.
- Loud noise
- Rattling noise when starting, accelerating or braking
- Drowsiness while driving
|Replace the muffler, catalytic convertor, or other parts of the exhaust system.
||Mufflers cost anywhere from $100 to $500, and catalytic convertors cost from $100 to $300. Dealers will charge up to $800 to replace a muffler and exhaust pipe, and up to another $300 to replace the catalytic convertor. Do It Yourself and SAVE BIG at JC Whitney!
||Moderate; if you are just changing the muffler and have some experience with cars it shouldn't take longer than half an hour. Add a couple more hours if the entire exhaust system needs replacing.
||- Rapid signal blinking
- Dimming lights
|Inspect bulbs and replace failed bulbs as needed. If you have replaced the bulb and it still blinks fast and the bulb does not illuminate properly the ground circuit inside the bulb socket has failed. To repair this condition remove the bulb socket and replace with new.
||New bulbs can cost anywhere from $2 to $15. Dealers will charge twice that plus labor. Do It Yourself and Save at AutoZone
||Easy; should take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes for a novice to complete
||- Squeaking noise from under the hood during start-up or operation
- Dashboard light will illuminate
|Inspect the timing belt at once. If the timing belt breaks you will have catastrophic engine issues. another possible source of the noise could be the serpentine belt.
||The cost to replace a timing belt approaches $750, but is absolutely a necessary repair. Replacing a serpentine belt could cost up to $200, but you can do it on your own for less than $75. Get Big Savings on auto parts at Auto Parts Warehouse and SAVE $10. Click Here!
||Easy to difficult; if the problem is with the timing belt it is not recommended you perform the replacement on your own, but serpentine belts can be replaced by novices in an hour.
|Radiator and Hoses
- Coolant leaks
- Vehicle overheats
- Coolant level low
|There is likely a leak in the radiator or associated hoses. Some leaks are easy to spot, but others will require removal of the radiator. Use a radiator pressure test kit to find the leak.
||To fix a small leak simply purchase a stop-leak additive at an automotive store and pour it into the radiator. Larger leaks will require the use of a soldering iron, or replacement of the radiator. Mechanics will charge up to $300 to repair or replace a radiator, but a radiator only costs roughly $125.
||Easy to moderate; Adding the stop-leak additive will take minutes, but replacing the radiator would take a novice mechanic a couple hours. Buy Online, Pick up In-store - Save Time & Money with Advance Auto Parts
Helpful Shock Absorber Tips
Ride quality, vehicle stability, and auto drivability—you can wave goodbye to all of these things the moment your car experiences shock absorber failure. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to any vehicle owner. After all, shock absorbers are the vehicle’s best buffer against unnecessary suspension vibration.
You see, true to its name, your shock absorber is what “absorbs” or dampens the bouncing, rattling, and vibrating in your suspension as you travel over road irregularities. Now, once your car loses this particular feature, there’s nothing there to minimize suspension movement. That’s bad news for you and your passengers, because this time around, you’ll feel every single pothole and road bump your car drives over.
Now, this is also bad news for your suspension, because the loss of a shock absorber can affect your ride’s ability to stay in contact with the road. This, in turn, makes it a bit more difficult for you to stay in control of your ride as you travel over rocky terrain.
So the moment you experience a dip in your ride quality or suspension stability, schedule a one-on-one meeting with your shock absorbers. And if you notice oil leaks or torn bushings on any of your shocks, then replace that bad apple immediately!
Don’t worry, because replacing your busted shocks isn’t as bad as it sounds! You can readily find affordable and dependable replacement shock absorbers online. The best part is that there are a number of reliable websites out there who are willing to waive the shipment fee for your new shocks! Yep, you read right! Some sites offer FREE SHIPPING. So save up on gas money, time, and effort by getting your new shocks online.
Helpful Brake Tips
The braking system is one of the failsafe devices your vehicle has. The brake system should always be in top shape. The safety of the driver and the passengers depends on this very crucial system. Thus, it is a must to always conduct regular maintenance checkups on your brake components.
At the top of the maintenance checklist is the brake pad . These are steel backing plates coated with friction material and are in contact with the brake rotor. When the brakes are applied, the brake caliper pushes the two pads together into the rotor to retard the wheel’s motion.
Looking for a brake pad set is easy if you live near an auto parts dealership or shop. But you know what's better? Go online. You don't have to go out of the confines of your room to score one. With just a few clicks, you can have a wide array of choices of brake pad sets with different brands. Be them OEM or aftermarket, these sets come in different deals to suit your needs.
Speaking of deals, there are many dealerships, most of them online, that spice up their promos to offer you the biggest bang for your hard-earned buck. Some auto parts sites offer discounts of up to $12 off $200 plus FREE SHIPPING on these brake pad sets. They also offer warranties on these products. But before making an online purchase, always check if the site is reputable.
Previous Tip: DIY Maintenance Tips
Next Tip: Seasonal Car Care Tips