Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll be required to get your car serviced every year or earlier. The most frequently-changed item in your car is oil, and you will need to return every 5,000 kilometers or so to keep up with the manufacturer’s recommendations. It may also be a bi-yearly thing depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations. Still, prevention is the best solution but if you’ve skipped an interval or forgot the date of your last visit, worry not.
Let’s say that you have an older car or a car that you work on yourself to save some money. Taking it to the manufacturer will still be the best course of action since they will know your car the best, but if you just bought a second-hand car or have been driving for a while and forgot when your last maintenance interval was, here are a few key signs that will tell you that your car needs to go to the shop or get parts replaced and fixed.
Note that if you’re seeing these signs, you may already be late to your recommended service interval. Preventive maintenance is still the best cure for these maintenance woes. Honestly, whether it is a Toyota, or something more premium like a Mazda, or even something as hardy as an Isuzu, make sure that you’re on top of your maintenance to make sure that you’re going to enjoy your car for years to come.
Oil below level, or very dark in color
To check your engine oil, pop the hood, pull out the oil dipstick, wipe off the oil, and insert it again all the way. Now pull it out and check the oil level. Usually, there are two notches that you need to pay attention to. If there is closer to the end of the stick, that means that your oil is close to low and needs to be topped off or replaced already. Some cars consume oil or lose some oil over a period of time, and that may happen to your car.
Also, check the color of the oil. If it is black or very dark and opaque. Fresh oil will be golden in color or clear, while oil that is about at its mid-life cycle will be colored dark brown. It’s when it turns black that you need to address it and get it changed right away.
Reduced fuel economy and performance
If you’re one to notice the ebb and flow of traffic and the amount of fuel that your car consumes, then you might notice that over time your engine does perform slightly worse compared to when it was new. That’s because dirt and debris from the road may clog the air filter and even old oil may impede the engine from performing as efficiently as possible. Reduced fuel economy figures are a sign of slightly reduced performance. This can be chalked up to the spark plugs or even down to the air filter.
There are also more extreme signs that your engine is in need of some TLC. If you experience hesitation when on the accelerator or your engine struggling to get up to a certain speed, then chances are you might have to get things checked out.
Likely another sign that your engine is struggling or has seen better days. The color of the smoke emitted will tell you what system inside your engine is problematic. For example, white smoke could mean that there is a bit of condensation or a bit of water inside your exhaust. This is fine, but if it is continuously white then that means your coolant might be leaking into your engine’s combustion chamber, which is not good.
If it is black-colored smoke, then it has something to do with your engine’s fueling or air. It could be that your engine is not getting enough fuel or not getting the right amount of air to properly and cleanly combust its charge of fuel.
If you see blue-colored smoke, then that means that your engine is burning oil. Could also mean that there is an oil leak, and that needs to be checked right away unless your car is designed to burn oil under some circumstances, but that depends on a bunch of other technical factors as well. Still bring your car to the service center for peace of mind in any of these cases.
Overheating or going above the regular operating temperature
Another sign of a much-needed service is a hot and bothered engine. If your car has a temperature gauge whose needle migrates up and not down, then you might want to have your radiator checked as well as your coolant and fans. It could be that one item is not working, or you need a flush to make sure that your system is running properly. Either that, or it’s just a hot day, but if this is a recurring thing, then it’s definitely a sign of some problem with the cooling system.
Squeaking and metallic sounds
If you also hear a bit of squeaking whenever you turn over your engine, go over bumps or brake, it could have something to do with your engine or chassis and you could use a good amount of grease to get things moving the right way again. Either that or you need to change out bushings and there is unwanted metal-to-metal contact, like in the case of brake pads and rotors, which may need to be replaced if you hear a lot of sounds whenever you try to come to a stop.
In whatever case, an auditory sound will draw attention and be a nuisance to you and your passengers. It is yet another sign or cry from your car that it is definitely due for a service or a repair. Sounds are a car’s way of communicating with the driver. If there are sounds like static from the stereo or thuds that aren't exactly comforting or part of the experience when the car was new, then maybe you should have a look underneath.
If the squeaks are coming from the engine bay it could be a sign of a loose belt or a tensioner or pulley gone bad. It could also mean that your accessory or serpentine belt may need replacing.
Check engine light
Ah yes, the dreaded check engine light or CEL for short. “What does it mean?” “Is my car going to be alright?” With a lot of cars with modern engine control units (ECUs), you will find that diagnosing the problem might not be possible without the help of a manufacturer’s service center. They have the equipment to scan and collect data about your car in ways that you can’t with an eyeball and a bit of sweat.
For most people, a light like this may pop up at random, and can be triggered by something as random as a faulty connector or a sensor. Either way, encountering this problem should be taken seriously and you should definitely bring your car to the service center so that anything more serious can be prevented.
Wobbling and misalignment
A car is supposed to track straight and it is supposed to go in a straight line when the wheel is pointed straight. If your car's wheel isn't dead center while you're traveling in a straight line on a flat plane, then your wheel alignment might be out of whack and will need adjusting. Worse is if your chassis or steering is wobbling while speeding up, slowing down, or keeping a constant velocity down the road. This could be a sign of a suspension system that needs fixing or a wheel out of whack. Could also be related to your tires and you could be running on a flat, especially if you notice that your steering is a bit heavy. Either way, have it checked because at speed you may lose control of the car or won't be able to pilot it as efficiently.