There are few things more frustrating than being stranded by the side of the road. To avoid unexpected breakdowns, everyone knows to check their oil and monitor their tire pressure. However, clues that trouble is ahead may not be as obvious as a flat tire or a low oil level. Ignoring these five signs of car trouble could mean big problems for your bank account.
1. Bumping down the road
Commuters traversing bumpy roads may not notice extra jolting until it’s too late. As treads separate from the base of car tires, they cause the car to unevenly move across the pavement. Unwary drivers will attribute the jerky ride to rough roads, but motorists in the know will realize that the tire is delaminating and they need to immediately head to the tire store to remedy the situation. A bad tire will usually jolt passengers the most at low speeds, so drivers should pay special attention when they are cruising on streets with reduced speed limits.
2. Clicking and clacking under the hood
One often-ignored symptom of car trouble is a clicking noise that comes from under the hood when the car’s belt tensioner becomes worn. These tensioners are crucial for maintaining the smooth working of car accessories like the water pump and air conditioning components. Left alone, a worn belt tensioner will eventually break, causing the car to overheat. Most dangerous of all, the power steering pump will also fail, making it difficult to turn the steering wheel. Driving with a broken belt tensioner means an overheated engine that could blow a head gasket or crack a block.
3. Squealing or squeaking belt
Many drivers don’t realize that these annoying sounds signal the end of life for their serpentine belt. Car owners on a budget often choose to ignore the squawking until it’s too late, but replacing a frayed belt is crucial in keeping the alternator running. Like a broken belt tensioner, a damaged serpentine belt will also cause engines to overheat and power steering to fail.
4. Humming noise from the wheels
Traveling on rugged roads in an old car with high mileage is rough on wheel bearings. When wheel bearings become worn, they begin to make a low growling or humming noise that is barely discernible at first. Unwary drivers might ride around until the bearings fail and the hub is damaged. In extreme cases, the increased friction of the overworked bearings can cause the wheel to fall off. Any unusual noises originating from under the front or rear ends of the car could be caused by damaged wheel bearings.
5. Strange noises or vibrations
If a car begins making odd noises or vibrating, it could mean that important suspension components need to be replaced. Well-worn shocks, struts or dampers can cause a vehicle to wander all over the road, making it easy to lose control. They will also speed up the wearing down of tires, so old suspension parts making abnormal noises should be replaced as soon as possible.
It doesn’t take a mechanic to spot the symptoms of dangerous vehicle wear and tear. A little education and vigilance can go a long way towards saving money and lives.