Can Your Senses Tell You When Your Car Needs Repair?

If you’re not a mechanic by trade, figuring out when your car needs repair can be daunting. Your vehicle’s engine and components are complicated, and the issues that can arise are seemingly endless. But the good news is that even as a layperson, you can use your senses to tell when something is off with your car.

Read on to learn how your senses of sight, sound, touch, and smell can help you know when it’s time to give your car some extra special attention. 

Signs Your Car Needs Repair

When your car starts performing out of the ordinary in any way, the signs shouldn’t be ignored because they can become even more costly and complicated to fix if you let them persist. 


The most obvious sign your car needs repair is when an indicator light comes on on the dashboard. These are usually specific to the corresponding car part and will tell you where to check, but if the engine light comes on, it could be any number of problems. In addition to dash lights, there are also some other signs to look for, including the following. 

  • Visible leaks or transmission, coolant, brake, or engine fluid pooling underneath your car. 
  • You experience decreased fuel efficiency noticeable through a more frequent need to fill up your tank with gas.
  • Noticeable increase in and/or colored exhaust smoke coming from the car.  


Anytime you notice that your car is making new noises, these issues to look for in your car are worth your attention. 


If your car is making a knocking noise, it could indicate that you have worn engine bearings that should be replaced. 


If you hear a clunking sound when driving over bumpy surfaces, it could be that your suspension components, such as the strut or shock, need replacing. 


A creaking noise can indicate that the grease on your car’s ball joints and bushings has dried out and need fresh lubrication. 


If your car makes a grinding noise when you brake, your brake’s rotors may need to be replaced. But, grinding can also indicate an issue with your transmission, such as worn gears or insufficient fluid. 


A loose timing belt may cause a fast ticking sound as it moves over the cam and crankshaft pulleys. 


If your brakes squeal when you engage them, your pads are likely worn and should be replaced immediately for safety reasons. If you hear it when you use your steer wheel, it could be due to the power steering pump going out or an overstretched belt. 


These noises can result from engine backfires caused by spark plugs, improperly synced ignition timing, dirty filters, or a suboptimal air and fuel combination. 


When your cooling system is leaking, air can mix with fluid and move into the radiator, causing these noises, and leading to your engine overheating. When exhaust goes into your cooling system, it can be from a blown head gasket. 


Your sense of touch can also help discern when your car is having issues — you may just feel that something is off with the way your vehicle is operating or notice certain things that indicate specific issues.

If you feel shaking when you brake, your rotors could be warped, while any vibrations when you engage the gas pedal could suggest your exhaust system needs inspection. Meanwhile, if you feel your steering wheel shaking, your wheels could be out of alignment. 

In addition, the following are signs your car should be inspected by a professional mechanic.

  • Vibrating could be caused by your engine’s timing, wheels, tires, a failing suspension, worn mounts, or a loose lug nut. 
  • Your car pulling away from where you want it to go can reveal an issue with your wheels, suspension, or steering as well as wheel bearing or steering linkage deterioration. 
  • You feel any unusual response in your brake pedals. 


Your nose also knows when your car needs repair. Check for the following olfactory indicators. 


If your clutch is on the way out or needs to be adjusted, you may notice a distinctively smoky smell as you drive your stick shift car.  

Dirty Laundry

If your car smells musty like a forgotten gym bag is hiding somewhere, your AC or heater system could be harboring mold or mildew. 

Maple Syrup

There is one cause of a maple syrup smell — a coolant system leak. Coolant attracts animals but will kill them, so this should be addressed immediately. And a lack of sufficient coolant can overheat your car. 

Burning Oil 

If you smell burnt oil it could be from engine oil leaking onto another hot engine part. 


If you smell gasoline, particularly if you park in a garage or other enclosed structure, it can mean a fuel leak from a cracked gas cap, fuel tank ventilation hose, or fuel-injection line. 

When Your Car Needs Repair, Trust City Auto Repair

It’s clear your senses can help you discover when your car has issues, but some malfunctions can arise that you may not be aware of. Whether you see apparent signs or just intuitively feel like something is off with your car, it’s never a good idea to ignore these warnings that could indicate more significant and costlier problems than you realize. If you sense that your car needs attention, reach out to your trusted team at City Auto Repair to schedule an inspection and thorough diagnostic services for your vehicle.