The first time I ever got a flat tire, it was while my car was parked at my house. At some point, I’d run over a construction nail, but the tire didn’t start deflating until I’d gotten home and parked the car. At least I wasn’t stranded somewhere when I had to change a tire for the first time. The driving school I attended didn’t teach us how to change a tire—I only had the owner’s manual to rely on. Luckily, I had the manual in my car and the instructions were thorough. Not every is as lucky. Here are some of the most common car problems that regular drivers encounter and what to do if you encounter them:
The Flat Tire
You can probably feel and hear when you get a flat tire. The car starts to wobble and there’s a loud thump as the tire goes around. If you’ve never changed a tire before, this might seem difficult, but the process is actually pretty easy. Your manual will have detailed instructions customized for your vehicle, but in general, you take out your spare, you put the jack under a metal part of your car near the wheel you need to replace, and remove the nuts, take of the wheel, and replace the nuts, then slowly lower the car back onto the road. If you don’t have a full-size spare, drive immediately to the closest place you can get your tire repaired.
Annoying, but not necessarily dangerous—though you could be pulled over and given a ticket if a cop notices that you’re driving at night and one of your headlamps is out. If your light is starting to go out or is already out, your blinker may blink extra fast. Like changing a flat tire, the instructions for how to replace bulbs in your lights will be in your manual. If you don’t feel you’re car savvy enough to do this task, you can usually find someone at a car parts store who can do it for you for a small fee.
Your Battery Dies
There’s nothing more annoying than getting into your car, turning the key, and hearing nothing but clicks. If your electrical systems are not working, that probably means that your battery is dead. The best way to fix the issue is to get a jump from a kind stranger or to call a friend or family member to come jump the car or pick you up. Jumping a car is neither as difficult nor as scary as it initially seems—just follow the steps in your manual and you’ll get your battery working again. Keep in mind that this might be an indication that you need a new battery or that you’re leaving lights or other electrical systems on.
Your Alternator Is Dead
The symptoms of having a dead alternator are the same has having a dead battery—your car just won’t start and none of your electrical systems will light up. If jumping your car doesn’t work, but the car is still acting like you have a dead battery, your battery might just be too dead to revive (not just mostly dead, but all dead), or you have a real problem with your alternator. Calling a tow truck and having the alternator checked out and maybe even replaced is usually the best course of action here.
Squeaking is how your brakes tell you that they need to be replaced. If you can hear your brakes squealing as you glide to a stop, it’s time to have them checked out. You can change your own brake pads, or you can bring your car into our service department to have them professionally looked at. Because there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to your breaks, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Your rotors might be worn, your pads might be worn, there might be uneven wear that is causing uneven friction, etc. Most of the time, problems with brakes can be solved simply by installing a new set of pads, but if you do this and the problem persists, it might just be best to let a professional take a look.
There’s A Puddle under the Car
Unless you live in an apartment complex and do not always park in the same spot, it is generally pretty easy to tell if your car is leaking something. Oil is pretty easy to identify—it looks like oil. It leaves a big oil stain on your concrete. But that’s not the only thing that your car might be leaking. Among the fluids it could be leaking are brake fluid and antifreeze, too. You don’t want to lose too much of either of those two fluids. Antifreeze is usually green, while brake fluid has a slight amber tint and will be slightly oily. It is pretty corrosive, so if your car’s drips are eating a hole under your car, this could be the cause. Unless you know exactly where the leak is coming from and how to fix it, take your car in for an inspection and a repair.
Most cars, especially new ones, do not overheat for no reason. It usually indicates that they’ve used up their coolant or that the coolant has leaked out. If you suddenly notice that your car is running hotter than it usually is, don’t ignore it until it becomes a serious problem. Have this issue checked out by a professional, too.