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Car Trouble: Five Less Common Signs You May Have Problems With Your Vehicle

Most vehicle owners know about some of the most common car problems and malfunctions, like stumbling engines (tune-up), pulling (alignment) and obvious overheating conditions. Yet there are some subtle and less common signs that can point to car problems that can sneak up on you and cause major expense and inconvenience. The trick is to know what to look for.

Image Courtesy of and Witthaya Phonsawat

Gas Caps

Most vehicle owners think the gas cap is a non-technical component that requires only keeping gas in the tank. The truth is that it is a part of the EVAP system, or Evaporative Emission Control. Many gas caps today are required to work under a precise pressure and they have a sensor to monitor it. When escaping vapors are detected, a “Check Engine” light is activated and this can send you to the dealership. Caps that are not tightened properly or have worn out seals will trip the sensor. In rare instances, a car will not start if the correct tank and fuel line pressure is not detected.

Center Steering

The steering wheel to your vehicle is calibrated by the manufacturer to sit precisely balanced in a neutral or straight ahead driving position. This means the steering wheel supports or frame should look equally spaced on each side of the wheel. A steering wheel that is cocked to one side means that the alignment is not correct, which involves adjusting the tie-rod sleeve. What is also common is an impact to the tie-rod or other steering part that knocks the center steering out of adjustment. This problem requires a front-end inspection and alignment check.

Ball Joints and Steering

A frequent steering occurrence involves a car that jumps or shimmies when it encounters a pothole or other uneven spot in the road. A jerk can sometimes be felt through the steering wheel, accompanied by a clanking sound when the wheel leaps up and drops. This can happen with front or rear-wheel drive vehicles. The problem is the ball joint has worn to the point of excessive play and this negatively affects the steering response. There are no outward signs for a wearing ball joint, and the best remedy is to have the vehicle’s front-end steering and suspension parts checked on a regular basis.

Water Pumps

All too often, water pumps are blamed for overheating problems when it’s a radiator, thermostat, head gasket or a leaking hose. The most common failure of a water pump is the pump shaft and bearings. Water pumps that are about to fail are very hard to diagnose. Almost all water pumps have a “seep hole” in the bottom of their casting. When the bearings begin to fail, water bypasses a small channel and leaks from the seep hole. A small puddle on the ground is usually the only evidence that the water pump is beginning to fail. A failing water pump may often make a low-volume metallic grinding noise, evidence that the bearings are metal-to-metal inside the sleeve.

Curb Height

Vehicles are designed to sit at a precise level at both the front and rear portions of the car unless the suspension has been modified. If the car leans down over one wheel, two wheels or in any other combination of the four, chances are a suspension part is defective. Barring a low tire, a blown shock that has lost its gas or hydraulic fluid will lower the vehicle on that side. A torsion bar that is out of adjustment will also cause a lean, frequently on a wheel set. A car that sits too low all around may have a problem with the airbag suspension system. A broken leaf or coil spring may also cause an annoying sag.

Today, vehicle owners must be especially vigilant and pay attention to little sounds and sights when operating their cars, trucks or SUVs. Regular inspection is a great preventive maintenance chore that can save major dollars down the road.

Informational credit to Interstate Auto Care.

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