Car Problems: Five Signs

Car Problems: 5 Signs It’s Time To Trade in Your Car

No matter how long you’ve had your car, some car problems are not worth fixing. Some problems are safety concerns that must be dealt with immediately while others are an indicator that other issues are on the horizon. No matter how minor or serious your car problems may be, the decision to repair or trade in shouldn’t be taken lightly.

To help you make the best decision for your needs we’ve outlined a few red flags to watch out for.


Rust can be the demise of many vehicles and generally take on two different forms: surface rust and structural rust. Here’s how the two types of rust will affect your vehicle.

Surface Rust

Surface rust happens when a stone or object chips or scratches the cars exterior paint and moisture begins to find its way onto the bare metal surface. Cars driven in the Northern U.S. that are subject to road salt and other products used to melt road ice can speed up the rusting process. Surface rust can be relatively inexpensive to repair when caught early, as the rust can simply be sanded off and repainted sealing out the harmful elements. But the key is to catch this car problem quickly.

Surface rust
When caught early, surface rust can be fixed with little effort.

However let the rusting process go too long and that surface rust spreads and can quickly become a hole in the body panel. Consider a rust hole the size of a quarter usually requires a repair area the size of a basketball. Besides paint discoloring, rust eats through the metal causing it to weaken and loose its integrity if not repaired properly.

This is where problems go from cosmetic to dangerous, because modern cars and SUVs rely on these body panels for their structural integrity. Rusty panels can be repaired but it is usually an indicator that other areas not yet visible may have rust damage too.

Surface rust eating away at the metal
Rust begins to develop and spread when moisture begins to find its way onto the bare metal surfaces.

Structural Rust

Todays modern cars are engineered with anti-rusting galvanized coatings that shield a vehicle’s chassis from the elements. These coatings have been known to fail prematurely triggering a manufacture recall, such as this Hyundai Elantra recall. It only takes a small scratch in the car’s chassis to begin to rust and spread to critical areas that you can’t easily see under the vehicle. Over time critical components such as the fuel system lines become brittle and allow fumes to escape from the fuel tank. Or weakening of the chassis body and suspension components creating a serious safety concern.

Structural rust is cause for concern
Structural rust will weaken the body of a vehicle becoming a safety concern.

Failing Electronics

Ask any mechanic which are the hardest car problems to fix and they will most undoubtedly tell you electrical gremlins(electrical problems). Electrical issues can and will take on many forms. The most common are as simple as a blown fuse or bad ground wire. Mechanics will start diagnosing at the fuse panel. Swapping out a failed fuse or replacing a rusty or corroded grounding wire is an easy fix to electrical problems. However when your car problem isn’t as easy as replacing a fuse is when the costs add up quickly.

Blown fuse
Fuses in your car are sacrificial pieces. If they detect a current that can harm your vehicle’s components, the fuse will break.

Broken Switches

Here at myCarVoice we receive lots of reports of faulty or defective window, lock, mirror and seat switches. These car problems become more common as a car ages. Over time switches start to fail due to being exposed to moisture, or components inside simply wear out. Typically the fix is a replacement switch which can be done without too much hassle or costs. If you find however after replacement part is installed, the replacement begins to fail shortly after, then the issue is with the cars wiring. If this is the case that becomes a much bigger problem to identify and can be costly.

Broken door switches are common car problems
Door switches are the most common electrical problems but are an easy fix.

Instrument Panels

Other costly car problems are failures with the instrument panel or instrument cluster. A vehicle’s instrument cluster contains many gauges, which provide readings for the speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, temperature, fuel level, voltage, and any other indicators that may appear on your dash.

Depending on what year your car was manufactured, you either have the traditional analog gauges and instruments, or the newer LCD screen display panels. Problems with analog gauges typically reside at either a bad fuse, ground, or sensor. Finding the fault with an analog instrument panel is much easier on the wallet, and often times is a known defect that can be remedied without much diagnoses.

In some cases car problems that residue at your vehicle’s instrument panel can cause a car to malfunction. As an example, the road speed input is passed on to the instrument panel and then forwarded to the gearbox control unit. If the instrument panel fails, the gearbox may receive incorrect vehicle speed data. This could result in premature or delayed gear change timing that may negatively impact the transmission. This is just one example of many. But the good news is that analog instrument panels are much easier to diagnose and repair. In some case, replacing the whole instrument cluster is the solution for many car owners.

Digital Instrument Clusters

Vehicles with the newer more modern digital instruments are starting to become the standard, and will most likely completely replace their analog counter parts. Let’s face it, they are more accurate and generally capable of displaying lots of data in a much smaller space.

If you begin to notice the following issues with your digital dash, you will want bring the vehicle in for service right away:

  • The display shows unusual or broken characters
  • The display readings are inaccurate
  • Does not respond to touch inputs
  • Dim or hard to read
  • Shows partial or no display at all
  • The display randomly flickers

Digital instrument clusters provide readings for the speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, temperature, fuel level, voltage, message center, GPS, and many other indicators that may appear on your digital dash. Digital instruments require software to operate. Unlike analog instrument panels were you lose a speedometer or a gas gauge, you can lose everything with a digital cluster. Typically when a digital dash starts to fail the entire display vanishes or intermittently begins to flicker.

If you begin to experience issues with your digital dash typically its a software issue. Talk to your local dealership service department about getting a software update to resolve the problem. If your vehicle is no longer under factory warranty, you may be required to pay for the updated software. If after a software update the problems presist, a replacement digital cluster may be needed. This is typically very expensive to remove from the dashboard, and the replacement screens themselves are very costly. It may be time to consider a new car.

Digital instrument panels
When a digital dash starts to fail the entire display vanishes or intermittently begins to flicker.

Each vehicle depending on age and complexity of the electronics will eventually suffer from some type of malfunction or defect. Electrical problems can be real headaches for a vehicle owner even when covered under factory warranty. If you are currently experiencing a digital instrument panel defect, we may be able to help. Submit your car complaint using this simple form.

Transmission Issues

There are a lot of different parts and systems that go into making your car move, and your transmission is easily one of the most important ones. Modern transmissions are very complex, and require a specialist to diagnose and repair. Particularly difficult to diagnose and repair are CVT(constantly variable) or Dual Clutch, or Direct-shift gearbox transmissions. It’s why transmissions are one of the most expensive parts to repair or replace on a vehicle.

CVT Transmission

A traditional automatic transmission uses a complex series of gears to transfer the engine’s power to the wheels. A CVT has no gears at all. Instead, it uses a pulley and belt system to provide an unlimited range of gear ratios. The advantage of CVT transmissions are improved acceleration, enhanced fuel economy, and an overall smoother driving experience.

When a CVT transmission begins to fail they become noisy during normal operation. Early symptoms to look for are a whining or rattling sound while driving. Signs of advanced failure with CVT transmissions are erratic shifts or noticeable hesitation to engage a gear when you put the gear shifter in “D” or “R.”

Issues like low transmission fluid, a loose belt, or a failing clutch pack seal can cause the delay in gear engagement.

Dual-Clutch Transmission

Dual-clutch transmissions (DCTs) feature two separate clutches – one clutch handles the odd-numbered set of gears (1st, 3rd, and 5th) while the other clutch handles the even-numbered set of gears (2nd, 4th, and 6th). Since DCTs need less mechanical parts to deliver power to the wheels, they offer better fuel efficiency than traditional automatic transmissions.

Dual-clutch transmissions aren’t without their problems. Early symptoms of a failing dual-clutch transmission are easily spotted when performing a fluid change. By nature, dual-clutch transmissions will shed deposits from the clutch into the fluid. This is why manufactures recommend more frequent fluid changes. However if the fluid is heavy contaminated it will cause overheating and other performance problems. Keeping up with fluid changes is essential for long-term durability of a Dual-clutch transmission.

Direct-Shift Gearbox

Commonly found in many German manufactured vehicles, a direct-shift gearbox (DSG) transfers power to the wheels using two independent electronically-controlled gearboxes. This design results in a faster transmission needing less than four-hundredths of a second to make shift commands. Naturally DSG transmissions are well suited for high-performance vehicles.

Common symptoms of a failing DSG transmission to look out for are jerks between shifts, emits a loud ‘clunk’ when shifting, or your PNRD display flashing on your instrument cluster. If you notice your vehicle starting to exhibit any one of these symptoms and the vehicle is out of the factory warranty, you may want to consider a new car.

When to Repair a Failing Transmission

Knowing whether it’s worth it to replace a failing transmission will depend on the value or the car. Transmission replacements can range from $1,000 to $8,000 plus the additional labor costs. A factory warranty or third party extended warranty may cover these costs based on certain conditions. But if your vehicle isn’t worth more than $9,000 or $12,000 then you may want to consider trading it in.

If you begin to notice the following issues with your transmission, you may want to start thinking about a new vehicle:

  • Difficult to get into gear
  • Jerking, slipping, grinding or jumping during acceleration when the car is shifting gears
  • Creating whining or grinding noises while accelerating
  • Burning fluid odor entering the interior of the vehicle

Excessive Oil Consumption

As vehicles age they tend to consume higher quantities of oil. Engine manufacturers have specific levels of oil consumption they expect their engines to burn as a part of normal operating conditions.

Excessive levels of burning oil is a big car problem, and when ignored it can do major damage to the vehicle’s engine. Common issues that result from excessive oil consumption include worn valve stems, guides and seals, and damaged piston rings. Each one of these issues can allow oil to seep into combustion chambers. If engine oil gets in the combustion chamber some may burn away, but in many cases will begin to coat the valves with a thick layer of oil deposits. It may not always burn at a level to produce smoke in the tailpipe exhaust, but enough to notice when you check the car’s dipstick.

Some mechanics may recommend using a different brand of oil, or even a thicker weight of oil to reduce the amount that is being burned. This is a short-term fix to a mechanical problem that will only get worst over time.

As a rule, most engines with fewer than 50,000 miles shouldn’t use much more than a quart of oil between changes (unless the manufacturer says otherwise). If an engine requires a quart every 3,000 miles or less, the engine could have a leak or experiencing oil consumption. Excessive oil consumption may not seem like a large issue on the surface, but the added expense of topping off a vehicle’s oil in between changes and the added wear and tear on parts could mean it’s time to consider a new car.

Excessive oil consumption will damage valve train components
Excessive oil consumption if left unchecked will damage to the valve train of your vehicle.

If you begin to notice the following issues with your engine, you may want to start thinking about a new vehicle:

  • Losing a quart or more of oil in-between oil changes
  • Blue/gray exhaust smoke from the exhaust tailpipe
  • Excessive valve train noise due to excessive oil consumption

Change in Driving Habits or Needs

Whether you’ve just welcomed a new baby, accepted a new job with a longer commute or retired and are ready to roadtrip, you may be considering a new vehicle that meets more of your needs. Space, seating, miles per gallon and other features can have a significant impact on your comfort and happiness in your vehicle. Since Americans average a one hour commute per day or at least 25 miles, shouldn’t the vehicle you drive meet all of your physical and comfort needs? We think so!

What is Worth Fixing

Fortunately, not every issue is something to run to the dealership over. There are plenty of car problems that can be easily fixed or have little impact on the health of the vehicle if left unrepaired. These may include:

  • Paint blemishes
  • Safety recalls (these are often repaired by a dealership or authorized service center for no cost to the owner)
  • Wheels may have chips or dings but hold a steady and consistent air pressure
  • Headlights turn yellow and foggy with age but otherwise work well
  • Not all windows retract
  • Interior creaks and rattles
  • A/C losing its charge

Should I buy new vs used vehicle?

So you decided its time for a new car and trying to decide between purchasing brand new or a used car? Use this handy new vs used car calculator to help make your decision.

New vs Used Car Calculator

New vs used car calculator

Get a better understanding of the real costs differences when buying new vs used.

Last Updated on March 27, 2022

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