It isn’t popular to think about, but you should be prepared for vehicle problems. Vehicles are designed and built by people, and they are only as perfect or flawed as the people who build them. That means sooner or later, you’re going to need to fix your vehicle.
Some vehicle issues are less urgent. They are small things like a burnt-out light, a power door lock not working, or an annoying rattle inside the car. Other issues are more pressing and their symptoms cause alarm. When they happen, you know your car needs immediate attention.
Smoke from the exhaust - It may not seem like a big deal, but smoke from the exhaust is an indicator of a much more serious issue up front. White smoke typically indicates the engine coolant, or antifreeze, is getting into the combustion chamber and burning. Black smoke signals excessive amounts of fuel being burned inefficiently. Blue-tinged smoke alerts you to engine oil being burnt. None of these are good.
White smoke - If you have white smoke coming from the exhaust pipe, it means your cooling system needs attention. It could be a cylinder head gasket leaking antifreeze into the combustion chamber or cracked engine block.
Black smoke - Having black smoke from your exhaust pipe isn’t a minor concern either. Even if the repair is small, the symptom can cause major problems. If the engine is over-fueling – whether it’s a faulty injector, timing problem, or engine management system issue – it can cause extensive damage to the catalytic converter, oxygen sensors, or other emissions-related components.
Blue smoke - If you have blue smoke from the exhaust pipe, you are burning oil in the cylinder. It can be from something as minor as a plugged PCV valve or as involved as internal engine wear. It isn’t to be taken lightly, and if not addressed in a timely fashion, it can cause further running issues and even engine failure.
No matter what color the smoke from the exhaust pipe, have it looked after as soon as possible to prevent an even bigger repair bill shortly.
Rough running engine - When some symptoms happen, often you choose to look past them, ignoring that there may be an issue. A rough run is one of the common problems that is ignored. As much as you would like it to go away on its own, a rough running condition most likely won’t. In fact, the opposite is usually true.
A rough run, also known as an engine misfire, almost always gets much worse, and quickly. It can be caused by a cracked spark plug, bad fuel, or a multitude of causes much more involved. The most important reason to address a rough run in short order is because it can leave you stranded. If the misfire progresses quickly, your vehicle can potentially stall and not restart, leaving you in a difficult spot. Get a qualified technician to inspect a rough run on your vehicle as soon as it happens.
Steering is difficult to control - Three things that you count on when you drive are your ability to accelerate, steer, and stop. Steering is just as important, if not more so, than your acceleration. If you are unable to control your vehicle, it really doesn’t matter how fast you can go.
If your steering wheel shakes, is stiff to turn, feels too loose or wanders, or clunks when you’re turning, it needs immediate attention. The steering system operates on a combination of mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical technology, and it is imperative that all systems operate as designed. Even one small failure can put your safety at risk.
Brakes don’t feel right - Have you ever driven a vehicle without power brakes? It’s hard to imagine a time when vehicles weren’t equipped with power brake assist, but that’s how it used to be. Fortunately, as technology advanced, braking systems incorporated assists like a brake booster. They operate with the help of hydraulic power or vacuum from the engine and make brake operation much safer and easier.
A number of things can go wrong with the brakes including fluid leaks, seizing components, or brake pulsation. The most important thing to remember is if the brakes don’t feel like they are working right, you need to have them checked out. As one of the most important safety systems in your vehicle, the brakes should never be left to chance.
A malfunction indicator light is on - Most people incorrectly assume this means the Check Engine Light. While the engine light is included, a malfunction indicator light also includes the anti-lock brake light, the parking brake light, traction control warning, engine temperature warning light, engine oil pressure light, and any other warning indicator that comes on in the instrument cluster.
All of these systems have a purpose. A Check Engine Light or other malfunction indicator light tells you that something is wrong, and the warning needs to be heeded. Disregarding the warning lights can and often does spell trouble down the road, and usually not too far down the road. When a malfunction indicator light illuminates, have a professional mechanic diagnose and repair it as soon as possible.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as 5 Red Flags That Your Car Needs Immediate Attention and was authored by Jason Unrau.