9 Signs Your Car Might Need Service

November 8th, 2019 by

A man is stressed while looking at the engine bay of his car.
Imagine you’re cruising along a country road, enjoying the view of verdant fields around you when you casually notice that your vehicle has gently burst into flames; that is a sign that your car needs service. Not all warning signs are quite so dramatic, however, and some may be easy to miss. In general, if anything feels different or “off” about your car, then you’ve probably considered searching “car service near me” online in hopes of finding a trustworthy provider.

Here at McCluskey Chevy, we have a lot of people come to us for service, and we often find that they wait longer than they should. While sometimes life simply gets in the way and coming to us is delayed for a variety of reasons, many people do not know what to look for (beyond the obvious) when it comes to service indicators. With that in mind, we decided to put together some good signs that you should watch for that can indicate you need to get your vehicle serviced as quickly as possible.

If you notice any of these, then visit us at McCluskey Chevy in Cincinnati, OH, and our certified service center will make sure you get back on the road safely and as quickly as possible.

#1 – Check Engine Light is On

One of the simplest and most apparent signs that you should look for car service near you is if your “Check Engine” light is illuminated. This light will be on your dashboard, near your instrument cluster, and typically looks like an engine and might be paired with one or more other lights. If the light is illuminated or flashing at you, then that is a sign that something is wrong with your engine, and it needs service. A variety of issues can cause your Check Engine light to come on, so you need an experienced service professional to run a diagnostic on your vehicle to determine the exact cause.

#2 – Other Warning Lights are On

Of course, your Check Engine light is not the only one that matters, and any other light illuminated on your dashboard can also mean there is an issue. Many of the lights on your instrument panel are for simple indicators, such as to let you know that your headlights are on or that your trunk is open. Others have various meanings, and some of these may require a professional mechanic to repair. If you are unsure of what a light on your panel is telling you, then check your owner’s manual for instructions.

#3 – Strange Sounds

This is a large category that covers a lot of different warning signs, but in general, if you hear sounds that are not a part of normal operation for your vehicle, then it might be time to look for a car service near you. It is very important that you spend time with a new vehicle, or a vehicle that is new to you, driving on smooth roads without music or other distractions and listen to your vehicle. Hear what it sounds like under normal conditions and become familiar with that sound.

>If you are driving and your car sounds different than it normally does, then that can be a big warning sign that it needs service. Keep in mind that road conditions can cause strange sounds, so listen to your vehicle on different roads to see if it was simply a strange texture under your tires. Even if it does not sound disastrous, it could still be an indicator that something is wrong – and if you catch it early, then you can avoid more serious issues. A broken exhaust hanger, worn brake pads, and worn belts are a few of the simpler fixes that make odd noises, but other sounds, like a knocking from your engine, could indicate something much worse.

#4 – Smoke from Under your Hood

A woman is on the phone while on the side of the road near Cincinnati, OH, with smoke coming out of her car.

If you see smoke coming up from under your hood, then this is a serious warning sign that something is wrong. Smoke usually means that you have motor oil burning, which it definitely should not be doing. There is a risk of fire spreading and your vehicle actually catching on fire, so safely pull over to the side of the road (if you are driving) and turn off your vehicle immediately. Get out and get to a safe distance if smoke continues to come out.

You should have your vehicle towed to a car service center near you right away rather than try to drive it again if you see smoke coming from your engine.

#5 – Smoke from your Exhaust

Similarly, if you see smoke coming out of your exhaust, then that is also a big warning sign that something could be seriously wrong. Keep in mind that white steam and vapor is common, especially in cold weather, and is not a big warning sign. If, however, it is not steam but smoke – especially blue smoke – coming from your exhaust, then you need to have your vehicle repaired right away.

#6 – Steam from Under your Hood

While steam coming from your exhaust is common, especially in winter, steam coming from under your hood is a bad sign. This is usually not as bad as smoke, but it is still a major warning that something is wrong. At the very least, this typically means your vehicle is overheating, and you should get safely to the side of the road or a parking lot and turn your vehicle off to let it cool. You may need to add more coolant to your engine, but you should get it to a car service center near you right away to make sure there is not a major issue or leak.

#7 – Leaks under your Vehicle

Any time your vehicle is leaking any fluid, it is a bad thing – some leaks are worse than others, but none of them are good. Whenever you approach your vehicle to get in, or approach a usual parking spot, look for signs that you might have a leak. Watch for stains or wet patches on the ground and check for rainbow coloration or similar appearances to indicate what kind of fluid you are leaking. Keep in mind that using air conditioning in the warmer months can cause water to drip under the vehicle, so color or odor will help you differentiate.

Wet oil stains, which is a common clue that you should search for 'car service near me in Cincinnati, OH, are shown underneath a car.

If possible, try parking in a different spot from usual, one you can see is clean before you park there, and leave your vehicle there for awhile. Come back and move your car, then check to see if there is a sign of a leak. If you do have a leak, then get to a location for a car service near you right away to avoid a much bigger problem.

#8 – Vibrations or Uneven Ride

Just like you should know how your vehicle sounds, you should also know how your vehicle feels under normal conditions. Vibrations or unevenness in the way your car rides can be an indicator that something is wrong. Once again, these things can also be caused by uneven or textured roads, so try to get to a smooth road and see if you still feel it.

Different problems can cause vibrations or uneven riding for your vehicle, including engine problems, alignment issues, and worn tires. All of these issues can be handled by a location that offers car service, and will make your ride more enjoyable. Some of these problems can also cause much larger issues if you do not take care of them right away, so don’t wait.

#9 – Time for Routine Service

Finally, be sure to keep timing for routine and scheduled service in mind and know when you need to have maintenance performed. A reliable car service center will help you remember when you need your oil changed, your tires rotated, or other routine service performed. This type of maintenance will keep your vehicle running smoothly and help you avoid serious issues and problems with your vehicle.

When it’s time for service or you notice a warning sign, then visit us at McCluskey Chevy, and we’ll take care of you.

A mechanic is holding a wrench as another person gives a thumbs up.

#10 – Strange Sm…Wait, What!?

That’s right, even though the title of this article says “9 Signs…” we’re here to make your day with even more ways to tell that it’s time to take your car in for service. It’s rare in life to get more than what you expect from something, but we think it’s only fair that we give back every way that we can. Plus, we really believe in the importance of making sure all of our friends and customers know what to watch for as a warning that something’s gone wrong with your vehicle. Remember: taking care of a problem early will often help you avoid much more serious problems down the road, which can be more expensive and potentially dangerous.
Now then…

#10 – Strange Smells

We mentioned strange sounds that might come from your vehicle earlier, but hearing isn’t the only sense that can warn you when something is wrong with your car. One of the most serious potential indicators that your vehicle needs service is when you smell something wrong or strange coming from your car. You’ll typically notice these smells while your vehicle is running, which means that something is off with your mechanical system, often your engine.

There are different smells you might notice, but generally, anything that smells off is a bad sign. Of course, if you’re cruising down the road with your window down, then it’s possible you just smell something from outside. If you notice a strange smell, especially like something is burning, that persists for a long-distance or across multiple trips, then it’s time to act. Also, be aware of strange odors that seem “sweet,” for lack of a better word; these kinds of scents usually mean you have fluids leaking somewhere and/or burning on your engine.

#11 – Leaking Inside the Cabin

This one might seem a bit obvious, but we’re going to mention it anyway because you’d be surprised how often people can miss obvious things in life. If at any time, you have liquid of any kind leaking into the cabin of your vehicle, then that’s a very big sign that you need service. Whether you have liquid coming in from outside – like rain leaking into your cabin – or fluid from some part of your vehicle leaking, it’s a bad sign either way.
At the very least, a leak in your cabin means that something needs to be fixed with the interior or exterior (or both) of your vehicle. Depending on what the fluid is, however, it’s possible this can mean an important system on your car is leaking. Some of the fluids in your vehicle can be hazardous to you or present a flammable situation – all of them should be in their proper hoses and systems to keep your vehicle functioning properly.

#12 – Failing Infotainment System

This is one of those things that can easily fall into the category of “it’s not a big deal, so I’ll ignore it for as long as possible,” but it really does matter. If the infotainment system on your vehicle – the information that gets displayed on a screen located on your dashboard – is failing, then that’s a bad sign. This often means there’s a problem with your vehicle’s electrical system, or it could mean the software in your vehicle has become corrupted or is otherwise buggy.

You might just think, “I can still hear the music, so it’s fine,” or maybe the screen goes off but comes back on after a few minutes. While that might only be a minor nuisance, this kind of system failure is often indicative of something bigger. So ignoring it today could easily mean you end up with a much bigger problem down the road. It’s better to have a service expert figure it out and ensure your vehicle is running properly.

#13 – Other Failing Electronics

These days, there are more electrical systems in vehicles than ever before, and all of them have the potential to fail, just like your infotainment system. And just like your infotainment system, when they fail or are in the process of failing, it can mean there’s a bigger problem that needs to be taken care of. Driving without music because your stereo doesn’t work is one thing; driving without a speedometer because your cluster display doesn’t work is something else completely and can be incredibly dangerous.

That’s the risk you run if you don’t have these kinds of issues addressed quickly. A minor problem with the electrical system today could be something much worse tomorrow. Since all of these systems are essentially interconnected in one way or another, something small failing could be a sign that there’s a bigger issue you need to repair promptly.

A hand is holding a worn brake pad at a car service near you.

#14 – Soft or Squishy Brakes

We’re not sure how we forgot to mention this when we put together our first 9 signs, but one of the most important things on your vehicle is your brakes. You probably have a good sense of how your brakes normally feel, how they respond when you hit the pedal, the distance they take to slow and stop you, and just generally what it feels like when you use them. If you start noticing that they don’t feel like that, then that’s a big sign that something’s wrong.

In general, soft or squishy brakes usually mean that there’s a problem with your braking system – usually that your brake fluid needs to be filled or that you have a leak. If your brakes feel rough or “grindy,” then that likely means you need to change your brake pads or otherwise have your brakes checked. Similarly, if it takes longer than usual to slow down and stop, then your brakes are probably getting worn down and need to be serviced.

#15 – Reduced Performance or Gas Mileage

One of the most important things you can do when you first get a vehicle is get a sense of how it feels – not only physically, but the kind of performance and gas mileage it typically has. If you start to notice diminished performance, such as your car being slower to accelerate or struggling to go uphill, then this typically means something is off. It could be as simple as needing an oil change, a new air filter, or a number of other pretty minor things. These minor issues can be fixed cheaply and easily, preventing more serious problems ahead.

Similarly, if you notice that you’re not getting the same gas mileage as you’re used to, then that’s typically a warning sign. Again, this usually comes down to something mechanical, often an oil change or similar service. When your vehicle doesn’t run properly, then it tends to be less efficient, which means you use, and pay for, more gas.

#16 – Your Tires Wear Quickly or Unevenly

We mentioned vibrations and uneven ride feel, but we also need to talk about how your tires are wearing down. No matter what you do, your tires are going to wear down over time. Even if you never drive your car, the rubber in your tires will break down over the years, and you’ll need to change your tires every so often.

If you notice that your tires are wearing unevenly or more quickly than usual, however, then that can indicate there’s another problem with your vehicle. This often means you have a problem with your alignment or the suspension of one or both of your axles. Routinely inspecting your tires will not only warn you when it’s time to change them but will also help you notice when there might be another issue that you need to have fixed.

#17 – Recall Notifications

Lastly, it’s always a good idea to check for recall notifications for your vehicle every once in a while. It’s entirely possible that you can buy a new car, own and drive it for a decade or more, and never have to deal with any kind of recall. Still, we recommend checking once a year or so by doing a quick search online for the year, make, and model of your vehicle and seeing if there are any recall notices. Recalls are issued for a wide range of reasons, and while it might be annoying to have to get service done to take care of a problem you haven’t experienced, it’s worth it to ensure your vehicle remains safe.