Top 10 Most Common Car Repairs [UPDATED – now 20!]
You know it’s bound to happen: Sooner or later, your car is going to need one of these common car repairs.
At the bare minimum, you have to replace your oil every couple of thousand miles. That’s vital maintenance, not a repair, but it still requires you driving your car to a trusty mechanic. Often, during those oil changes, you’ll find yet another problem in your car that needs fixing.
Before you get there, prepare yourself by studying the top 10 most common car repairs you can expect to encounter.
How do you know your car is in need of brake replacement? The first indication has less to do about brakes failing than it does about them squeaking. The moment you start hearing that high-pitched grinding every time you pump the brakes, you can count on the need for some brake work.
If you address this problem early on, then you might only need your brake pads replaced. That won’t hurt too much. It’s when you get into disc and drum problems that you’re looking at an expensive repair.
2. Coolant Leaks
When was the last time you checked your driveway to see what your car might be leaking? This is one of the things you often don’t think about until it becomes a major problem. Adding radiator and cooling system flushes to your maintenance checklist can help prevent coolant leaks from causing a problem down the road.
3. Dings and Dents
You might be extremely careful with how you park your car, but you can’t guarantee how careful the person parking next to you will be. Most dings and dents happen in parking lots either from doors swinging wide or from drivers not watching where they’re backing up. Fortunately, minor dings and dents are easy to pull out and won’t cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes the fix can be as low as $50.
4. Tire Replacement
Can you imagine driving the life of your car without getting a flat tire? It happens, but it’s rare. At the least, your tires will probably have to be replaced especially if you’re consistently driving several miles every day. Changing a tire is one of the most common car repairs, and probably the one you’re most likely to see someone doing on the side of the road.
This is another one of those repairs you want to stay on top of. In fact, if you should happen to catch a great deal on tires, you should buy four of them and keep them in storage until it’s time to make the switch.
5. Battery Replacement
Thanks to improvements in engine diagnostics, it’s easy to tell how much life your battery has left it. The next time you going for that oral change, make sure they take a few moments to diagnose your battery. That’s another one of those common car problems you don’t want to get stuck with.
6. Electrical Issues
Although your car runs on gas (for most of us!), there are still plenty of integrated electrical systems that could occasionally fail. This is especially true on the new models that have those touchscreen GPS interface consoles. Even if they don’t experience failures, those systems often require the occasional upgrade.
7. Fuel Pump
The major culprit that causes your fuel pump to become clogged is constantly driving around with less than a quarter tank of gas. Additionally, fuel filters that haven’t been replaced in a long while can also damage your fuel pump. These are the kinds of repairs that should only be handled by a professional mechanic.
Fixing a transmission is another of the most common car repairs, but it’s also one of the most expensive. This is when you get into that area where you could be “throwing good money after bad.”
9. Exhaust System
Depending upon where you live, you might need an emissions test to get your car registered. Usually, these so-called smog tests are only required every couple of years. If you pass, then no problem. On the other hand, a failed test could mean necessary repairs to your exhaust system.
10. AC and Heat
Warm in the winter and cool in the summer: Is that too much to ask of your car’s AC and heating system? Absolutely not. However, when those units fail it can make for some miserable driving.
11. Oxygen Sensor
Your oxygen sensor — or O2 sensor — rests in your exhaust system and monitors the amount of oxygen in your car’s exhaust. If the sensor detects too much oxygen in your exhaust, it sends a signal to your computer to trigger your check engine light, and adjust the fuel/air mixture injected into your engine. Depending on the size of your engine, you’ll find anywhere from two to four sensors attached to the exhaust pipes. A bad sensor can affect your car’s efficiency and gas mileage, which should be changed as soon as a problem is detected. Thankfully, the sensors themselves are easy to replace, even if they can be a little costly.
12. Ignition Coils and Spark Plugs
You’ll probably notice a problem with your spark plugs or ignition coils long before your car’s computer lets you know. If one coil or plug isn’t firing at the correct time, it can cause the engine to shudder and run roughly. Even one cylinder firing wrong in a big V8 engine can throw everything off.
All you need to replace your spark plugs is a socket wrench. Spark plugs are usually plug and play. Just make sure you get the wires in the right order. You may have to unscrew the ignition coils, but they’re easy to install.
Your thermostat keeps coolant from flowing into the engine until reaches the optimum temperature. It’s a simple machine, made up of a spring, a valve and some wax or other material. The wax melts when the engine reaches the correct temperature. If the thermostat is stuck open, your engine might never come to temperature. On the other hand, if it’s stuck closed, your engine may overheat. Thankfully, replacement thermostats are cheap and easy to obtain, and it doesn’t take much mechanical knowhow to replace them.
14. Mass Air Flow Sensor (MAF)
As its name suggests, the mass airflow or MAF sensor monitors the amount of air that flows into the engine intake. Its most commonly placed near the air intake, just after the air filter. It allows the car’s computer to calculate the engine load and adjust the fuel/air mixture as needed. A bad MAF sensor can cause the car to run rich or lean, idle roughly or even stall out if the computer doesn’t detect enough airflow. While the sensor itself can be expensive, it’s is easy to replace — simply unscrew the sensor, unplug it and replace it with a new one. It’s a lot like changing a light bulb!
15. Fuel Cap
No one likes seeing that orange check engine light on their dashboard. However, this is one of the easiest car repairs on the list. One of the most common reasons behind the light is if your fuel cap is either missing or not screwed on tight enough. Older fuel caps often lose their seal due to age and need to be replaced. You can pick up a replacement cap from your local auto parts store for about $20.
16. EGR Valve
The EGR in this valves name stands for exhaust gas recirculation. As its name suggests, it takes the exhaust and recalculates it back into the engine in small amounts. The exhaust doesn’t burn, so it lowers the harmful smog-producing emissions that are a part of the internal combustion engine. If the valve quits working, it affects both engine performance and emissions. This problem also triggers the check engine light.
17. Fuel Filter
We’ve talked about replacing your fuel pump, but a lot of people end up having problems because they neglect the fuel filter. Once it clogs, fuel can’t get to your engine, and your car ends up stalling out or not starting at all. In-line fuel filters are cheap and easy to replace. Fuel filters located in your fuel tank are more complicated — but not impossible — to replace.
18. Intake Manifold Gasket
Your intake manifold rests on top of your engine to direct the fuel/air mixture into the correct cylinder. If the gasket between the engine and the manifold begins to leak, your engine will not fire correctly due to excessive air in the combustion chamber. A bad gasket can also leak coolant into the engine, which mixes with the oil and contaminates it. Replacing the gasket can be a bit of a job, but it’s important if it’s begun to show signs of leakage because it will directly affect the performance of your engine.
The belt or belts under the hood of your car help to run vital components like the alternator, water pump, power steering and air conditioning. If a belt is worn or broken, these components simply will not function. Replacing a belt is easy. Individual drive belts often only sit on two pulleys — the crankshaft pulley at the bottom of the engine, and the individual component they drive. Serpentine belts run everything with a single belt, and can be a little more complicated to replace. Thankfully, a map of the belt will be placed under the hood of your car to make the installation a little easier.
20. Belt Tensioner and Idler Pulley
Sometimes, belt isn’t the problem. Instead, it might be the belt tensioner or idler pulley causing undue wear and tear on the belt. If your engine squeaks when you drive, that’s a good sign that a pulley is getting ready to fail. If your tensioner or idler pulley has seized up, it will have to be replaced. It’s a simple repair, usually only requiring the removable of a single bolt to replace the pulleys, or two to three bolts to remove the entire tensioner.
At some point, you might be at the crossroads where you’re spending more on repair than what the car is worth. If so, it’s time to say a sad goodbye to your clunker and start shopping for a new car.