5 Common Car Parts That Fail and How to Spot the Warning Signs

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Cars are a wonder of modern engineering: thousands of components working together seamlessly, all just to make sure we can get to work and the grocery store. As much as we take it all for granted, if you really think about it, it’s a small miracle that they’re as reliable as they are. 

Still, it’s unavoidable that something will break on a car eventually. When it does, it’s good to know what it is. Not everyone can do their own clutch replacement, but if you don’t want to be stuck worrying between checkups, it’s good to know how to spot some of the more common problems on your own. If you want to be better at understanding what’s going on beneath the hood when some of the more common problems rear their ugly heads, read on!

  1. The Battery

Even if you don’t drive an electric car yet, the battery is still one of the most important components – and one of the most likely to have issues. Batteries fail all the time for a variety of reasons: whether it be age, a manufacturer’s defect, or corrosion from water or leakage, it’s important to know the signs of a failing battery. 

Common early warning signs include slow engine cranking when starting the car, dim lights (external or interior), electrical glitches, needing frequent jump starts, an illuminated battery light on the dashboard, or, if you’re looking under the hood, a swollen or misshapen battery case. If you’re experiencing any of these, you’ll want to have the battery looked at ASAP, because you’re not going anywhere without power!

2. The Alternator

Arguably just as important as the battery itself is the part that keeps it charged: the alternator. The alternator connects to the engine using a belt, which the engine moves, allowing the alternator to convert energy from the running motor into electricity that keeps the battery charged. 

The most common cue to get your alternator checked out is a battery that seems to run fine but requires frequent jump starts. The smell of burning rubber or whining and grinding noises can also indicate that the alternator belt might be wearing out or broken. Otherwise, the major signals of a failing alternator resemble those of a failing battery: poor electrical performance including flickering or dim lights, problems starting the car, or an illuminated battery light.

3. The Starter Motor

Like its fellow electrical components, the starter motor can also cause problems with getting the car running, but for slightly different reasons. The starter motor is a smaller electrical motor, powered by the battery, which engages the engine in order to get it moving when it’s turned off. The starter motor itself isn’t a source of electricity, so a failing starter won’t give the classic signs of flickering lights, requiring frequent jumps, or the battery dash light, but it will mean your car doesn’t start. 

Unlike the components that charge it, the starter itself isn’t as prone to just give up now and then so much as general wear and tear that causes it to become weaker and weaker. As such, a failing starter might be able to start the car after multiple attempts, but more often leads to a continuous clicking noise when engaged. It might also cause the engine to crank slowly or emit grinding noises when the car is first turned on. 

4. The Brakes

Electrical components are some of the more temperamental and complex parts of the car, making them prone to frequent failure. Bad breaks are just as dangerous as a blown tyre, but they’re a bit more sinister in how slowly their issues tend to creep up on car owners. People often don’t notice when they need new brakes, because brake pads usually wear down very slowly over time, and we tend to naturally adapt to the changes in brake pedal pressure required to stop the car. 

Worn brake pads are something every car owner should be vigilant for: there’s usually a point at which braking power begins to decrease noticeably, and it won’t be long before the brakes start squeaking or becoming a bit uneven. It’s really important to replace brake pads quickly when they get worn out, because if you don’t, you might wind up needing new rotors too, and they’re definitely a bit pricier than the pads.

5. The Tyres

It’s sometimes the most basic mechanical bits that cause the biggest problems. A flat tyre is probably the single most common problem with any car. Most tyres are made pretty well these days, but no matter how high quality they are, they all eventually get worn down. Signs of aging tyres include poor traction on the road, which can result in difficulty breaking, more frequent skidding, and eventually visible balding on the outside of the tyre. Sometimes you don’t get much warning, though: just about everyone will have a tyre go flat in the middle of the road eventually. A sudden loss of tyre pressure causes the car to veer off in random directions and makes the car very difficult to control – there’s no mistaking it.

There are just a few of the things that commonly go wrong inside our cards. It’s hard to know everything there is to know about cars, and most people simply learn these things over the course of owning and driving cars year after year. If you’re ever in doubt as to whether a part in your car is functioning properly, it’s always best to drop by a mechanic and get it checked out. The road is a dangerous place – better safe than sorry!

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