The 3 Most Common Engine Problems

March 18, 2013

Regardless of age, mileage, make, or model, occasional engine problems are an inevitable part of car ownership. While proper maintenance may help reduce the need for car repairs it is not a guarantee that a car will not break down. As a car accumulates miles the chances of engine problems increase; however, not all engine problems are serious. Many times the cause is something as simple as a dirty air filter or loose gas cap.

Engine Won't Start

A no-start condition is one of the most frequently encountered engine problems. If there is a clicking noise but the engine does not crank it generally indicates a battery issue. An engine that cranks but will not start is indicative of a fuel or ignition problem.

Common reasons an engine won't start:

  • Low or discharged battery
  • Corroded or loose battery cables
  • Starter motor relay failure
  • Ignition switch failure
  • Defective fuel pump
  • Clogged fuel filter

Service Engine Soon Light

The Service Engine Soon light is designed to illuminate whenever a fault is detected in any of the sensors attached to the emission, engine, or powertrain controls. The purpose of the service engine soon light is to alert the driver to a potentially serious fault that requires repair. Blue exhaust smoke along with the service engine soon light may indicate a fuel system fault caused by an engine oil leak. An ASE certified mechanic can retrieve the trouble codes from within the onboard electronic control module and determine the specific cause.

Frequent service engine soon light causes:

  • Loose or missing gas cap
  • Spark plugs or wires that are worn out or damaged
  • Electronic control module failure
  • Defective distributor or coil packs
  • Emissions control fault such as the oxygen sensor
  • Fuel quality issue


Overheating is most generally caused by a low coolant level. A quick check of the coolant overflow reservoir will indicate if coolant is leaking. Most cars are equipped with temperature gauges or warning lights that will alert the driver to an overheating issue. Frequent overheating can cause serious and expensive engine damage. Proper maintenance of the cooling system is vital in order to maintain the quality of the coolant and to make certain the cooling system is in good operating condition. Additionally, a cracked head or blown head gasket can also cause overheating, coolant loss and white exhaust smoke, which may indicate the need for engine repair.

Common reasons for overheating:

  • Faulty thermostat
  • Dirty or low coolant level
  • Non-functioning cooling fan
  • Kinked or broken radiator hose
  • Internal or external coolant leak
  • Defective radiator cap
  • Dirty air filter

Following the manufacturer's maintenance schedule is very important. Services such as oil changes, oil and fuel filter replacement, and tune-ups are necessary in order to keep a car performing at peak condition. Maintenance items, such as the air filter, are often times overlooked but can have a significant effect on a car's drivability and performance. Regardless of a car's age, proper maintenance will help prevent potential engine problems and break downs.

Related Questions and Answers

Where Is the Fuel Filter in Your Car?

If you're wondering, "Where is the fuel filter," you're not alone. The fuel filter is located in different locations depending on make, model and year. Though there are a couple of general areas to check, you can save yourself a lot of time by checking your user's manual. If you don't have your manual, look under the hood toward the driver's side in the back. It may be mounted on the firewall near the passenger side brake booster. Another common place is under the car back by the fuel tank. You'll likely need to remove a wheel and jack your vehicle up a bit to find it. If you're having trouble locating your fuel filter, call a local auto parts store and ask for assistance.

Will Changing the Oil in Your Car Remove or Reduce Blue Exhaust Smoke?

Changing your oil can help eliminate the blue exhaust coming from your car, but more importantly it allows you the opportunity to look for oil leaks and other problems. The main cause of blue exhaust is oil getting into the cylinder and burning off. Even a tiny amount of oil can cause the blue smoke. There are a variety of reasons this could be happening, including a leaky fuel injector, a faulty sensor, an out of tune carburetor or a faulty fuel pump. Check all of these areas before completing your oil change to find the problem.

What Happens When You Put the Wrong Fuel Quality in Your Car?

Fuel quality is an option for you to consider every time you hit the gas station, but you can damage your vehicle if you use the wrong fuel. If your vehicle is stock and uses unleaded fuel, you can choose between any of the unleaded options. If you've done performance work to your vehicle it's best to use a premium or high performance fuel. The biggest mistake you can make is putting diesel in an unleaded vehicle and vice versa. This mistake can be costly and create the need for an engine replacement if ran for even a short period of time.

Can Diesel Fuel Quality Vary Between Gas Stations?

Diesel fuel quality can vary a bit between different fueling stations. The differences come from the storage methods and equipment, and possibly the use of additives. The age and condition of a fuel storage tank can affect the quality of the fuel contained, because corrosion can add substances to the fuel and negatively affect the quality. If there are additives in the fuel, these are likely for the positive and can help your fuel burn more efficiently and help the motor run more effectively, especially since diesel is used in heavy duty vehicles where engine temperatures are higher.

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