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Fix it or Ditch it: Signs that your car is about to die

10 March 2020 AutoMarket, Tips & Advice

Still hanging on to your old car from college? Has your spouse begged you to get rid of it for the sake of saving space and your safety? Yes, it may contain a lot of precious memories like the first time you drove it to pick up your now wife or it played a huge role in you  growing up but as with anything that gets older, regardless of how well made or how well cared for, things eventually  wear out. Our old cars can be one of the sentimental items we prize the most. At the same time, they can also cause a lot of headaches.

You have to decide if you should continue to fix it or if it is time to ditch it.

Here are some tips to help make that decision.

1. Jerking starting and stopping

If your car is jerking around when you accelerate this is a warning sign that there is a bigger problem with your car. The sooner you are able to diagnose the issue, the more you can minimize the damage to your car and lower the costs of the repair. You should not ignore this problem before it gets worse. These are the most common reasons why your car jerks while accelerating:

2. Worn Out Spark Plugs

Spark plugs that are worn out will cause the engine to misfire. This means that your spark plugs are not igniting the fuel in each piston cylinder in a timely manner, causing your car to jerk around while accelerating. If your spark plugs are worn out, they should just be replaced, as they are generally an easy and inexpensive repair.

3. Dirty Fuel Injectors

Fuel injectors are how the gas in your car is admitted into your car’s engine. When your fuel injectors get dirty the stream of fuel will not be continuous, causing misfires in your engine – and as a result your car to jerk as you accelerate. Your fuel injectors should be cleaned occasionally to avoid this problem, as well as more costly repairs down the line.

4. Damaged Acceleration Cable

You may experience jerking if your acceleration cable is worn out. This is a metal braided cable that serves as a link between the gas pedal and your engine throttle plate. When you press the gas pedal the cable is pulled and this opens the throttle. Over time these cables weaken with age and can fail and break. When this cable becomes damaged it will take you longer to accelerate and cause your car to jerk.

5. Blocked Fuel or Air Intakes

Car engines need air and fuel to work. Inside of your engine air mixes with fuel and is lit by the spark plugs to create an explosion that moves the pistons inside. This cycle continues and on, allowing your car to move. If there is a block in the lines that allow fuel or air into your engine, then this cycle is interrupted and can cause your car to jerk as you try to accelerate. Typically, a check engine light will appear if one of these intakes is blocked – remember, never ignore your check engine light, always bring it into a service center right away!

6. Accumulated Moisture

Moisture gathering in your car’s distributor cap can cause your car to jerk while you are accelerating, as this will cause your engine to misfire. This can happen easily when you are parked outside in cold weather. The best way to prevent this is to park in a warm dry spot on cold and wet weather days.

7. Clogged Catalytic Converter

Your catalytic converter is responsible for regulating the emissions coming out of your car. Sometimes the rich mixtures of air and fuel that flows through your catalytic converter can clog, which can result in a jerking or stuttering motion when you press the gas pedal.

Transmission issues are expensive. So, if you notice violent acceleration or braking while driving your car (and especially if all that jerking and shuddering is accompanied by some unpleasant grinding noises), it’s likely time to move on to a new vehicle.

8. Your car has rust

Rust or corrosion is the result of a chemical process called oxidation. Nearly everything oxidizes, including most parts of your car. Protective coatings such as varnish or paint can prevent aluminum wheels and steel body panels from rusting, but paint chips, curb scuffs, and paint cracks will eradicate the protective properties of the coating.

While many drivers think of rust as nothing more than cosmetic issue, it can become a significant safety problem if it's not properly taken care of. Once rust penetrates the surface of your car and begins to attack your vehicle's frame, it will start to cause serious damage.

Rust is a very expensive problem to fix and it continues to get worse if you don’t catch it when it starts. The chemicals they put on the roads during the winter really eat away at the paint and metal. Once rust starts, it spreads quickly. Water leaks also tend to do widespread damage in that water sits in hidden spots and causes corrosion. Both problems need to be looked at thoroughly to gauge how much damage has happened.

9. It’s leaking fluids

If your car is leaking fluids, it could be serious, or it could be completely normal. Depending on what's leaking, you may need to plan to visit a mechanic, but you might also be able to fix it yourself or replace your car altogether. Safety is the number 1 priority after all.

  • If the leak is Coming from Under the Hood:

Motor Oil or Engine Oil - Motor oil leaks are the most common type of leaks. If you see motor oil under the hood, it will be a dark brown or black color, smell burnt, and feel slick.

Transmission Fluid - Transmission fluid is a reddish/pink color and smells like fuel. If your transmission fluid is leaking, this is very serious.

Coolant or Antifreeze - Coolant is another fluid that could be leaking out of the front of your car. It will usually be a red or green color and tends to smell a bit sweet. But be careful not to get too close if you suspect your leak is coolant because it is very toxic to people and animals. If you wait too long to get your car looked at, it could cause engine damage.

Power Steering Fluid - If your leak is power steering fluid, it will be slick and thin. If you try to drive your car when you are low on power steering fluid, you might lose the power steering function.

Windshield Wiper Fluid - Windshield wiper fluid leaks will not affect your car's performance, so if you need to keep driving with this leak, you will be okay! This fluid tends to be brightly colored and should be replaced whenever you run out or it gets low so can clean your windshields while you are driving.

  • If the leak is Coming from The Brakes:

Brake Fluid - If you see a light brown fluid that smells fishy near your brakes, you are probably leaking brake fluid. Although brake fluid leaks aren't very common, they can still happen. Ignoring this leak could lead to bigger problems down the road.

  • If the leak is Coming from The Rear

Water - If it is hot and humid outside, you are probably going to experience water leaks. This has a bunch of different causes, but one example is that the AC system takes the moisture from inside the car and removes it through a hose that leaks in the back of your car. This is supposed to happen so there is no need to worry.

Fuel - If fuel is leaking, you should be able to smell it. It will be a light gold, colorless, or have a bluish color to it depending on what kind of gas your car uses. This leak is a fire hazard so you will have to get your car seen by a mechanic as fast as you can or ditch that old car and get a new one.

Much like the human body, your car requires precious fluids to stay alive. If you are having to refill any of your car’s vital fluids—coolant, oil, brake, and power steering fluid, etc.—every month, then it is only a question of when, not if, something will go out.

10. Lots of little blinking lights

The earliest sign of a car on its way out will often be found on the dashboard. All of those little warning lights are important and ignoring them could spell more trouble down the road. If your check engine light is illuminated, you should take the car to your mechanic as soon as possible. If the oil light is on, you’ll want to pull over and call for help. And if either light persists, it may be time to find a new car.

  • Brief flashing during engine startup and then off: It is normal if your dash warning lights flash briefly right after cranking your engine and then turn off. Each system performs a self-check when you turn on your car. The lights turn off after verifying that the systems are operating.


  • Flashes and then stays on: If one of your dash warning lights flashes briefly and then stays on, it means there’s a problem with whatever system that light is tied to. For example, your Check Engine Light might flash and then stay lit if there’s a misfire in the engine, or if one of your oxygen sensors has failed.


  • Flashes without stopping: Generally, only the Check Engine Light will flash constantly, and only if the OBD II system detects multiple issues. Constant flashing could indicate any variety of problems, so it's safest to avoid driving and have a mechanic inspect your car as soon as possible.


  • Oil light: Indicates a severe drop in oil pressure.


  • Temperature light: Indicates your engine is about to overheat.


11. It’s blowing smoke

Blue smoke pouring from the tailpipe means your car is burning oil, and white smoke means it’s evaporating coolant. You can certainly keep adding either fluid to your engine to keep the wheels turning but failing to do either will result in that smoke starting to billow under the hood—and then it’s time for either an expensive fix or a new car.

12. The transmission is slipping

A slow response from your car’s transmission is another sign that your vehicle is about to die. Once the transmission starts losing gears, it’s ok to drive the car for a few more miles, but you will just be delaying the inevitable. At this point, the solution is to replace the transmission or get a new car.

Planning to get a new car? Why not get a reliable used car instead? It will save you money and is guaranteed not to have any car problems that your previous car had.


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