Unless you're a gearhead or an ace mechanic, you probably can't diagnose common automotive problems on your own. But bringing your car in for repairs whenever it misbehaves is inconvenient and expensive. Wouldn't it be easier if you could troubleshoot car problems before you pay for service? The fix might turn out to be something simple that doesn't even require a shop visit.
That's where Edmunds can help. Our editors and car-savvy readers offer a wealth of automotive information on the many hiccups and breakdowns that affect different models. Although identifying the cause of a rattle or squeak may seem like panning for gold, a few choice nuggets of owner info could save you substantial amounts of time and money, and help you better describe a vehicle's trouble to a service advisor or mechanic.
Defining the Problem
Does your vehicle's misery have company? The Edmunds features below will help you troubleshoot car problems by reading the experiences of other drivers and owners.
- Look at our Long-Term Road Tests to see if we've had your model in our fleet. If so, read what our editors said while putting the car through its paces. Whatever problems a particular model or brand tends to have, chances are our editors will have discovered it.
Example: Our testing director's daughter burned her legs on a Mini Cooper S tailpipe because it extended too far out from the back of the car. That problem was shared by all Coopers with the same design.
- Check for Recalls or Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) for your vehicle. Recalls are government-mandated, relate to safety and emissions issues, and have no end date. TSBs cover other types of issues, are voluntarily sent to dealers by automakers and are generally good during warranty only. Auto repairs on recalls and TSBs are usually done free of charge. But don't expect the automaker to notify you about TSBs. Unlike recalls, which are infrequent on a particular model, TSBs can number in the dozens, but it's often worth the time spent searching.
Examples: Anyone searching under "2007 Mini Cooper" will discover a government recall for the exhaust pipe issue mentioned above. But even minor problems, like engine rattles and overheated footwells, were listed as Mini Cooper TSBs that dealers would fix — if consumers knew enough to ask.
- In Consumer Ratings and Reviews, owners frequently post entries when something goes wrong with their cars, and they'll often document their attempts at repair. Input your year, make and model (and style/trim if needed) to see only entries related to your vehicle. Or search under other years or models as well.
You've Got Questions, We've Got AnswersSometimes you need a more personal approach. That's where Edmunds' social media is at its best, allowing you to start or join a conversation, or ask a direct question.
- On Edmunds Answers (below), readers ask automotive questions, and other readers and Edmunds staffers answer those questions directly. You can ask a new question or search previously asked questions in the Maintenance and Repair category to find others who've had issues similar to yours.
- Ask questions on our Facebook page and on Twitter. Other vehicle owners, Edmunds staff, dealers, and even manufacturers are available to help answer your inquiries.
- CarSpace Forums offer a great deal of information from experts and fellow owners. Use the make/model pull-down menus to find the discussions related to your vehicle. Then search within these discussions for the main issue or faulty part causing the problem — such as "steering and suspension" or "dimming lights" — to quickly locate other owners with an answer about this issue. Or you can look under the Maintenance & Repair Forum. You can join an existing discussion or start one of your own.
Example: When the transmission died on one of our editors' personal vehicles (a 2002 Honda Odyssey), we discovered through the Forums that those transmissions were failure-prone. Armed with that information, we were able to get a dealer service center to replace it free of charge, even though the van was a few months past its warranty.
Although Edmunds has most of the bases covered, you may not always find what you're looking for on our site. If that happens, try the following.
- Auto Zone's troubleshooting guide. It's comprehensive, well executed and fun to use.
- eHow.com's category on Diagnosing Car Problems allows you to search under text, videos or both, with topics like "Troubleshooting Electric Motor Starters" and "Clutch Replacement Signs." Master mechanics and other professionals contribute most of the information.
- If you think your car's problem may affect its safety, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's consumer site, SaferCar.gov can help. Use this site to learn if there's a potential safety problem before a recall is issued by searching "Early Warning Reports" and "Defect Investigations" for your vehicle. You can also use the site to file a complaint about a vehicle, component, child seat or tire.
Once you identify potential sources for your vehicle's problem, print out the information and bring it with you to a mechanic who knows your make very well. The Edmunds community can assist here, too: Our Dealer Ratings and Reviews can help you to choose the best local dealership for your needs.
To find a dealership that knows how to treat shoppers right, please visit Edmunds.com's Dealer Ratings and Reviews.