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12 Silent Signs Your Car Is Failing

Those warning signs you might think aren't a big deal actually could indicate a major problem. Here are some silent signs to watch out for.

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check engine lightvirgmos/Shutterstock

Check Engine Light

One of the most obvious signs of car troubles is when that pesky check engine light comes on. Issues can run from major to minor, but it’s best to get it checked out before it becomes more serious. If you’re lucky, it’s just a loose gas cap.

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Shifting gears to reversepiyaphun/Getty Images

Trouble Shifting

Rough shifting can be a sign of transmission trouble and should not be ignored. The issues could range from dirty fluid, which prevents easily shifting into gear, or something more serious that could escalate to total transmission failure.

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Checking A CarJay Yuno/Getty Images

Bad Odor

While your car might have a foul odor from old clothes or food containers, those aren’t primary concerns. But if you smell something odd or unfamiliar while you’re driving, that could indicate an issue under the hood — a coolant leak, mold in your vents or something else.

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chevrolet teen driver assistCourtesy Chevrolet

Difficulty Starting

It shouldn’t take multiple attempts to start your car. Common issues include battery or alternator trouble. Be observant of signs something’s not right, like a clicking noise.

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Man pulls away car dashboard panelFamily Handyman

Radio Failing

Your car radio suddenly going out can indicate a range of things, from a blown fuse to a weakening battery.

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Henrik Weis/Getty Images


If you see or smell smoke while driving, immediately pull over to the nearest safe location and park. Smoke coming from a vehicle can sometimes be minor, but more than likely it indicates something serious. Whatever the problem, it needs to be fixed before you get back on the road.

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car upgradesFamily Handyman

Dim or Flickering Headlights

If you notice your headlights are a little dimmer than usual, or they’re flickering, there’s a good chance your battery needs to be checked. If it’s an issue with the ground wire, here’s a DIY solution.

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Mint Images/Getty Images

Strange Vibrations

A shaking steering wheel can be caused by unbalanced tires, warped brake rotors and damaged or worn suspension system parts. Best to let a mechanic figure it out ASAP.

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Repeat Issues

This may seem obvious, but if you’re constantly noticing small problems with your car, it could indicate a larger underlying issue. That might mean it’s time to stop with the DIY repairs and let a mechanic check it out.

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Car Leaking Gettyimages 1265189205Mikhail Dmitriev/Getty Images


Various fluids could leave puddles under your parked car, some more serious than others. Common car leaks include oil, gas, break fluid and transmission fluid. While these might not force you to call a tow truck, make sure to have the leak looked at soon.

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driving car on highway, close up of hands on steering wheelSong_about_summer/Shutterstock


What does it mean if your car pulls one direction? It might mean there’s an issue with the suspension, or you could need a wheel alignment.

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Car dashboard modern automobile control illuminated panel speed display vector illustrationMacrovector/Shutterstock

Weak Overhead or Dashboard Lights

Weak or flickering overhead or dashboard lights might require a simple fix, like adjusting their brightness. But it also could indicate a burned-out bulb, or something else.

Alex Shoemaker
Alex Shoemaker is the Digital Newsletter Editor of Family Handyman.

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