Learning a little more about how to better care for your vehicles is a good idea for any number of reasons. It allows you to know if an unscrupulous mechanic is attempting to gouge you on your repairs – and that will save you money. It can prevent you from making unnecessary repairs – and that will save you money. It can help you locate a problem and fix it early, thus saving more money – sometimes a whole lot of money. It allows you to be more independent in an era where people are entirely too dependent on others to survive.
We need to get started now, so that we have time to cover everything…
Some people are incredibly sensitive to the sounds their vehicles make. This is especially true of motorcyclists, those who refurbish vintage automobiles, and experienced mechanics. It’s a very worthwhile skill to develop. There are mechanics who can listen to a running car engine and tell if the timing is slightly off, or the injectors are not operating properly. While this is a very neat thing to be able to do, you do not have to elevate your listening skills to that lofty place in order to get benefits from listening to your vehicle.
Listen To the Engine
(This is best done in relatively quiet surroundings until you get really good at it.) Open up the hood of your vehicle’s engine compartment. If necessary on your model, be sure to use the metal rod to lock the hood in the upright/open position. Now, start your engine. Allow the engine to run for 30-60 seconds before you start listening too hard. Also, there are many moving parts inside of engine compartments, don’t wear loose clothing, and mind all your fingers and hair! Safety first.
A brief word about engine sounds…
All engines make sounds. Some sound like jets, and other have constant clicking noises, or humming, or clattering. Which sounds are consistently made, and are okay, are unique to your specific vehicle’s engine. The point being, don’t be alarmed the first time you really take a good listen to your engine. You’ll quickly learn the sounds that are okay, and the ones that are not.
You’re going to listen to your engine from three different positions: 1) Directly in front of the car. 2) On the left (driver’s side) side of the engine compartment. 3) On the right (passenger’s side) side of the engine compartment. I like to start I like to start on the left – right in front of the driver’s door.
Lean over the engine compartment (again – be careful with clothing, hair, and appendages) and listen carefully. Try closing your eyes to heighten your hearing. Listen for things that don’t sound ‘right.’ Such things might include: clattering, metal rubbing metal, clanging, and squeaks. If you hear such a thing, open your eyes and try to focus in on it – moving the position of your head and ears as your track the sound to its source. Repeat this process at all three positions previously described.
This method of checking your engine can reveal loose caps, loose fan belts, loose fans, missing bolts, nuts, and many other things. Correct what you are able to, and have anything else dealt with by a service technician. Don’t put your hands into your engine compartment to tighten something or check something while it is running. If you notice that the stays on the overflow tube are loose and rattling, turn off the engine before tightening.
Driving your car for a short distance over a good road with the radio and air conditioning off and the windows down is a good way to hear some other sounds. Clattering might mean you have a lug nut that came off, and it’s stuck inside the hubcap. A metal-rubbing-metal sound may be a stuck brake.
The last listening project/technique is the best – or at least so people tell me. This one requires a willing and able assistant. The two of you climb into the vehicle together – you drive, the assistant rides shotgun. The assistant will require four things: some WD-40, a notepad, a small can of 3-in-1 oil, and a good rag. Head for a road that isn’t so smooth, and simply drive along. The assistant listens for those irritating squeaks, squeals, and rattles.
The assistant should move around inside the vehicle, focusing on the sounds to locate their sources. One of the two lubricants will fix almost any squeaking – and the rag ensures a nice, tidy application of the chosen lubricant. Some things, such as loose or missing screws or bolts, should be recorded on the notepad for maintenance or repair later, when you get back home to the tools. You won’t believe how quiet your cockpit becomes after you perform this process once or twice.
Okay, you’ve completed another step in becoming a full-fledged automotive diagnostician – or something like that, anyway. You’ve definitely gotten your vehicle in much better condition, and you should have learned a thing or two. Check out Part I – See No Evil, and Part III – Smell No Evil.