Knowing Your Vehicle so you don’t need a Towing Service (Part 2)

Two weeks ago we talked about the basics of getting to know your own vehicle.  Why?  TO help prevent breakdowns and emergencies that may require the use of an assistance vehicle or tow truck.  The previous article gave a general view of what to look for and how to gauge when you are on the brink of an emergency to give you plenty of time to pull over, assess the info and make a decision as to whether you may need a tow truck or have only a minor issue, allowing you to get home or to the closest mechanic.  This article will go into a little further depth of the three most minor issue that you need to look out for, for although minor, are the most common warning signs that may help you save both time and money, not to mention the stress of being caught on the side of the road, especially when preventable.

The Check Engine Light

Okay, even we will admit  that this can sometimes come on when there is no cause for immediate alarm, but that by all means that it is okay to ignore it’s function or it’s sudden appearance (as everyone knows that a lot of people do).  Chances are, more likely than not the appearance is part of a problem, even if minor and shouldn’t be ignored totally, even if the vehicle feels like it is driving okay.

The importance of the light is to signal that something is wrong and if you don’t know why it is on, the prudent thing to do is air on the side of caution and pull over and consult the manual.  If the car does feel like it is driving fine, and the manual gives no indication of potential problems, it may be safe to continue however report it to a mechanic a soon as possible.  Many modern cars that use computer codes may be able to identify the problem quickly and cheaply and provide a final indication on if it is something to be concerned about. 

The other reason to check as early as possible is that while the issue or problem may be small, continual use of the vehicle operating as it shouldn’t be, can still lead to larger problems.  That once small issue may lead you to be stranded no the side of the road without a moments notice, or continual wear and tare can lead to a problem that was once a cheap fix, and because it has been allowed to continue, had caused further problems with the car leading to the solution costing thousands of dollars.  A few of the most common issues for the light coming no are listed below –

Oxygen Ratio – Cars run off a mixture of fuel and air being compressed and ignited to fire a piston.  This ration of oxygen to fuel (petrol or diesel) is required to be maintained at an optimum level at all times.  When it changes even a little, your car no longer works as efficiently as it should which can lead to it working harder and thus deteriorates more quickly.  Big shifts in the ratio can lead to larger, more expensive problems.  Sensitives receptors are utilised to monitor this ration and a change to his level is normally one of the most common problems for triggering the check engine light.  Another common that may trigger the light is not from the sensors, but from the mass airflow sensor that actually calculates and measures the ratio of air to fuel to be injected.  This may lead to the same problems but the fault will be with the unit itself. 

Electrical engine faults – Another common trigger of the check engine light is electrical faults that maintain the system and order of the engine firing.  If this system is not in time or firing correctly, it my cause the engine rotation and timing to “miss” drastically reducing the engine’s optimisation and efficiency and possibly giving your driving experience that “Bunny hop” feeling.  Spark plugs can often be the cause of these issues, but it may also be the ignition coil that fires the spark plugs, or even wiring.  As with other issues, while the potential problem may be minor at first, constant driving with the issue may lead to major engine problems costing thousands of dollars down the line.

Other electrical faults may be issues with the battery, start up motor or the charging system.

EVAP – Also known as the Evaporative Emission Control System, this system handles the fuel vapor and prevents unwanted emissions from leaving the engine system.   The system is required to be tightly closed and any leak from a hose or join will trigger the check engine light.


Overheating is another common cause that people find themselves on the side of the road in need of car towing.  Sometimes they are being cautious and they have just noticed their gauge creeping slowly up (you did read the previous article on knowing your car didn’t you?), whereas sometimes it’s the quite evident amount of smoke and/or steam continuously bellowing out from underneath the hood.  It’s hard to miss if it’s ever happened to you.  If the issue is minor it may be you don’t need to call a tow truck and you may be able to get a mechanic in time, however it is vastly recommended that should you notice any signs of overheating, that you pull over immediately to ascertain what is wrong, as small faults can lead to larger problems later in this regard.

What and When is a Car Overheating?

An engine is made up of many moving parts, not limited to, but including the firing pistons which sit inside the engine blocks.  These moving parts by their very nature create a lot of friction, metallic materials rubbing against other metallic materials, which generate a lot of heat.  When this heat becomes too much, damage can be caused to vehicles in an number of ways.  Generally a car is deemed to be overheating if the coolant temperature goes above one hundred and ten (110) degrees in Celsius.  (about two hundred and thirty Fahrenheit).  To maintain a constant temperature and to prevent damage, cars have complex cooling systems in place.

Vehicle Coolant Systems

Modern cars normally use a number of different ways to reduce temperature.  Even the air flow as the car moves provides help however modern cars have more sophisticated systems, allowing the car to better perform efficiently.   The system utilises a liquid coolant that travels through and around the engine maintaining a sufficient temperature.  One of the most common causes of overheating is a problem with this system.

It can be as simple as a leak, causing you to lose coolant fast, or if you haven’t properly serviced your vehicle in a long time, the coolant may be low.   If hoses and travel areas are also blocked, this prevents the coolant from reaching the correct engine locations, preventing it from doing its job.  Degradation of the water pump can also lead to cooling problems, as this helps circulate the coolant through the system.

Once the coolant ceases to reach its proposed route and path, it is likely the engine will overheat shortly after.  This quickly puts the engine into a “danger zone” whereas both the length of time overheating and temperature itself  goes up, the risk of permanent damage increases.   At first minor but repairable issues may occur.  Hoses may blow due to the increase in pressure and while not good, can be repaired by any mechanic, however if coolant explodes in a modern engine, it may interfere with other parts, doing an unpredictable amount of damage. 

Constant overheating will lead to the engine itself potentially warping due to the constant heat.  Even minor warps can severely affect the vehicles capacity to continue to be able to drive and thus making the car almost irreparable.  This may also lead to a blown head gasket which similarly makes the car un-drivable.  In these cases the repair cost (if possible) are often so high it is easier to simply buy either a new car or a new engine block.  Both which are normally extremely expensive.

If the above sounds dire, be aware that by monitoring you heat gauge and simple pulling over if you believe the car is overheating is a quick and simple way to prevent major damage from occurring, making the whole issue preventable.  By simply knowing the concern of overheating you can prevent significant consequences.  Sometimes utilising a road side assistance vehicle or a tow truck, even at a small expense can save you thousands of dollars in the future.  Further, regular services and maintenance on your vehicle can help prevent deterioration of hoses and/or low cooling liquid volumes in your vehicle.  Better yet, learn how to monitor it yourself and check it regularly and you will never be caught unawares!