Engine failure is never good news to anyone.Most of this problems are either tricky to diagnose or expensive and complicated to repair. Whether your engine is overheating, making strange noises, or misfiring, the cause could be one of a multitude of issues.
How Your Engine Works
The “check engine” light is a source of anxiety for any driver. It could indicate anything from a missing fuel tank cap – a quick and inexpensive fix – to the need for a major (and expensive) repair. The problem is made even worse by the fact that most vehicle owners don’t have a good sense of how the engine works. What’s more confusing than a jumble of tubes, wires, and metal?
Here’s a quick breakdown. The engine works from the inside of your car, which is why it’s called the internal combustion engine. In essence, the engine’s job is to convert petrol (fuel) into energy, which propels your car forward. In newer electric and hybrid cars, the energy source is different, but the outcome is the same. The same applies to diesel engines. It’s a universal truth: Without a working engine, your car is a heavy, useless heap of metal.
Think of the “check engine” light not as a death sentence but rather as an indication that something needs attention. Your vehicle diagnostics guy (mechanic) may find any one of the following issues.
- Poor lubrication. Your car needs oil between its moving parts. Not only will this reduce friction, but it will also remove heat. As such, getting a regular oil change is critical to the functioning of your vehicle. Failing to ensure proper lubrication can cause the car to overheat and its parts to seize, so keep the oil at an appropriate level. Low levels could indicate leakage or burning.
- Oil pump failure. A failing oil pump can cause what’s called oil starvation, which is almost always fatal to any engine. Overhead cam engines are especially at risk, because the cam and valve train are farther from the pump than they are in pushrod engines. Oil should be of a proper viscosity, which means it needs to be light enough to move quickly.
- Dirty oil. Oil can also build up and leave deposits on spark plugs, intake valves, and in combustion chambers. It can also ruin a car’s bearings by leaving debris, which becomes embedded in the surface. If your oil filter is clogged or missing, this could be the cause of the problem.
- Spark knock. Detonation, or spark knock, is a type of combustion caused by the buildup of too much heat and pressure in the engine’s combustion chamber. When this happens, you should be able to hear a metallic knocking or pinging noise. A small amount of detonation usually won’t cause major damage, but heavy knocks or prolonged detonation can cause serious damage to your parts. It can punch holes in your pistons, crush rod bearings, blow head gaskets, crack rings, and pound out piston ring grooves. Prolonged pinging noises are a definite cause for concern.
- Broken or faulty oxygen sensor. The sensor measures how much oxygen has not been burned in the exhaust. It then tells the car’s data system how much fuel is in the gas tank. A problem with the oxygen sensor means the car receives incorrect information. Often, this results in higher fuel consumption.
- Poor compression. If air and fuel are not properly compressed, the engine can’t carry out its combustion process. If your valves are not sealing properly, your cylinder has a hole, or the piston rings are worn, an air leak can occur, causing a lack of compression.
- Coolant loss. Generally, coolant loss is the most common cause of overheating. If your engine overheats repeatedly, the high temperature could result in irreparable damage that can be a pain to repair. Prevention is the best medicine, so avoid this kind of damage by making sure the coolant is clean and the cooling system is in good operating condition.
- Clogged radiator. Dirty coolant can cause multiple problems. If the radiator becomes filled with sediment from dirty coolant, it will likely cause your engine to overheat. The radiator could also become corroded if hard water is used.
- Worn spark plug. Small but critical, a spark plug makes the car move. Its function is to ignite the compressed fuel in the engine. A worn spark plug will cause a weak spark. It may even prevent ignition entirely, or cause ignition at the wrong time. A misfire will affect engine power and fuel economy and cause massive amounts of potential damage.
- Loose or missing fuel tank cap. Tightening or replacing the fuel tank cap is one of the easiest and cheapest fixes your car will need over the course of its lifetime. However, it’s also an important one. A loose or missing fuel tank cap will cause gas to evaporate from the car, decreasing its gas mileage and costing you potentially hundreds of shillings.
Lastly regular maintenance might seem pricy, but it’s also critical to keeping your car in good working condition. If you want to get the most use out of your vehicle, be sure to keep up with routine oil changes and other maintenance – and address any other issues as soon as they come up.