Engine failure can be scary, especially if it happens suddenly. However, you might notice some warning signs of a blown engine and figure out something is wrong. Attention to these signs can help you intervene quickly before things go very badly. Anything from an unfamiliar tick to a loud noise from the engine compartment or strange vibrations throughout the vehicle are signs you need to stop and take immediate measures.
But how do you know whether those symptoms indicate an engine problem? There could be many reasons your engine sounds different, including worn parts, loose connections, or plain old wear and tear.
To help you diagnose what’s causing those problems, we’ve compiled a list of five possible indicators that your engine is starting to go south. Check out our guide to see if any of these problems sound familiar, and take action, if necessary, whether it is your car or your motorhome.
1. Your “Check Engine” Light Is On
If there’s one thing everyone knows about driving, it’s that the “check engine” light is supposed to go off when you start up your vehicle. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, millions of drivers go about their business with the “check engine” light on. This means that something could potentially be wrong with your car, truck, or RV, even if nothing appears visibly obvious.
A good rule of thumb is that if your “check engine” light is on, you should immediately take your vehicle to a mechanic. While many assume that the light signals a minor issue with their vehicle, it could indicate a much bigger problem.
An illuminated check engine light doesn’t necessarily mean something is severely wrong with your vehicle. Instead, there are several reasons why you might see one, including a loose gas cap, worn spark plugs, clogged air filter, faulty ignition coil, etc. If you’re wondering what causes a check engine light to illuminate, here are some common culprits:
- Clogged fuel injectors. This happens when debris enters the system, causing the injection pump to malfunction.
- A dirty exhaust valve. When exhaust valves become too dirty, they don’t open properly.
- Bad timing belt tensioners. Timing belts keep everything running smoothly inside the engine. If the tensioner pulleys aren’t working correctly, they won’t do their job well.
- Faulty oxygen sensors. Oxygen sensors help regulate how much fuel goes into each cylinder. They work by measuring the amount of oxygen present in the exhaust stream. If they detect less oxygen than normal, they’ll shut off the fuel supply to the cylinders.
- Poor wiring. Wiring harnesses must be tight enough to prevent corrosion. Loose connections or poor soldering can cause problems down the road.
- Weak starter motor. Your starter motor helps start your engine by spinning up the crankshaft. If it fails, you won’t be able to turn over your engine.
If you notice a check engine light in your vehicle, schedule a trip to your local auto repair shop immediately. You want to make sure that nothing serious happens before you spend money fixing it yourself.
2. Jerking, Inconsistent Acceleration, and Performance
Do you know how it feels when your car or RV jerks forward, surges, stalls, or stutters? If you do, you probably think about what could be causing those symptoms. This is because you understand that poor acceleration, erratic behavior, and overall lack of power are signs of something wrong with your vehicle. Moreover, they often indicate serious problems that require immediate attention.
If you notice that your vehicle seems to accelerate unevenly, it might mean that your spark plug wires are loose or broken. Similarly, if your car suddenly starts surging forward or lurching backward, there could be a mechanical issue. Perhaps your alternator isn’t charging up enough electricity, or perhaps your battery is weak.
In addition to these possible causes, many things can cause your engine to perform poorly. For example, if your oil pressure gauge keeps dropping, that could mean that one or more of your piston rings are damaged. On the flip side, if your car begins to hesitate during hard acceleration, that could mean that your engine is overheating. If this happens, you must pull over immediately and let the engine cool down.
The same goes for your tires. If your tread depth is low, that could mean that the rubber is wearing off. If you notice that your sidewalls are bulging, you might have too much air inside the tire. Either of these conditions could lead to blowouts, which are dangerous and must be addressed quickly.
Finally, if your car doesn’t seem to have enough power, it could be due to various factors. For instance, if your spark plugs aren’t firing properly, that could prevent your engine from getting the energy needed to turn the crankshaft. Or, if your intake valves are leaking, that could allow unburned fuel into the cylinder. Finally, if your engine lacks compression, it could be difficult for the pistons to push against each other.
There are plenty of reasons why your car or motorhome could be performing poorly. But, first, you must bring it in for a professional inspection to find out what’s happening. If you suspect your engine is having trouble, don’t wait until it fails to address the issue. Instead, get it checked out ASAP.
3. Hearing Noises That Shouldn’t Be There
Many people hear strange sounds from their cars, including noises that aren’t supposed to be there. Some of those sounds are harmless, but others can be indicators of bigger problems. So here are some things to look out for.
- Pop and Click. Pop and clack noises are often caused by loose parts rubbing inside your vehicle. They’re usually harmless but can also be signs of larger problems. For example, if you notice pop and clacks while driving down the highway, that could mean your airbags are deploying prematurely. Likewise, if you hear clicks while turning off the ignition, that might signal a problem with your steering wheel or column.
- Grinding Gears. If you start hearing grinding gears while driving, pull over immediately and call a tow truck. You don’t want to damage your transmission. The same goes for any grinding noises you hear when your car starts.
- Noise When Shifting Gears. If you hear a noise when shifting gears, stop the car immediately and contact a professional about what’s causing it. It could be minor, such as a broken shifter cable, but it could also signify much worse trouble.
4. The Nose Knows – Identify Strange Smells
It could mean trouble if you’re driving down the road and suddenly notice something odd about your car’s odors. And there might be no better place to check out what’s happening than under the hood. A lot of modern vehicles use electronic sensors to monitor things such as temperature, pressure, and fluid levels. But many cars also include systems monitoring certain aspects of vehicle performance, including air quality, tire wear, and gas mileage.
These sensors can detect problems before they become major issues and alert drivers to potential malfunctions. For example, suppose you notice a strong odor inside your car. In that case, chances are good that your heater core is leaking coolant, which could cause overheating and serious damage. Or if you hear unusual noises, it could indicate that your engine needs repair.
But some smells aren’t necessarily indicative of anything wrong. Instead, they might be normal odors of everyday life.
5. Watch For Smoke
A car that smells like burning rubber might mean one thing: running low on gas. But there are many reasons your vehicle emits black smoke from the tailpipe. Common causes include a faulty catalytic converter, overheating brakes, burnt valves, clogged air filters, etc. You’ll want to take your vehicle to a mechanic immediately if you suspect something is wrong.
Smoke from your vehicle could mean one thing: your engine is overheating, and you’re about to experience serious trouble. A few different types of smoke are common culprits. Here’s what each type means.
- Blue Smoke. This color indicates that oil has leaked into the combustion chamber, causing pressure build-up and ultimately burning the oil away. In most cases, this happens because the oil seal inside the cylinder head has failed, allowing the oil to escape.
- White Smoke. This color usually occurs when there is a mixture of antifreeze and water in the gas tank, resulting in a heat build-up. Antifreeze contains methanol, which is highly flammable and dangerous.
- Red/Black Smoke. Carbon deposits in the exhaust system cause this color. Carbon builds up over time due to incomplete combustion of fuel and eventually causes the exhaust valve to stick open.
If you see any of these colors in your vehicle, stop driving immediately and contact a mechanic. You don’t want to put yourself or others in danger.
The first thing to do when your car’s engine has blown is to take it to a mechanic for repairs. A blown engine can lead to other problems, so fixing it is essential. You may also need to upgrade important parts of your car’s engine. However, if you have a car or an RV that is not worth repairing, you should consider getting rid of it. For example, if you want to sell your junk RV, you are lucky, as we can buy it from you with good cash and free removal in some states. Other junk car owners usually take the vehicles to salvage yards or strip them down for some usable part.