7 Early Warning Signs of Engine Failure

Even if you are a complete novice when it comes to car engine repair, you need to be aware of some of the warning signs. Failure to heed these warnings could lead to a complete engine failure. Today’s cars are meant to last for a quarter million miles or more but only if you maintain them. Replacing an engine is a cost you can usually avoid by paying attention. Here are seven warning signs of potential engine failure.

Related: What To Do If Your Car Overheats

Warning Lights

Often the first thing any car owner will notice is a check engine light on the dashboard. A large majority of today’s cars have an On-Board Diagnostics system. Your car’s computer stores codes that indicate where the problem lies. A tool will read the codes, which often leads to  relatively minor repairs, such as a faulty sensor or spark plugs. Depending on the problem, ignoring the warning light for too long could lead to a more serious issue or even total engine failure. .

Related: Car Dashboard Warning Lights You Should Know About

Driving Problems

If your car is jerking, stalling, or surging while driving, then this could be a sign of engine trouble. Some possible reasons for this include dirty fuel filters, fouled spark plugs, and clogged fuel lines. A rough or irregular idle can also be a sign of some kind of irregularity. Today’s cars are equipped with a mass airflow sensor, which regulates the air/fuel mixture. That sensor may need to be cleaned or replaced. In short, regular maintenance like filter and oil changes can help avoid major problems.

Related: Top 5 Reasons Why Check Engine Light Comes On

Irritating Noises

Odd noises, especially popping or tapping sounds, can be a sign of impending doom. A loud knocking sound from your engine when accelerating could mean a bearing failure, either at the crankshaft or a piston ring. There are plenty of moving parts in an engine so any failure there might announce itself with a strange noise. Odd noises can often be a result of an exhaust issue. Chances are you know what your car sounds like under normal conditions. Don’t ignore those odd sounds.

Related: 5 Car Noises You Should Never Ignore

Foul Smells

Much like sounds, your cars odors should be familiar to you. When you smell something different, it’s a sign something is amiss. If you smell something sweet, that is likely coming from leaking antifreeze. It could be coming anywhere from the radiator or radiator hoses, or even the intake manifold. Another smell could be one akin to rotten eggs. This distinct smell could be a result of a failed catalytic converter, or it could also be some other problem with fuel delivery.

Related: What Goes Wrong with Your Car and When?


When you start your car in colder weather, it’s quite normal to see some white smoke to emerge from your exhaust. This smoke is merely steam and can be perfectly normal. Persistent white smoke could mean a cracked head or a failed head gasket. Both of those could lead to coolant entering the combustion chamber.

Related: Water Coming Out From Car Silencer- A Good Sign Or a Bad Sign?

Black smoke often means there is an issue with fuel delivery, specifically a too-rich fuel mixture. Like white smoke, this is not a problem to be ignored but is not the worst possible smoke scenario. That would be a bluish gray smoke. This is a problem that needs immediate attention, as oil is somehow entering the combustion chamber. Another way to tell if oil is going where it shouldn’t is if you need to add oil often. Older cars especially will use oil. Adding oil often is a potential sign of problems.

Poor Performance

It is common for cars to lose power over time. But if the loss of power is dramatic or sudden, you may have a serious problem that would be pretty hard to ignore.

Related: 7 Mechanical Failures That May Lead to Accidents

Loss of Mileage

If your car has a noticeable drop in mileage (fuel consumption), this could be a fuel problem fixed with a tune-up. That tune-up could save the engine from bigger problems down the line. It may not be serious but the longer it goes unattended, the higher chance of something serious developing.

Related: Tips on Improving Fuel Consumption

All of these problems have one thing in common. They are not to be ignored. Regular maintenance combined with immediate reactions to potential problems should result in a long life for your car’s engine.

Written by: Drew Bishop, a contributing writer and media specialist for Service First Automotive

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