The Smells, Sounds, and Colors of Vehicle Trouble

For most people, the thought of their precious vehicle breaking down is more than they can bear. If you feel the same, you may not want to think about needing repairs because it’s too disheartening. While it can seem like a good idea to put off finding a repair shop, it’s a good idea to be as prepared as possible; when something goes wrong, you’ve already got someone dependable to call on for help.

It’s also important to note that the easiest car repair is one that never happens. It’s much safer to focus on maintenance of the vehicle, which can prevent repairs. However, nothing is 100 percent effective, so you shouldn’t think that just because you got the maintenance nothing can go wrong with the car. Vehicles are fickle and tend to break down when you least expect it. Therefore, routine maintenance and servicing, as well as being prepared, are both essential.

Pay Attention

The best thing you can do is to pay attention to any smells, stains, and issues. While preventative care can show the technician any signs of trouble, you should also be aware of what to look for in the fluid.


The consistency and color of the fluid can tell you what’s wrong with the vehicle if you know how to look.

  • Pastel blue, fluorescent orange, or yellowish-green colors can indicate that you have an antifreeze leak that’s caused by a bad water pump or hose. It can also indicate that your engine is overheated regardless of if you have a leak.
  • Red oily spots on the ground underneath your car can indicate power-steering or transmission fluid leaks.
  • Black or dark brown oily fluids on the ground can indicate that your engine is leaking oil, which could be caused by a bad gasket or seal.
  • Puddles of water underneath the car aren’t usually a cause for concern unless you already know you have an overheating problem and pour water into the radiator to save money.


Many times, you can smell when there’s a problem with the vehicle. Even if you aren’t completely sure, you can take it to the shop and request service.

  • Burnt toast – This is often a lighter, but sharp odor and it can indicate you have an electrical short somewhere in the system. It may also mean that you’re burning insulation. It’s best not to drive the vehicle until you can get it looked at by a professional.
  • Thick, acrid smell – A thick, oily smell can indicate you are burning oil. You can check for leaks underneath the vehicle, both when it’s running and when it sits to try and pinpoint the leak. Otherwise, take it to a qualified mechanic.
  • Rotten eggs – This smell is often a continuous smell of burning Sulphur and usually signals that you have a problem with your emission control devices, such as the catalytic converter. These issues can get serious quickly, so it’s best to get it diagnosed and repaired as soon as possible.
  • Burning chemicals/resin – If you smell a sharp chemical odor, you may have overheated the clutch or brakes. Make sure the parking brake is not engaged while driving and stop the vehicle. Allow the brakes to cool and try again. If it continues or if you notice light smoke from one or all wheels, the brake is stuck, and you should have it towed to a repair shop immediately.
  • Sweet or steamy odor – If you notice a sweet smell, it could be a coolant leak. If your warning lights aren’t on and the temperature gauge seems normal, your vehicle hasn’t overheated yet. However, if you notice a metallic scent or steam coming from the hood, your engine is overheated, and you should pull over and shut the vehicle off immediately to reduce the risk of engine damage.


It is amazing how your vehicle can talk to you even though it doesn’t actually speak. Your vehicle likely makes many sounds while you travel around, and some of these sounds indicate issues. Learning about them can help you decipher the issue and help you determine when to go to your repair shop for help.

  • Squeals – If you notice a shrill and sharp noise when stopping or taking off, it could indicate a loose belt of some sort, such as a fan, air conditioning, or power steering belt.
  • Clicks – These are usually slight and sharp, and usually related to vehicle or engine speed. It can indicate a loose wheel cover or bent fan blade, or that you have low engine oil.
  • Screeching – If you hear a high-pitched and piercing screech that sounds more metallic in nature, it could indicate brake wear. This sound indicates that you should get maintenance on your vehicle and especially the brakes.
  • Pinging – When in motion, you could hear a high-pitched tapping sound. This usually indicates that the gasoline you purchased had a lower-than-recommended octane rating. It’s best to check your owner’s manual to determine the correct octane ratings. If the problem continues and you’re using the right gasoline, it could be a problem with the engine ignition timing.
  • Rumbling – Usually, this sound is low-pitched and rhythmic, though you may have trouble hearing it with the radio and air conditioning on. Therefore, it’s a good idea to drive with the windows down and radio off every once in a while to hear such sounds. Rumbling can indicate a worn universal joint, other issues with the drive-line components, or a defective muffler, converter, or exhaust pipe.
  • Clunking – If you notice a thumping sound that seems random in nature and coming from the back or bottom of the vehicle, it could indicate a suspension issue, such as a loose shock absorber. It could also indicate that your muffler or exhaust pipe is loose.

If you hear, smell, or see anything unusual, it’s best to take your vehicle to your local repair shop. You can plan ahead and choose one that you trust, ensuring that you’re prepared for any eventuality.


The Smells, Sounds, and Colors of Vehicle Trouble

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