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Make sure you’re not surprised by costly but important fixes

March 14, 2022 at 8:00 PM

1. Brakes

What are the warning signs? “A spongy or sinking brake pedal can be a sign of a failing brake master cylinder,” says CR's chief mechanic, John Ibbotson. If you live in the snow belt, make sure to check the hard brake lines for rust or weak spots.

2. Mechanical Components Reaching the End of Life

What are the warning signs? Even the strongest original parts can wear out. “Don’t go cheap on replacement parts in order to save a few bucks,” Ibbotson says. “If you replaced worn parts with substandard knockoffs, they might be on their way to failure much sooner than the original equipment.” Slow cranking of the engine can be a sign of a failing battery or alternator.

3. Noisy Exhaust System

What are the warning signs? “You can tell that your exhaust system is reaching the end of its life because your car will get increasingly louder,” Ibbotson says. Exhaust leaks can be dangerous and should be repaired at the first sign.

4. Electrical Components Beginning to Fail

What are the warning signs? “Don’t be surprised if features such as power windows, windshield wipers, and even the instrument panel go on the fritz,” Ibbotson says. “The gremlins can be frustratingly difficult to trace.”

5. Moisture Buildup

What are the warning signs? If it seems that the inside of your windshield is always fogging up or you are mysteriously losing coolant, it’s likely that the heater core is starting to fail.

6. Outdated Shocks and Struts

What are the warning signs? Does your car bounce up and down as you drive down the road? You may need new shocks or struts, Ibbotson says. Uneven tire wear is also an early indicator of this.

7. Failing Radiator

What are the warning signs? “A failing radiator or thermostat can cause the engine to run too hot or eventually overheat,” Ibbotson says. Low fluid levels in the coolant reservoir could indicate a leak in the radiator, engine, hoses, or all three.

8. Oil Consumption and Leaks

What are the warning signs? Increased oil consumption is common in older cars, so don’t panic if your car seems thirstier the older it gets. But if you think you’re topping off the oil too much, it could be a sign of a bigger leak.

9. Spark Plugs That Haven't Been Changed

What are the warning signs? If you haven’t changed the plugs in 100,000 miles of use, the engine runs rough and misfires, or you have trouble starting your car, you should replace the spark plugs. Buying the right kind and getting the right service can make all the difference.

10. Rust

What are the warning signs? It starts with paint that looks like it has bubbles forming. Once you see even a little bit forming around the wheel wells, hood, trunk, or suspension mounting points, there could be a serious problem beneath the surface.

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