The clicking noise is the solenoid (an electrically-operated heavy-duty switch) that controls the starter motor trying to make a complete connection between the battery and the starter motor. It’s clicking as it pulls in, starves for electricity, and then falls back to its open position. The cycle repeats until you let go of the key. This click can repeat rapidly or slowly, depending. Depending on what, you may ask? It could be a couple of causes.
- The battery may simply be discharged to the point where it can’t cut the mustard and supply enough energy to start the car. That may be the result of leaving a light on or door ajar, or a more serious issue like a parasitic battery drain caused by some component failure. A jump start should supply enough energy to get you on your way.
- If a quick jump, or a more leisurely battery charge won’t get things spinning, you may have a loose or corroded battery post, or bad wiring between the battery and the starter motor, or even bad wiring between the battery and the car’s chassis. A mechanic can find things like parasitic drains, bad wiring or a charging system that isn’t putting out enough energy to keep the battery charged easily enough. If you have a pretty good idea why the battery is low (like the dome light being left on), things should be fine—Don’t do that again. But unexplained no-starts deserve a trip to the shop for an electrical system check. Unless you like asking strangers in the parking lot for a jump-start.
The leak itself might be as simple as an oil filler cap not tightened, or as major as a failed gasket. If you are so inclined, a peek under the hood might show you something simple, like the dipstick not seated properly.
What to do:
Obviously, the leak needs to be fixed, so if you can’t find it yourself, you need to make an appointment with a repair shop.
- In the meantime, start by checking your oil level with the dipstick. Do this when the engine is cold, and with the car parked on level pavement.
- If the oil level is below the ADD mark, add a quart of the appropriate oil. (The proper grade of oil to use is in your owner’s manual, or maybe even printed on the oil filler cap). Now at least you can drive safely to the shop to find out where the leak is.
What not to do:
- Continually add oil to compensate for the leak for longer than it takes to get the repair done. Aside from making your driveway a mess, the leak may get much worse in a very short period of time, leaving you stranded.
- Pour in any additives designed to reduce leaks. These seal-swell additives make all of the rubber seals and gaskets swell up just a little. This reduces seepage past worn seals and shrunken gaskets and O-rings. Problem is, seal-swell is addictive—as the seals wear in and seal in their engorged state, all is fine. But as the mileage builds, the additive evaporates out through the crankcase ventilation system, letting the rubber shrink back. Unfortunately, now the seals have adapted themselves to seal when swollen up, and may leak even more than before the additive was used. Save seal-swell/stop-leak additives for engines that are due to be scrapped or rebuilt soon.
- Don’t let your oil level get too low. Starving your engine of oil—which is what happens when the oil level goes below the level of the pickup in the oil pan—for even a few seconds can damage your bearings, pistons or valves.
- Don’t use a pressure washer, detergents or chemicals to clean up the oil. You stand the chance of forcing water or corrosive chemicals into places it isn’t supposed to be, like inside the wiring connectors for the dozens of electronic sensors for your engine’s computer. Let the mechanic do the cleaning.
Tip: Use dry kitty litter to sop up any dripped liquid oil. You can then remove oil stains from your driveway my mixing a cup of clay-based kitty litter with a couple of tablespoons of laundry detergent (powder or liquid) and enough water to make a paste about the consistency of toothpaste. Cover the stain with this paste, and let dry. Sweep up the dried kitty litter, and repeat if necessary.
- Immediately, as soon as it’s safe, pull the vehicle over to the side of the road and park it out of danger.
- Turn off the engine. Wait 5 minutes to let things cool off a bit—if you open the hood immediately, you might get a face full of boiling coolant as the geyser erupts from your radiator pressure cap. Once it’s safe, open the hood and look around for obvious problems, like a disconnected hose, a plastic bag covering the grille, or a broken fan belt. Some engine bays are pretty crowded—you may not be able to see the problem or even if there is one.
- Wait another ten minutes or so and check the coolant level. On many vehicles you may be able to see the coolant level through the side of a plastic reservoir.
- If you’re not sure how to do that or where the reservoir is, it’s covered in your owner’s manual. If the coolant level is low, you can top off the coolant with ordinary water. (Just remember that the proportion of coolant to water is supposed to be 50-50, and if you add much water you may dilute the coolant to the point where it doesn’t cool properly, or could potentially freeze on a cold day).
- Once the level is back where it’s supposed to be, reinstall the radiator cap, start the car and see if you can proceed without the TEMP light coming back on. Regardless, a mechanic should check your cooling system out to find out the real cause behind why the engine temperature warning light is on, preferably very soon. Use Openbay to compare top mechanics in your area and book service online in minutes.
The good news is, that is not always the case.
- Sometimes you only need to resurface the brake rotors, and sometimes all you need to do is replace the brake pads. Brake pads wear out regularly: they’re supposed to. The brake friction material is what stops your car by turning your forward speed into heat. But you may not realize that the iron discs are also wearing out as well, although not nearly as rapidly as the pads. An evenly-worn brake rotor that isn’t worn very much only needs fresh pads. If you have issues with brake pedal pulsation or steering wheel shudder under braking, maybe your brake rotors are warped or simply out-of-true. If so, they’ll need to be surfaced. Surfacing consists of using a lathe to remove the surface layer evenly, restoring the discs flat, consistent surface finish. This makes the brake rotor thinner, of course.
- Eventually, normal wear and proper surfacing will make the disc too thin. A thin rotor won’t have enough mass to resist overheating during high-speed stops or on long downhill grades, which could make your brake friction material overheat and your brakes fail to stop the vehicle. This will also allows the caliper’s actuating pistons to protrude too far from the caliper body, making them prone to corrosion or mechanical damage.
- Brake rotors are marked at the foundry with a minimum installed thickness. If they are nearly that thin, and need to be surfaced, the shop will recommend replacing them, saving the time to surface them back to flatness only to discover that they are too thin to legally reinstall.
Figure on replacing the brake rotors every second or third time you replace the brake pads and have the rotors surfaced. Cars driven mostly in everyday stop-and-go traffic will consume brake rotors and brake pads more often than ones used largely for highway driving.
There are a couple of reasons your VIN is needed for a repair estimate:
- First, because the shop wants to keep track of the exact vehicle they’re working on. You’d be surprised at the number of drivers who buy the same car over and over. If they know the VIN, they can tell if the car you’re making an appointment for is that Honda Accord you’re had repaired at their shop before, of if it’s a different vehicle entirely. Also, they’ll check for recalls or service bulletins, which may or may not have been taken care of on your car.
- More importantly, your VIN (Vehicle Information Number) has a lot of valuable information, beyond just the year of manufacture and a unique identifier. Coded into that number, among other things, are identifiers for the engine and transmission in the car. Again, you’d be surprised at the number of customers arriving at the service desk who have no idea what is under their own hood. Getting the VIN saves the service writer a trip out to the parking lot to check in person. You can imagine that the repair estimate for repairs might be somewhat different depending on what engine is installed in a car.
And we’ve seen some vehicles with registrations that didn’t accurately reflect the model year of the vehicle. There can be profound differences in the repair costs of similar cars between model years. The VIN is always definitive, allowing the repair estimate to be as accurate as possible.
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