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5 things your engine is telling you (and why you should listen)

5 things your engine is telling you (and why you should listen)

Have you noticed a funny sound coming from your engine? Or maybe strange smell? 

Cars are of course inanimate objects, but the cleverness and complexity of their design means they have certain ways of telling us when something has gone wrong.

Below we've highlighted five common warning signs you might notice from your engine and explain how you can tackle these problems before they become a costly catastrophe!

01 Top up my oil

01 Top up my oil

If your engine is rattling and/or blowing smoke out of its exhaust, the first thing ŷou want to check is the oil level. 

Make sure your engine is cool (don't do this straight after a drive), then find the dipstick, give the end a wipe and stick it back in, pull it out and read the level. 

If it's below the MIN mark, take a look in your handbook to find out what type of oil it requires and top it up via the oil filler cap at the top of the engine. 

Do it in small doses and check the level as you go giving time for the oil to drain through - you don't want to overfill. 

Keeping the oil topped up will reduce the risk of internal damage to your engine and increase its life.

02 Change my spark plugs

02 Change my spark plugs

Flat spots in your engine's power delivery, general sluggishness and uneven idling could all mean you need to change your spark plugs. 

You'll need a spark plug removal socket, which you'll use to unscrew the plugs once you've popped the HT leads off them. 

Most plugs are pre-gapped, but it's worth ensuring the gap is precise – you can find out the distance in your car's Haynes manual and get hold of a feeler gauge.

If you have a diesel, this is highly unlikely to be the case - glow plugs in a diesel are only used to ignite the fuel during startup, so trouble starting the engine could mean glow plug replacement is required (although this. 

Is highly unlikely as glow plugs are low stress, low maintenance items).

03 Check my timing belt (or ancillary belt)

03 Check my timing belt (or ancillary belt)

Misfires, lumpy idle or ticking noise, oil seepage, and the engine not turning over at all could mean your timing/ancillary belt is worn, or the tensioner needs replacing. 

Obviously this does not apply to engines with timing chains. 

Replacement and setting the timing requires specialist tools, but if you have them your car's Haynes manual is likely to give you detailed instructions for doing the job yourself. 

If you don't deal with this quickly, timing belt failure can cause catastrophic and irreparable damage to the engine.

04 Top up my coolant

04 Top up my coolant

Your engine running hot and cutting out completely means your coolant is low or completely empty. Find out which coolant is required for your engine and top it up, keeping the level between the MIN and MAX marks on the expansion tank. 

If your coolant is completely empty, you have a leak - either a pipe has split, detached or the radiator has burst. 

Check all pipework and fill the radiator and look for fluid escaping.

Running a car with little or no coolant will lead to cylinder head gasket failure – see below.

Change a head gasket

05 Change my head gasket

The end result of your engine running hot and cutting out is the engine's head gasket failing. 

If your car is blowing lots of white smoke from the exhaust and overheating, open your oil cap and if the is a gloopy, mayonnaise-like substance there then your head gasket needs replaced. 

This is a simpler job than you think, but it's a scary one for novice home mechanics because it involves removing the cylinder head and skimming it. 

Your Haynes manual will take you through the process and the tools you require but make sure that you spot it early because repeated driving with an engine whose head gasket is damaged will lead to catastrophic engine failure.