Most Common Engine Problems and Smart Fixes

An engine is the most important and one of the most expensive parts of a vehicle. It should always be in good condition for a smooth and seamless driving experience. Engine maintenance is one thing you should never compromise. If you notice your engine is stalling, struggling to accelerate, or worse, failing, ensure to look at these most common engine problems.

Not all engine problems are severe. Some engine problems are not serious and are easy to fix, but they all can cause engine breakdown, requiring engine rebuild or a brand-new engine. I’ll explain the most common engine problems and failures in this article. But first, let’s see how an engine works.

worst engine problems

How Does the Engine Work?

An engine is a complex part of a vehicle that most people do not understand how it works. As a vehicle owner, it is essential to have a basic idea about how your engine works.

With this knowledge, it will be easy to know when there is a problem with an engine part and how to deal with it.  

A car engine is a complex machine that converts chemical energy in fuel to mechanical energy. The expanding gases in the combustion chamber push the pistons down, which rotates the crankshaft. The crankshaft transfers the engine power to the transmission, which drives the wheel.

The most common type of car engine is a four-stroke internal combustion engine. Here’s a simplified explanation of how it works.

Intake stroke: As you crank the vehicle, the pistons move down. This creates a space for the intake valves to send fuel into the combustion chamber.

Compression stroke: As the intake valves close, the pistons move upwards. As the pistons move up, they compress the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chamber, making it combustible.

Power stroke: As the pistons reach the top depth center, the spark plugs ignite the combustible air-fuel mixture. The ignition causes explosions and expands the gases. The explosions push the pistons downward and generate the power needed to run the vehicle.

Exhaust stroke: As the pistons move backward, the exhaust valves open to allow the burnt air-fuel mixture out of the engine. The exhaust stroke creates room for the next intake stroke. As these continue, the engine generates power to keep the vehicle running.

list of car engine problems

Common Engine Problems and How to fix them

It’s essential to diagnose and fix engine problems at an early stage. Ignoring engine problems, no matter how small, may cause catastrophic engine failure. Here is the list of car engine problems you should watch out for.

The car won’t start

Car not starting is the most common problem car owners encounter from time to time. The most common reason for a vehicle not to start is battery issues. It could be the battery won’t hold charge, the battery is dead or weak, or you have loose or corroded battery terminals.

However, factors like charging system issues, lousy starter motor, defective ignition switch, bad fuel pump, and other fuel delivery issues can also prevent the car from starting.

Overheating engine

Leaking coolant and low coolant levels are the primary cause of engine overheating. Other issues like a clogged or bad radiator, broken radiator fan, lousy thermostat, defective water pump, burnt head gasket, and broken radiator hoses can cause engine overheating.

Repeated or ignore engine overheating will cause catastrophic damage to the engine. Hence, you should drive to a mechanic to diagnose and repair the problem before it escalates to a major engine problem.

Engine stalling

Engine stalling while driving indicates one or more engine components are bad or malfunctioning. A stalling car can stop in the middle of nowhere. Even a minor hesitation can be risky, especially on a busy road.

Engine stalling and hesitation are typically caused by weak fuel pumps, clogged fuel filters, other fuel delivery issues, and lousy spark plugs. Though, the causes may not be engine related. So, the best solution is to have a mechanic diagnose the vehicle and address the issues.

Smoke or stem from the engine

Stem or smoke from the engine is nothing but bad news. Hence, you need to contact your mechanic whenever you encounter such a problem. Smoke or stem from the engine happens due to wrong oil grade, crankcase issues, defective rings, lousy cylinders, and worn gaskets.

Water in engine

Have you seen some folks swimming water with their baby ride? Oh! I don’t mean swimming in a stream or a river. You know that’s not possible. I mean driving through high floods on the road.

Driving a car through high floods can be catastrophic. Water may enter the engine through the air filter housing and bend the pistons, leading to engine breakdown. I have encountered this problem a couple of times.

If you drive through a flood and water enters the engine, do not bother cranking the engine. It can cause internal engine damage. Instead, contact a mechanic to remove the water when it hasn’t caused any damage. Issues with the internal engine parts are one of the most expensive engine problems you could encounter.

Leaking engine coolant

The engine coolant is one of the most essential fluids in a vehicle. It should always stay at the recommended level for proper engine cooling. Thankfully, leaking engine coolant is one of the easiest engine issues to diagnose. If the engine coolant keeps getting low after topping it, it’s a sure sign the coolant is leaking.

Coolant can leak from the radiator, radiator hoses, water pump, thermostat housing, and water jackets. Coolant can also leak into the engine due to a burnt head gasket.

Clogged radiator

The radiator is responsible for dissipating engine heat. It sends cool coolant into the engine and receives hot coolant from the engine. It then cools the hot coolant from the engine by dissipating the heat through its fins.

As the coolant travels back and forth from the radiator to the engine, it gets dirty over time and needs replacement or flushing. Failing to change or flush the coolant as required can clog the radiator. This is one of the common causes of engine overheating.

Odd engine noise

Every responsible driver should know how their engine sounds. Sometimes, the engine tells us when something is going wrong by giving odd sounds. If your engine sound changes to a rattling, whining, or ticking sound, something is wrong with the engine.

It could mean you have a loose timing chain, broken timing tensioner, bent valves, or severe internal engine issues. Ignoring odd noises can lead to one of the worst engine problems.

Lack of lubrication

A car engine cannot run optimally without proper lubrication between the internal reciprocating parts. Poor engine lubrication will cause accelerated friction in the engine, leading to overheating or engine breakdown.

Lack of engine lubrication can result from oil leaks, low engine oil, wrong oil type, clogged oil filter, weak oil pump, and irregular oil changes. Keeping your oil at the appropriate level could be all you need to prevent poor lubrication.

High oil consumption

High oil consumption is a sign that something is wrong with the engine. While it may not pose serious issues, do not ignore it. High oil consumption happens due to bad piston rings and lousy valve guides. Lousy valve guides and pistons will let motor oil creep into the combustion chamber and burn along with the fuel.

Smoke from the exhaust

White, grey, or blue smoke from the exhaust tailpipe shows something isn’t as it should. Consult your dealership or local mechanic once you see excessive smoke from the tailpipe. 

High oil consumption, worn valve guides, lousy crankcase ventilation, and defective piston rings are the common causes of Blue smoke from the exhaust. On the other hand, broken head gaskets and engines burning oil are the common causes of white smoke.

Lousy car sensors

Cars feature several sensors that work in harmony with the powertrain control module (PCM). These sensors perform different tasks in the engine. One of them is the O2 sensor. It measures the amount of oxygen in the exhaust pipe and relays the information to the car computer or PCM. The PCM then works with the relayed information for a proper air-fuel adjustment.

If the sensor fails to send the right information to the powertrain control module, the PCM will work with the wrong information or work on assumptions if it doesn’t receive any data. If any of these happens, there will be high fuel consumption, reduced engine power, and other engine issues.

Engine misfire

What is the most common cause of engine failure? The most common engine problem is engine misfires, which are typically caused by worn spark plugs, other faulty spark system components, fuel delivery issues, and lousy sensors. However, other system component issues can be the culprit.

Engine misfires can be minor or severe. Some engine misfires can make a car start but won’t stay running. Regardless of how little the issue is, do not ignore it. Even the most minor possible cause can escalate to a significant problem.

Final words

The engine is the most crucial part of your car, and you should maintain it properly. Now, you can tell when you have an engine problem and when to roll your sleeves and get your hands dirty. But how can you tell when you have an engine problem? I published an article explaining engine problem signs. Check it out for more explanation on common engine problems and their signs.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

6 thoughts on “Most Common Engine Problems and Smart Fixes

  1. Hey Robert,

    When a car computer fails to recognise a key, it’s likely from your ECU. Like you rightly said, all you needed to fix it was to program the key so that the engine control unit will recognize it.

    But trust me, this is not a common issue.

  2. What about keys that are no longer recognized by the car? It turns over but didn’t start. I have a Hyundai that it happened to. Had to have a locksmith reprogram the keys. Now the car starts OK.

  3. I love the valuable info you supply in your posts. To be honest I am not sure I can agree with you.

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