Weird Car Problems: The Explained and Unexplained

Driving on a dark, foggy road past a graveyard in the middle of nowhere, you may feel a bit uneasy at your creepy surroundings. But you should never feel unease about your vehicle's maintenance and reliability. Wise drivers know the horrors can be defeated with just a little preventative maintenance. Join us as we seek out solutions to weird and unexplained car problems, in honor of Halloween.

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Horrifying screaming

All is calm and silent, until the turn of the ignition key that sounds like a horde of banshees released from under your hood. While the screech is alarming, no real damage is occurring. Serpentine belts stretch as they wear, causing improper tension on the various pulleys. Rather than gripping the belt, the pulley will lose traction and slip, causing that screaming sound you hear. It can mysteriously fade as the engine warms up, but with replacements running around $30, it might be nice to silence the screams permanently.

Mysterious smoke

Snaking out from under the hood like some mythical monster, smoke is always cause for alarm. Screaming and running works in the movies but is less effective in this case. When safely parked, pop the hood and have a look. Small amounts of smoke are usually a result of something fluid, like oil or coolant, coming into contact with something hot—like an exhaust manifold—and burning off. It can be a simple and easy fix if taken care of right away. On the other hand, if your car has Gremlins (or is a Gremlin), it happens for no reason at all.

Revolting smells

Sulfur is a natural compound found in crude oil. After processing, and despite EPA reductions, it is still found in gasoline. The emissions system normally takes care of cleaning it up, but a failing sensor can throw off the sensitive mix, leaving unburned sulfur exiting the tailpipe. Sensors are fairly cheap and easy to fix, but not getting to them in time will make the smell worse and cause the catalytic converter to fail—and that has a horrifying price.

Bumps in the night

Thumps and clunks from unseen forces are pounding on your car. Thankfully, it's not poltergeists but the suspension. Worn-out shocks and struts are the most common cause of those mysterious bumps. Another clue is that the ride and handling of the vehicle will be negatively affected, resulting in a sloppier and bouncier ride than normal. This haunting will get worse with increased miles, so get the old parts an exorcism now.

Monstrous groans

Every time you turn the steering wheel, it's like Frankenstein is groaning from under the front of your car. The power-steering system is the likely culprit and is easily diagnosed. Often, there is air in the system, causing cavitation and foaming the fluid. Just adding power-steering fluid can sometimes banish the groans, although a leak can cause the low fluid level. If the fluid level is good, check if the idler arm bushing needs grease, before looking to a new power-steering pump.

Sudden mortality

You hope your vehicle has a long and trouble-free life on the road, but some vehicles are destined for a shorter existence. Usually this is easily explained, perhaps when engine or transmission replacement costs outweigh the value of the vehicle. Other times, they seem to die for absolutely no reason at all, killed by an unseen mysterious force that targets vehicle electronics. It's both sad and spooky.

Have you ever defeated the mysteries and gremlins, and won back a reliable ride? Let us know how you did it in the comments.

Last updated October 18, 2019