Security and Safety

Intro to Mechanic Speak: Understanding Your Car Diagnosis

By Abi Grise Morgan 10.30.20

Car troubles are complicated. They’re even more confusing when you don’t understand the car diagnosis you get from your mechanic. How do you know what’s truly necessary to fix today, and what can wait? Learning the most common car diagnoses will empower you to make confident decisions about your vehicle repairs.

Here are some frequent issues that bring drivers into the shop, what your mechanic will tell you, and whether action is urgent.

“Your wheels need to be rebalanced.”

Translation: Every time you buy a new tire or set of tires, they need to be rebalanced to ensure they wear evenly and last as long as possible. Sometimes your tires will become unbalanced after a high number of miles or one too many speed bumps. If your wheels are unbalanced, you can tell — your car will vibrate. To correct the imbalance, a mechanic will put weights on the sides of your wheels, and you’ll leave with a smoother, safer ride.

Is this repair urgent? Probably not, but don’t ignore it for too long or you’ll end up needing this guide on how to change a flat tire.

“Your brakes are soft.”

Translation: Sensitive brakes are a good thing — soft brakes, not so much. To effectively stop your car prior to a collision with another vehicle, object, or an armadillo who’s strayed too far into the road, you need rock-solid brakes. But it might not just be the pads that are the problem. There are many components to your brakes that can wear down as well: your brake line, master cylinder, wheel cylinders, or disc brake calipers, for example.

Is this repair urgent? Definitely.

“You need to re-gas.”

Translation: Your mechanic is not talking about visiting a gas station. This car diagnosis refers to the pressurized refrigerant gas in your car’s air conditioning system. This maintenance issue severely limits the power of your A/C, meaning it will be harder for the inside of your car to cool down.

Is this repair urgent? No, but it may cause progressive damage over time, so don’t wait a year to schedule the repair.

“Your engine is misfiring.”

Translation: Fuel, oxygen, spark. This is the basic order of operations that runs your engine. Each cylinder under your hood has a job to do, in a specific order. When one or more of those actions is delayed or skipped, your vehicle’s performance dips. It might shake or vibrate when idling, and your gas mileage will plummet. Your mechanic will diagnose which of these elements is faltering and restore order under the hood.

Is this repair urgent? Absolutely — keeping your car’s engine in good health is vital for its lifespan, your safety, and avoiding larger repair costs.

“Your alternator has failed.”

Translation: Alternators keep your vehicle’s electrical systems running and supply a charge to your battery. When they break, your battery wears out prematurely and you may have trouble starting your car. Most alternators only last about seven years or 100,000-150,000 miles. Look up the suggested replacement timing for your make and model online to beat your alternator to the punch and avoid the hassle of an unexpected repair.

Is this repair urgent? Yes. An untreated failing alternator can harm other parts of your car — the costs add up quickly.

“Your oxygen sensor is malfunctioning.”

Translation: Your engine is part physics, part chemistry. Your vehicle’s oxygen sensor measures the amount of oxygen in your exhaust. It reports this analysis to your engine computer, which then adjusts the amount of fuel it dispenses for combustion to maximize your fuel economy and minimize pollution. Pretty smart, right? If it’s not working properly, your car will begin to stall at random.

Is this repair urgent? Definitely. A properly functioning oxygen sensor saves you gas money and reduces the pollutants your car outputs.

Cars are complex, but your auto policy doesn’t have to be. Review and update your auto policy today with your Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent, who will make sure you understand just what you’re getting, no translation needed.

Coverage and discounts are subject to qualifications and policy terms and may vary by situation.

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