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How Should I Describe My Car Problems to a Mechanic?

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Like doctors, mechanics need as much information as possible about an issue in order to properly diagnose and address it. However, it can be challenging to explain what issues you are having with your vehicle if you aren’t familiar with the terminology.

You may not know what information your mechanic needs or what jargon to use to describe certain problems. Sometimes it can even feel like mechanics speak a different language. 

No one knows your vehicle better than you, which is why it’s so important to learn how to clearly communicate any automotive issues you are experiencing before you search for a “mechanic shop near me.” Follow these tips when describing your car problems to a mechanic:

Provide a Detailed Description

Failing to provide a detailed description of your vehicle’s issues could make it harder for your mechanic to identify and address the problem. Make sure you provide your mechanic with the information they need to repair your vehicle by answering these simple questions:

When Does the Problem Occur?

Start by asking yourself when your vehicle exhibits the specific symptoms you are worried about.

For example, if your brake pads need to be replaced, you may hear a loud grinding or squealing sound every time you hit the brakes. You will only hear the noise when you are using the brakes. Providing this information to your mechanic will help them quickly come to the conclusion that it’s a problem with your braking system.

Tell your mechanic if the problem occurs when you start or turn off your vehicle, accelerate, idle, turn, brake, or drive at certain speeds. You should also tell your mechanic if the problem gets worse or better under certain conditions. For instance, the problem might get worse as you speed up but slowly fade away as you slow down. 

Certain weather conditions such as extreme temperatures, rain, or snow could also trigger the issue with your vehicle. If this is the case, your mechanic needs to know. 

Don’t forget to tell your mechanic how often the problem occurs, too. It might happen every single time you use your vehicle or it may only happen every so often. 

What Does it Look/Smell/Sound/Feel Like?

Use four of your five senses to describe your car problems to your mechanic. 

Sometimes you can actually see symptoms of car problems. If you see smoke coming from your tailpipe, for instance, communicate this to your mechanic. Tell your mechanic what color the smoke was and how much smoke you observed.

Certain car problems can cause strange odors. If you smell something unusual, this is something you definitely need to mention to your mechanic. Some of the most common smells related to car problems include:

Then, describe any unusual sounds you may have heard. Some of the most common sounds related to car problems include:

Finally, tell your mechanic whether you are able to feel anything unusual while driving your vehicle.

Many car problems can affect the vehicle’s performance. These problems might cause the vehicle to hesitate, bounce, shake, vibrate, lunge, or pull to the left or right. Sometimes, you might not feel these specific sensations, but you may feel as if your car simply isn’t driving as smoothly as it used to. This is all important information that your mechanic can use to quickly fix your vehicle.

Where is it Coming From?

Ask yourself where the issue is coming from within your vehicle. Your mechanic won’t expect you to investigate the issue to determine which car part is causing the problem. You won’t need to specify which car part the issue is coming from, but it’s helpful if you can point your mechanic in the right direction.

For instance, say you are concerned about a strange noise your vehicle is making. Help your mechanic identify the issue by describing which direction the sound is coming from. If it sounds like it’s coming from under the hood of your vehicle, that’s all you need to tell your mechanic. You don’t need to pop the hood to determine the source of the noise.

Keep in mind that you should always describe a location from the driver’s point of view. The driver’s side is on the left and the front passenger’s side is on the right. This means if a strange noise is coming from an area behind the driver’s seat, you should say you hear a noise on the left side in the rear of the vehicle.

Are Any Dashboard Lights On?

If your vehicle detects an issue, it will turn on the corresponding dashboard light to notify you of the problem. Knowing which, if any, dashboard lights are on can make it much easier for your mechanic to identify the source of the problem.

Your mechanic will be able to see if any dashboard lights are currently on just by starting your vehicle. However, if a dashboard light was on but has since turned off, there’s no way for your mechanic to know this unless you tell them. This is why you should tell your mechanic if any lights have turned on since the problem began regardless of whether or not the lights are now off.

Is Fluid Leaking?

If fluid has been leaking from your vehicle, your mechanic needs to know about it.

A number of different types of fluid would leak from your vehicle, including coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, engine oil, or water. If you aren’t a car enthusiast, you may not know which of these fluids is leaking from your vehicle, which is perfectly fine. You can still help your mechanic understand the problem by describing the leak.

If possible, describe the color of the fluid that was leaking from your vehicle. Each fluid has a distinct color that is used to help mechanics quickly diagnose leaks. So if you know the fluid was a bright green color, this will immediately tell your mechanic that it’s a coolant leak

Describing the location of the leak could be helpful, too. A leak that occurs directly underneath your vehicle’s engine is most likely an engine oil leak, whereas a leak that occurs in the front left of your car is often a power steering fluid leak.

When Did the Problem Begin?

The final step is telling your mechanic about when the problem first began. Sometimes, this is as simple as saying you first noticed the problem two or three days ago. However, in other cases, you may need to provide more specific information.

For example, say you recently returned from a long vacation. You left your vehicle at home while you were on vacation, so it was not used for a period of three weeks. You noticed the problem with your vehicle yesterday after starting your car for the first time in three weeks. In this case, it’s important to tell your mechanic not only that the problem started yesterday, but also that it occurred after your vehicle was not driven for a long period of time. 

Think about what happened in the hours or days prior to when you first noticed the problem. If anything unusual happened in this time period, mention it to your mechanic so they can better understand the cause of the problem.  

Don’t Feel Pressure to Diagnose the Problem Yourself

Some car owners think they need to tell their mechanic exactly what the problem is when they bring their vehicle in for repair, but this isn’t necessary. There’s no need to research your car’s symptoms or rack your brain for a solution. As a car owner, this is not your responsibility. All you need to do is describe the problem and let the mechanic take it from there.

Learn the Language

The best mechanics know how to communicate with car owners without using automotive jargon that they may not be familiar with. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to understand some of the most common terms that mechanics use when discussing car problems. Try learning some of these key terms:

Knowing these terms will not only make it easier to describe your car’s problems but also understand the mechanic when they explain what they discover and what repairs are necessary to address the issue.

Discuss Your Maintenance Records

Reviewing your vehicle’s maintenance records may help your mechanic diagnose the issue and complete the repairs as quickly as possible. Some car owners keep track of their maintenance and repair services in a notebook or using a smartphone app. 

However, if you don’t have these detailed records, just provide your mechanic with a brief history of your vehicle’s most recent services. Try to cover as many of these topics as possible:

For example, say you are having trouble starting your car. If your car battery was recently replaced, knowing this information could help your mechanic cross one potential problem off of their list. How? It’s extremely unlikely that a new battery would already need to be replaced, so your mechanic might focus on investigating other reasons why your car might not be starting, such as a faulty alternator or starter motor.

Be Honest

Honesty is key when communicating with your mechanic about your driving habits, maintenance records, and your vehicle’s condition. 

For example, if you started experiencing a problem with your vehicle after running over a large piece of debris in the road, share this with your mechanic. Your mechanic is not judging you or your driving habits, so there’s no reason to omit important information like this.

Understand the Golden Rule of Communicating With Your Mechanic

There is one golden rule you should always follow when communicating with your mechanic about your car problems: the more information you can provide, the better.

You should never feel as if you are going into too much detail or providing your mechanic with unnecessary information. Tell your mechanic everything you know regardless of how minor the details may seem. Even if a detail seems insignificant, it may be the exact piece of information your mechanic needs to get to the bottom of the issue.