Like explaining an ailment to a doctor, discussing a mechanical problem with an auto technician is vital to making things right. Whether you’re headed to a dealer’s service department or the corner garage, the process can be easy if you can describe your vehicle’s symptoms in clear and familiar terms.
Before you head off to visit your mechanic, it’s a good idea to get organized. Take notes on your vehicle’s performance and any problems you’ve noticed so that you won’t forget important details and print a copy to leave with the mechanic. If your vehicle has been in for service recently, bring along the repair records. This is especially important if the car was serviced in a different shop.
Discuss the Details
When explaining your vehicle’s problems to your mechanic, describe the symptoms as completely as possible. Be sure to detail specific sounds, smells, and sensations, and identify their location as best you can.
It’s important to be as specific as possible when talking about your vehicle’s problems. Is there a rattle under the hood, a foul smell coming from the tailpipe, or does the car pull to one side during braking? Explain exactly when the problem began and under what circumstances it appeared. Did the issue surface after hitting a pothole, or following a heavy rainstorm? No detail is too trivial.
Don’t assume that you already know what’s wrong with the vehicle, even if you’re knowledgeable about cars. Explain the symptoms and offer to accompany the mechanic on a test drive, especially if a problem surfaces intermittently, or only while the car is on the road.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or have the technician explain, in detail, anything that you don’t understand.
Learn the Lingo
While it’s always best to communicate with a mechanic in plain language, it doesn’t hurt to learn some “tech talk” to provide added detail. To that end, we’ve compiled the following list of terms that can help explain common auto problems and serve as a checklist of symptoms for your car or truck:
- Backfire: A gunshot-like sound that comes from the engine or tailpipe.
- Bottoming or Bottoming Out: When parts of the vehicle’s undercarriage hit the road making a harsh scraping or dragging noise when you reach the limit of your suspension travel.
- Brake Drag: When your brakes don’t release completely after being applied.
- Brake Fade: When you have to put increasingly more pressure on your brake pedal to maintain the same amount of braking.
- Brake Grab: Excessive braking that occurs even with light pressure on the brake pedal.
- Bucking: When the vehicle lurches as the engine hesitates or transmission slips as you change gears and accelerate.
- Crank: A car cranks when the starter is engaged and the engine is “turning over.” If the car doesn’t start when the ignition is engaged, it’s not cranking, and you might hear only a weak clicking sound.
- Dieseling: When a vehicle runs briefly after the car has been switched off.
- Fast Idle: When an engine runs faster than normal when stopped and idling. An engine is idling when the vehicle is running but not in motion.
- Handling: How a car takes curves.
- Hesitation: A brief loss of power upon acceleration.
- Knocking: Known also as detonation or pinging, knocking is a rapid rattling that occurs when the car accelerates.
- Misfire: Hesitation that occurs when fuel in one or more of an engine’s cylinders fails to ignite properly. It can cause the engine and car to buck or jerk.
- Play: A noticeable degree of looseness in a car’s steering wheel.
- Pull: The vehicle moves to one side or the other on its own when accelerating or braking.
- Ride: How a car feels when driving over pavement irregularities.
- Rough Idle: This occurs when a car’s engine shakes or vibrates harshly when the vehicle is at idle and not in motion.
- Shimmy: A side-to-side motion that can be felt through the tires and/or steering wheel when driving.
- Stall: When the engine suddenly stops running. If it subsequently kicks in again, it’s called a stumble.
- Surge: A sudden change in engine speed without input from the accelerator.
- Wander: The car drifts on its own from side-to-side when otherwise pointed in a straight line.
Gorzelany, J. (2019) How to Explain Car Problems to Your Mechanic. Carfax. Retrieved from https://www.carfax.com/blog/explaining-car-problems-to-your-mechanic