Better Understanding Your Engine


Cars and trucks are complicated these days. There are so many different moving parts that have to work together to make the car run, it’s no small feat that you’re able to hop inside of one and drive it on a daily basis without it turning into a pile of scrap metal after a few miles. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of the mechanics, cars need regular maintenance and repairs to keep things running smoothly. Luckily though, there are ways to keep an eye on different systems so that you can be sure to fix a problem before it becomes a problem.

When it comes to the engine, a lot of people have no idea what they’re looking at. Pipes, boxes and metal pieces all fit together like organs inside of a body. If you don’t know what part is what, then trying to identify a problem, much less fix it, can be a daunting task. For this reason, we’re going to go over the major parts of your engine, and how you can detect an issue before it becomes a costly headache.

Before we get started, there is one steadfast rule that you should always follow: if you’re going to be poking around under the hood of your car, make sure that it hasn’t been driven yet. Engines can get scalding, so trying to fix something when the block is steaming is a bad idea. Check everything before you go driving, not during or after (unless you have to).

The engine is composed of a few main components: fluids, belts and tubes, the battery, and the engine block. When looking at this system, you want to start from the fluids and work your way down in that order. All of your liquid components come with some type of measuring device to know when they need refilling. Your oil tank has a dip stick, and most of the others, including brake fluid, coolant, and window cleaner, have markings on the side, known as “fill levels”. The five top liquids in your car are engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, coolant, and power steering. Checking these regularly can ensure the well-being of your vehicle.

After the fluids, there are several belts and tubes that you need to inspect. If any of them are cracked or visibly damaged, they need to be replaced. Sometimes you can tell if a belt is out of shape by a distinct burning rubber smell when you’re driving. If you smell this, then you definitely need to get it replaced ASAP before it snaps.

The remaining parts of your car that you can check yourself are the air filter and the battery. You can inspect the engine block if you want, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to leave the maintenance of that to the professionals. Your air filter controls the cleanliness of the air that comes into your car; so the dirtier it is, the more dust and debris you will be breathing in. They are pretty easily replaceable, but it’s up to you what constitutes a filter that’s “too dirty”.

Finally, the battery. Check for corrosion at the contact points. Excessive corrosion can mean that the battery will stop working soon, but don’t worry if you see some when inspecting it. White dust and corrosion are normal, and part of the wear and tear. Just make sure to keep an eye on it when it starts happening. Replacing the battery is something that can be done relatively easily. You can remove the old battery and give it to any auto body shop or auto parts store, as they will recycle it for you. Since the battery has toxic chemicals in it, it’s unwise to toss it in the trash with the rest of your refuse.

If you’re the type of person who is lost just by looking at an engine, hopefully this has helped you to understand that the machinations that make it run are not really that complicated, once you break it down. Checking under the hood regularly can help you to better understand your vehicle, and what to do should something happen. While you may not be able to fix everything by yourself, being able to manage some aspects of your car’s health will not only help you appreciate everything it does for you, but save you money as well.