A strange noise is emanating from your trusty steed. It is not always apparent. You know if you bring it to the shop it is going to result in a scenario like the trip to the doctor. “Where does it hurt?” “Now that you mention it Doc, nowhere. I feel fine.”
Unlike the trip to your doctor (thanks to MSP) a trip to your mechanic is going to cost you some money right out of your pocket unless your vehicle is still under warranty. The thought of paying money and not getting something fixed stops many people from making the appointment. “How about if I wait and see if the problem gets any worse?”
As a service professional I would strongly suggest waiting for some noise to get worse is the worst idea. Getting a professional involved at the first sign of a problem is the best approach. By all means in the time leading up to the appointment if your symptom does not seem dangerous in any way spend some time to determine how the vehicle must be driven to make the noise.
Does the noise occur only while braking, driving over bumps? Is the noise periodic with engine speed or road speed (that is when your tachometer is reading a certain value or when your speedometer is reading a certain speed). Does it happen in forward or reverse? Hot or cold?
There are seemingly an unlimited number of conditions. Do not go crazy if you cannot pinpoint the conditions before your appointment. The first appointment is critical even if a solution is not found. This is when your mechanic can inspect some basics. Firstly the safety issues must be eliminated. Nothing is going to fall off? The wheels are tight? The suspension and steering are not worn right out? The braking system is fully functional?
This preliminary inspection even if no problem or solution is found will give peace of mind if nothing else.
More than likely two big questions will be answered. “Can I safely keep driving the vehicle?” and “Am I going to do any serious damage by continuing to use the vehicle?” The answer to these two questions are very valuable and worth the cost of the appointment.
If the answer to the first is yes and the second no then it is time to become your mechanic’s apprentice detective. Start driving your vehicle like a real scientist. Turn off the radio and listen. Gather all your logic together and determine what it takes to make your vehicle make that bothersome noise. When you can get the noise to happen every time you get behind the wheel then it is time for the next appointment.
When you make your appointment demand that the technician who is going to work on your vehicle come on the test drive with you. If they are hesitant (they’ve witnessed your driving skills), offer donuts.
Actually witnessing the noise in most cases will hasten the solution. Remember though if having a passenger beside you makes the noise go away consider the ramifications of adding an extra 200 pounds to the front seat. Remember, don’t forget to use logic!
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org