Many times an unsatisfactory repair result can stem from a miscommunication between the driver and the mechanic. We have emphasized in the past that one should use their five senses to identify the symptom, and report it as such. For instance, you might smell something, or see something, or feel something, or hear something. I still recommend against tasting anything on the car, so you only really need four senses to report problems. Previous columns have covered various things you feel, and various things you hear, so let's talk about things you might see around your car that might mean a problem is brewing.
- Puddle under the car. Could be any of several fluids:
Coolant has an oily feel, green or red in color and washes off with plain water. Could be leak in cooling system, radiator, hoses, water pump, freeze plugs or some engine gaskets. Doesn't evaporate quickly. Needs professional diagnosis.
- Oil feels slippery; won't rinse off with water. Dark brown if engine, red if transmission, clear or red if power steering. Needs professional diagnosis.
- Brake fluid looks clear; rinses with water. Cause for alarm, brakes will fail soon.
Gasoline or diesel fuel is a clear fluid with a strong odor. Gas evaporates quickly, diesel slowly. Fire danger, and stalling is imminent.
- Windshield fluid is clear; does not feel oily, and evaporates quickly. Could be green, red, or blue. Either the reservoir or pump or squirter hoses are leaking, not a breakdown threat.
- Smoke. If from the engine area, stop the car in a safe spot. If it smells like smoke, there is a fire, get away from it. If it does not smell like smoke, it could be steam. No danger, just shut the engine off and call for help. If from a wheel, a brake has stuck on. Call for a tow.
- Exterior lights If one doesn't come on, it's usually a bulb. Some are easy to change, some are not. If turn signals start to blink rapidly, one bulb, either front or rear has burned out on that side. If neither side works, either the flasher unit or the switch has failed. Some fuses might be involved. Needs professional diagnosis.
- Interior lights Won't come on, or won't turn off. Controlled by switches in doors, consoles, and instrument panels, and various timers and computers. Bulbs seldom burn out. Needs professional diagnosis.
Notice you didn't need your sense of taste, or your sixth sense, (ESP), but you may need your seventh sense. Sense of humor. Never lose it.