Let's be honest. Not all of us are capable of figuring out what all of those little angry red lights are on our dashboard without the help of an owner's manual or the ever-so-handy Google search bar – let alone removing, rebuilding and/or replacing an engine. I can easily admit that I am one of those individuals that suddenly sees a dash light pop up and immediately think it's time to start car shopping before I catch myself. Sound familiar?
I would easily admit that I am one of those individuals who suddenly sees a dash light pop up and immediately have already picked out the color of the interior of my new car before I catch myself. Sound familiar? Panic no longer. Here are three ideas on how to find some car help before you find the new car lot.
Check Engine Lights
Yes, those lights. The terrifying little lights on your dashboard that seem to show up at the worst possible time. The lights vary in meaning: they could indicate anything from your fuel cap to the air pressure in your tires to a multiple cylinder misfire to a need for a complete tune-up or worse.
The easiest way to find out why that particular light has turned on is to take it to an auto parts store. Most have a code reader inside that can be used free of charge. The best part is that after they scan your vehicle, you can ask for a printout of those codes to further investigate what caused it to turn on. The standard scanner will simply tell you varying reasons your vehicle could trigger that code, at which point you need to weed through the possibilities to find the actual cause.
Ask the employees at the parts store what they would suggest in order to get some quick and easy feedback, but also keep in mind that those codes can also be further investigated with just a simple Google search. Parts store employees do enough code scans to know what certain codes are most commonly triggered by, or should at least be able to provide a good starting point to solving the problem. Use that free resource to your advantage!
Vehicle Starting Issues
Does your car struggle to get started in the mornings or perhaps randomly die while you are driving it? These problems are not as uncommon as you may think. While they can occur for several different reasons, they don't mean it's time to call up the junkyard just yet! Instead, it's time to go back to the auto parts store. If you can get your vehicle to the parts store, great! If not, it will be a little trickier to figure out what is causing the issues, but still very possible.
After getting the vehicle to the store, ask the employees for a starter, alternator and battery test. With the vehicle there in the parking lot, they can test all three right in your vehicle. Or, if you can't get the vehicle to the store, you can remove each part and bring it in to the store to be tested. Nine times out of ten, one of these three is causing the starting issues. The employee will quickly be able to help you figure out which part is not working.
Should your vehicle need some extra love that goes beyond a simple gas cap or quick battery swap out, remember that employees at parts stores, while knowledgeable, are not certified mechanics; they can help to a point before legality issues come into play, or the issues simply go beyond the knowledge of said employee. But have no fear, they are still a great resource at figuring out where you should take your vehicle with more complicated issues.
Considering most parts stores have what is called a "commercial" side to their business, they work with local mechanics and shops if they are a member of their commercial department. Combining that knowledge with the feedback given to the employees regularly by other customers about the local mechanics, you can ask the employees who they might recommend for the job based on experience, quality of work and even hourly rates.
Cars are tricky, and so are some mechanics. So instead of just taking the car to a shop and being told you need an entire new front end with a new back end on the side, or just giving up on the car entirely, try out the auto parts stores and their friendly employees. They are a great and under-appreciated resource that could save you time, energy and whole a lot of money.