Any car with a few miles on its engine will likely suffer from problems sooner or later. Many automotive problems are relatively minor and may not require immediate attention. While you'll still need to fix these issues eventually, you're unlikely to suffer much more than reduced performance or fuel economy in the meantime.
However, some problems are much more serious, and ignoring them for even a short period can lead to disastrously expensive repair bills. Check out these four common automotive issues and see if you know which ones require you to drop everything and schedule an appointment with your local auto shop.
1. Oil Leaks
Oil leaks are a frustratingly common issue on many cars. Your car requires the correct oil level to maintain adequate lubrication and oil pressure, but small variations are typically not harmful. As a result, small and slow leaks are rarely emergencies as long as you can carefully monitor your oil levels.
What You Should Do: Oil leaks can get worse over time, and allowing your oil to fall too low can destroy your engine in no time flat. A slow oil leak doesn't require immediate attention, but it's not a problem you should put off addressing for too long.
2. Low Oil Pressure
While losing a small amount of oil won't cause much harm, losing enough to affect your oil pressure can be catastrophic. Most cars have separate warning lights for oil level and pressure, and it's important to know the difference. A low oil pressure warning (typically a red oil light) is an emergency you cannot ignore.
What You Should Do: If you see a low oil pressure warning light, you must stop driving immediately. Pull over and shut off your car as quickly as possible, leave it off, and wait for a tow. Driving with low oil pressure for even a minute or two may destroy your engine, so it's essential to immediately turn your car off and seek professional help.
As with oil pressure, overheating is a critical emergency that can destroy your engine quickly. Overheating can lead to warped heads, destroyed heat gaskets, and other wildly expensive failures. In general, any amount of time your engine spends above its normal operating temperature is too long.
What You Should Do: Overheating is just as severe as low oil pressure. If your temperature gauge spikes, get your car off the road and turn it off as soon as possible. While you may be able to let it cool and limp it a few more miles, the safest option is to let a tow truck bring you to a trusted auto shop.
4. Check Engine Lights
Check engine lights (CELs) can indicate a wide range of problems, many of which are not severe. A CEL is not an emergency, but monitoring for other symptoms, such as overheating, unusual sounds, or other warning lights, is important.
What You Should Do: Stop driving if you notice any other symptoms associated with the check engine light. Have a trusted mechanic read the error codes as soon as possible. While a CEL error code won't always tell you the exact problem, it can give you the information you need to make an informed decision about your next steps. Visit an auto service shop to learn more.