Regular maintenance is vital to keeping your car, truck, or SUV running smoothly. However, car issues are bound to occur, and your vehicle will display certain warning signs. To prevent breakdowns and costly repairs, we’ve compiled a list of the 12 most common car problems you might encounter.

Warning Lights

The most common car issue for US drivers is a warning or check engine light. These lights turn on when the vehicle’s ECU (engine control unit) detects an error code caused by a sensor. Since there are over 200 possible warning codes, a professional service center may inspect the warning light to determine the source and the necessary repairs.

Engine Sputtering

The engine functions optimally when air and fuel combine and burn correctly in the combustion chamber. This process involves multiple fuel and ignition system components that must work together. Engine sputtering or misfiring is a common issue that occurs when these components wear out or become dirty. Replacing fuel and ignition system components according to your manufacturer’s recommendations can help prevent these issues.

Poor Fuel Economy

An efficiently running engine burns fuel at a rate that improves fuel economy. However, dirty or worn-out parts of the fuel system, like mass airflow sensors, air filters, and O2 sensors, can result in the engine using more gas than expected. Regular servicing, such as filter replacements, can solve this problem.

Dead Battery

On average, batteries in your car last around three years or 50,000 miles. If your battery dies, it is often caused by a reduction in amps or electrical currents, which naturally decreases as a battery ages and the ability to maintain a charge begins to be limited. However, components of the charging system can also exacerbate this, like a damaged alternator or battery temperature sensor that needs replacing. So even if it’s not showing damage, replacing your car battery every three years or 50,000 miles is best.

Flat Tires

While tire punctures and objects that cause damage are the most common reasons for flat tires, simple wear, and tear can also be a contributing factor. In addition, keeping your tires properly rotated, as your vehicle manufacturer recommends, can help extend their lifespan.

Brakes Squeaking or Grinding

Brakes are designed to wear out over time, so a professional mechanic should inspect minor issues like squealing or a soft brake pedal as soon as possible. Once brakes start grinding, they need to be replaced.

Alternator Failure

The alternator powers all electrical systems once the car starts and supplies a charge to the battery to keep it in peak condition. When an alternator breaks, it can cause the battery to wear out prematurely and cause other starting issues.

Broken Starter Motor

The starter motor cranks your engine over and begins the starting process. When this component fails, it’s usually due to damage to the electrical solenoid, the starter motor breaking, or another electrical fault.

Steering Wheel Shaking

If the steering wheel shakes while driving, it could be caused by multiple possibilities. A common cause is a damaged suspension or wheel bearings if it occurs right after starting your car and beginning to drive. However, it’s typically a tire/wheel balance issue if it happens at higher speeds.

Failed Emissions Test

Most US states require an emissions test to register your car. It would likely be an automatic fail if your check engine light is on. Most emissions centers will tell you why the vehicle failed the test, so you can contact a mechanic to complete the necessary repairs.


Although it may seem like an issue at the top of the list, overheating rarely occurs. This is because most modern cars are equipped with complex cooling systems that include sensors to monitor various components such as coolant temperature and flow. In addition, regular radiator flush services and timely water pump replacement can help prevent overheating issues.

Automatic Transmission Slipping

With proper maintenance, an automatic transmission can last over 200,000 miles trouble-free. However, it’s important to note that the modern automatic transmission is a hydraulic system with multiple seals, gaskets, and lines that can become damaged, clogged with debris, or leak. When this happens, the transmission may start to slip or shift poorly. Follow your vehicle’s recommended transmission service schedule to prevent this common problem.

All cars require maintenance to remain operational, and issues can still occur even with regular servicing, like oil changes and tire rotations. In addition, certain driving styles and car models may make your vehicle more susceptible to certain problems than others.  However, regardless of your choice of vehicle, it’s essential to watch for the common car problems listed above.