Weird Car Problems: The Explained and Unexplained

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Driving on a dark, foggy road past a graveyard in the middle of nowhere, you may feel a bit uneasy at your creepy surroundings. But you should never feel unease about your vehicle’s maintenance and reliability. Wise drivers know the horrors can be defeated with just a little preventative maintenance. Join us as we seek out solutions to weird and unexplained car problems, in honor of Halloween.

Horrifying screaming

All is calm and silent, until the turn of the ignition key that sounds like a horde of banshees released from under your hood. While the screech is alarming, no real damage is occurring. Serpentine belts stretch as they wear, causing improper tension on the various pulleys. Rather than gripping the belt, the pulley will lose traction and slip, causing that screaming sound you hear. It can mysteriously fade as the engine warms up, but with replacements running around $30, it might be nice to silence the screams permanently.

Mysterious smoke

Snaking out from under the hood like some mythical monster, smoke is always cause for alarm. Screaming and running works in the movies but is less effective in this case. When safely parked, pop the hood and have a look. Small amounts of smoke are usually a result of something fluid, like oil or coolant, coming into contact with something hot—like an exhaust manifold—and burning off. It can be a simple and easy fix if taken care of right away. On the other hand, if your car has Gremlins (or is a Gremlin), it happens for no reason at all.

Revolting smells

Sulfur is a natural compound found in crude oil. After processing, and despite EPA reductions, it is still found in gasoline. The emissions system normally takes care of cleaning it up, but a failing sensor can throw off the sensitive mix, leaving unburned sulfur exiting the tailpipe. Sensors are fairly cheap and easy to fix, but not getting to them in time will make the smell worse and cause the catalytic converter to fail—and that has a horrifying price.

Bumps in the night

Thumps and clunks from unseen forces are pounding on your car. Thankfully, it’s not poltergeists but the suspension. Worn-out shocks and struts are the most common cause of those mysterious bumps. Another clue is that the ride and handling of the vehicle will be negatively affected, resulting in a sloppier and bouncier ride than normal. This haunting will get worse with increased miles, so get the old parts an exorcism now.

Monstrous groans

Every time you turn the steering wheel, it’s like Frankenstein is groaning from under the front of your car. The power-steering system is the likely culprit and is easily diagnosed. Often, there is air in the system, causing cavitation and foaming the fluid. Just adding power-steering fluid can sometimes banish the groans, although a leak can cause the low fluid level. If the fluid level is good, check if the idler arm bushing needs grease, before looking to a new power-steering pump.

Sudden mortality

You hope your vehicle has a long and trouble-free life on the road, but some vehicles are destined for a shorter existence. Usually this is easily explained, perhaps when engine or transmission replacement costs outweigh the value of the vehicle. Other times, they seem to die for absolutely no reason at all, killed by an unseen mysterious force that targets vehicle electronics. It’s both sad and spooky.

Have you ever defeated the mysteries and gremlins, and won back a reliable ride? Let us know how you did it in the comments.


  1. I have a 2001 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD. I have a fuse box on the floor by the pedals that clicks and my dome light clicks on and off as the clicking goes on. I touched the fuses that I believe that were clicking and they were warm I remove them the clicking stops. Soon as I put the fuse back in they start clicking again and the lights go on and off could you please tell me what is causing this be on the fuse box? The fuses are number 8587 I believe

    • I can’t remember if it’s a positive or negative circuit but it sounds like the circuit is either shorting to ground or power somewhere it could be the wiring, the door ajar switch or even the rest at that’s part of the headlight switch.

  2. My 99 Subaru legacy 2.5 got new tires, alignment, struts, bearings and ball joints all checked last fall. Now it started making thumping noise on turns both ways so I put two axle joints on it last two days. Brake pads were half so I replace the rear ones and checked fluid flow. Also replaced a broken sway bar link on driver side. It still is thumping on curves mostly to the right. One axle on the driver side was a rebuilt one from Advanced Auto, the other a new one with a burnt black spot on the cup housing when we bought it and installed it. Tomorrow we are taking the rebuilt one back and replacing with another new one instead to see if this cures the thumping. After that I don’t know what to do. The tires are good ones.

    • Check the other 3 stabilizer links for wear. Also the stabilizer to frame bushings, and especially your control arm bushings for excessive wear, you didn’t say if the strut mounts were replaced at the same time as the struts those can make a clunking noise when bad also.

  3. Got a recall letter from GM for my 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix, so I took it down to have the dealer take care of the under hood fire recall. When I got it back, it died – sort of – the next day. At low RPMs, the tach jumped around and then the engine died. I could let it sit for a couple minutes, crank it up and go for a bit, then go through the whole thing all over again. I called the dealer, but as to be expected, they would not take responsibility for it. I researched like mad and found it could be one or more of the following to be the culprit: crank position sensor, MAF sensor, MAP sensor, fuel filter, vacuum hose, or catalytic converter.

    I replaced the MAF and MAP and that didn’t fix it. Next, in an effort to prep for replacing the crank position sensor, I discovered a vacuum hose had been ripped off a nipple on the intake manifold and the rubber boot was ruined. (Dealer couldn’t have done that now, right?) I stuck it back on the nipple, cranked it up, and sure enough, my black beauty was happy as a clam — only when I looked back under the hood, the serpentine belt was sliding off the belt tensioner. It turns out, the belt tensioner was broken too. I could see a ton of scratches around the belt tensioner pully, and the nut in the tensioner pully just spun like silly when trying to relieve tension on the belt.

    So my work is cut out for me tomorrow! Gonna be fun wrenchin’ on the GTP!

  4. I have a Toyota Tacoma 2008 V-6 engine and the front driver side tire was replaced and afterwards the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) light came on after few miles of driving. I checked the tire pressures on all tires including the spare and set pressure to 29 psi. Tried resetting the TPMS light according to the car owners manual and the TPMS light will keep on blinking (manual states that with ignition key turned ON – wait until light blinks 3 times, leave it in On position, then turn off ignition and this should reset the TPMS light. However, the light stayed on and will not reset. I even changed the tire pressure to 36 psi and did the reset process and still light is on. Even rotated the tires and still lights remained on. Am I missing anything? Help troubleshooting to extinguish TPMS light is needed. Thanks.

    • Myron Thorner says:

      Was the sensor replaced when the tire was installed? If not, perhaps it might have been damaged or failed on its own. I assume you had the tire done at a store. Hopefully you’ve gone back to them with a “complaint”.

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