When to Take Your Car to a Mechanic

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Some good reasons to take your car to a mechanic include routine maintenance, if your dashboard lights come on, if you hear an unusual sound or see smoke from under your hood, and if you have issues steering.
It’s no secret that cars require regular maintenance—but unless you’re very handy with cars, you’ll probably need to take your car into the shop for some other reasons, too. Knowing what you can handle and what needs a professional is key to keeping your car running smoothly.
Thankfully, the car insurance comparison and broker app Jerry is here to answer the common question, when should you take your car to a mechanic? We’re breaking it all down, from oil changes to smoky engines. 

When should you take your car to a mechanic?

For routine car maintenance

Routine maintenance is a bit like going to a doctor for an annual physical: it helps prevent problems from becoming worse. 
Your car manual will tell you when certain parts—such as filters and plugs—should be replaced. You may also have a dashboard light that lets you know when it’s time to bring your car into the shop for an oil change.
Common maintenanceWhen to schedule it
Oil change with filterNon-synthetic oil every 3,000 miles, synthetic oil 5,000+ miles
Tire rotationAbout every 5,000 miles, often with your oil change
Air filterReplace between 15,000 and 30,000 miles (once a year) unless you routinely drive in areas where dirt/dust may impact the filter
Fuel filterReplace every 30,000 miles, but check your car’s manual
Brake fluidReplace every20,000 to 40,000 miles
BrakesCheck annually and service/replace as needed
Transmission fluidCheck annually and change as needed

If your check engine light comes on

Your check engine light may come on for a variety of reasons, though not all of them are emergencies. It’s important to have a mechanic diagnose the problem.
Some common possibilities include:
  • Loose gas cap
  • Ignition coils or sparks plugs need to be replaced
  • Oxygen sensors need to be replaced
  • Catalytic converter problems
  • Evaporative emissions purge control valve needs to be replaced
Pro Tip Your car won’t be able to pass an inspection with the check engine light on, so it’s best to address the problem sooner rather than later.

If your oil pressure light comes on

The oil pressure light comes on when the oil level in your car is very low. If you continue to drive on low engine oil, you can damage your engine—so be sure to schedule an oil change as soon as you can.

If your battery light comes on and/or your car shuts off

A glowing battery light can mean a lot of things. The bottom line is that your car is not receiving the right amount of voltage to run. 
While you may be able to jumpstart your car to drive home, you’ll likely experience the same problem again. This is something that needs to be addressed as soon as you can.

If you hear an unusual noise

Brake noise
A grinding noise when you brake usually indicates that your brake pads, rotors, and/or calipers might need replacing. Since your brakes are essential, this requires an urgent visit to the mechanic
Wheel noise 
Noise coming from the wheel can be harmless or very serious—so it’s not something to take lightly. Sometimes, it could mean that a stone has gotten into your caliper or router. If that’s the case, it will pop out when you hit the brakes.
Other times, it could mean that a wheel bearing needs to be replaced. Since this could cause your wheel to fall off, it’s an issue that should be immediately addressed by a mechanic.
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If you notice smoke from under your hood

Although some experts make distinctions between the color of the smoke or steam coming from your engine compartments, any smoke indicates a potentially serious problem. 
  • White smoke is commonly associated with an overheating car—pull over to the side of the road, lift the hood if safe, and wait to see if the car cools down
  • Blue smoke often indicates that your car is burning oil—this can wreck your engine and should be diagnosed and addressed by a mechanic

If you notice problems with steering

If your steering wheel pulls to one side or feels loose (or too tight), bring your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. Being unable to steer properly means that you are not really in control of your car—and you present a danger to yourself and others.

If your airbag light goes on

Airbags have saved millions of lives since they first became standard features. If your airbag light comes on, it may mean that the airbags will not deploy in an accident. Be sure to take your car to a mechanic to diagnose and fix the problem.

When you can opt for mechanic-free maintenance

Tire pressure adjustment

If your tire pressure light goes on, one or more tires may need air (sometimes it indicates you have too much air). Learn to use a tire pressure gauge and put in air when needed.

Windshield wiper fluid

Refilling your window wiper fluid is usually straightforward. Locate the wiper fluid cap and pour to the fill line.

Oil changes 

Depending upon the make of your car, changing your oil may be fairly easy. You will also want to change your oil filter, and you’ll need to drop off the used oil at an approved recycling center—usually wherever car oil is sold. 

Replacing light bulbs

Most people find it easy to replace their own headlight bulbs. You can purchase the bulbs at most automotive stores (check your manual to confirm which type you need) and a simple search on YouTube should get you a how-to video.

Replacing wipers

Wiper blades are typically easy to replace—make sure that you choose the right blades for your car’s make and model.

How to save money on your car insurance

While you don’t want to skimp on car maintenance, there’s an easy way to save money on car insurance: Jerry
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