Top five car troubles

The most persistent car problems can be dangerous, but are easy to fix.

Laura Burstein
Laura Burstein is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. She covers car news and events for a variety of companies including CNET, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz. Laura is a member of the Motor Press Guild and the BMW Car Club of America, and spends much of her spare time at high-performance driving schools, car control clinics, and motorsports events. She's also an avid Formula 1 fan. When she's not at the track, Laura's rubbing elbows with car cognoscenti at auto shows, auctions, design events, and various social gatherings. Disclosure.
Laura Burstein
2 min read

A recent AAA survey names some of the most common -- and potentially dangerous -- auto ailments. Fortunately, all of these maladies can be prevented with a little care and attention. Here are the top culprits:

5. Worn-out windshield wiper blades. Old, torn, or cracked wiper blades can greatly reduce visibility when driving in bad weather. Experts recommend changing blades at least once a year, or when streaking begins.

4. Low or dirty oil. Low oil levels can cause overheating and severe engine damage, since there is not enough fluid to lubricate all of the engine's moving parts. Dirty oil contains debris and deposits, which increases engine wear. Check oil levels at least once a month and perform regular oil changes according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Many newer cars come equipped with sensors that alert drivers when the oil needs topping off or changing, but it's not a bad idea to check manually, too, when possible.

3. Worn tires. Road tires should have a minimum of 3/32" tread depth. A good way to check: Insert a penny into the tread groove with Lincoln's head turned upside down. If all of Lincoln's head is visible, it's time to get new tires. If only one or two tires need replacing, make sure the replacement tires match the size, model, and tread pattern of the existing tires on the car.

2. Clogged air filter. Decreased airflow through the filter will rob a car of horsepower and decrease gas mileage. Check the car's owner's manual to find the appropriate replacement interval. On many cars, changing the air filter is a pretty simple, do-it-yourself job.

1. Incorrect tire pressure Proper tire pressure ensures road safety, preserves tire tread life, and helps to maximize fuel economy. Tires lose air naturally over time, but they can also lose large quantities of air suddenly when hitting a pothole or a curb. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends checking the air pressure on each tire at least once a month. To ensure accuracy, measure when the tires are cold.

Other problems mentioned in the survey include low transmission fluid and engine coolant levels, worn or corroded battery cables, clamps, and terminals, and low windshield washer fluid levels. Survey results are based on inspections conducted on 6,082 vehicles by 25 different AAA clubs nationwide.