Intermittent Car Problems and How to Handle Them

October 29, 2008

As an automotive technician, I can tell you the most difficult vehicle problems to solve are intermittent problems--the kind of problems that only happen some of the time. These problems can be even more frustrating for a customer who has to return to a repair shop several times to have the problem resolved.

The best way to avoid this auto repair scenario is for both parties to be prepared.  Service advisers need to ask the right questions of car owners, so that the auto technician has a good chance of success.  Car owners have to come armed with the answers to these questions and any additional information that will help assist in the correction of the problem; however, many owners aren't confident in their ability to find the right answers and describe them the right way.

Here are some tips that can help with getting the information you need to have a shop successfully address intermittent problems.

Check with RepairPal to find common problems provided by our technicians that work on your specific vehicle. You can also find recalls and technical service bulletins supplied by the manufacturer of your vehicle!

- Understanding the language and terminology used in the automotive industry when speaking about vehicle problems is an important first step. You are a vital part of the repair process, so the information you provide us will greatly increase the chances of a successful repair on your vehicle. Read here for more info!

Reproducing Symptoms
- The ideal scenario is when you have an ability to consistently recreate the symptoms related to the problem. If you are able to reproduce the symptoms, make sure that you demonstrate them to the service adviser and/or the technician that will be working on your vehicle. Ideally, they will go for a test drive if necessary to verify the symptoms.

Creating a condition list
- For those times when re-creating the symptoms is too difficult, you can still provide important information that will help the technician address the problem. Providing a detailed condition list is what we suggest.

Here are some key conditions to include in your list when the problem occurs:

  • warning lights or messages
  • engine temperature and how long the engine has been running
  • engine speed (RPM)
  • Vehicle speed (including accelerating/decelerating)
  • Abnormal noises or vibrations
  • Outside road/weather/temperature conditions

Service History
Finally, having your complete service history available can give clues into solving the problem. Just as a doctor can benefit from viewing your health history, so to can a technician from viewing your vehicle "health" history. For easy access, store your vehicle service history records with RepairPal by creating a "My Car" account!

We here at RepairPal hope you won't need this information, but be assured that when you do, we are here to assist you in your automotive service needs!

About the Author

Bret Bodas is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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