Spannerhead Dot

6 Annoying Yet Harmless Car Behaviors

July 28, 2011 by Matt


Inspired by a recent bout of frustration with my car prominently exhibiting Behavior Number 4 below, here are some other potentially irritating things your car does that you don’t need to worry about:

  1. A/C water. Ever come back to your car on a hot summer day after a quick run into the store and spy a puddle of some kind of liquid under the passenger side? Could your car be hemorrhaging some kind of precious bodily fluid? Is it terminal, doc? Relax—it’s just water vapor condensing on the cold A/C evaporator behind the dashboard, the same way sweat droplets form on a cold glass of Coke on a hot day. The condensation builds up and drains through built-in channels onto the ground. Major traffic intersections around busy shopping centers, where cars idle for a few minutes at a time waiting for the lights, often look like scenes of recent rain, what with all the puddles left behind as cars drive away.
  2. Fan whir. Speaking of idling at intersections on hot days, ever drive away and hear a whooshing noise from under the hood, like someone bolted a box fan to your front bumper? The noise makes you feel like you’re driving a Mack Truck, doesn’t it? Breaker one-niner? Again, assuming your engine temperature needle is still holding steady, it’s nothing to worry about. The heat of the idling engine is being transferred to the fan clutch, coupling it more directly to the engine—as it’s designed to do—pulling more air through the radiator to help cool the engine. And for those of us without engine-driven fans (most of the FWD set), hearing the electrical engine or auxiliary fan motor kicking in behind the grille should be a welcome, if still occasionally annoying, sound.
  3. Squeaks and rattles. This one we’re all familiar with—at least those of us who own mid-range cars older than, say, 5 years. They’re often the littlest things, but they can drive us bonkers, like the incessant drip of Chinese water torture. I should make a distinction between interior squeaks and rattles and those coming from underneath the car. The former are benign; the latter should definitely be investigated. But in the case of interior trim rattles, if I can’t screw or tape down the offending panel or clip immediately, I can at least reassure myself that it’s not harming the car in the long run.
  4. Lifter tick. Hear an annoying *tick tick tick* from your engine when it’s warm? Chances are it’s nothing more than lifter tick, something my car is currently suffering from. Everything in the engine is being properly lubricated, but a passageway in an oil gallery to a lifter in the cylinder head is a little clogged, with the result that the camshaft lobe slaps the lifter surface instead of smoothly pushing it as it rotates around, creating the audible ticking sound. There are inexpensive partial fixes to mitigate the noise, but no, it’s not the sound of a Goldfinger-style dirty bomb under the hood.
  5. Squat. I’ve owned a rash of cars that do this, from my current BMW to my old Supra Turbo and Audi 4000 “squattro.” With a full tank of fuel (and even without), in profile, the car appears to be sitting on its haunches, with the fender-lip-to-tire gap noticeably greater in the front than in the back. Fortunately, other than looking like you’re carrying a few bags of cement or a dead body—possibly both—in the trunk, this is another aggravating yet benign “feature” of many cars.
  6. Rusty brake discs. Your car is parked outside. There was a thunderstorm last night. Come out to it in the morning, and what’s this? Brake discs dalmatian-ed with rust? What gives? Oxidation; that’s what. The metal on the brake disc isn’t rust-proofed; it can’t be, since the most minute layer of material is scraped away by the brake pads every time you squeeze the pedal, and any coating would be swiftly stripped from the disc. Put a big ring of raw metal in contact with moisture-laden air and presto: Rust spots on the brake disc. Since I wouldn’t be including it in this list if the phenomenon were harmful, you know it isn’t. Bonus activity: Check your brake discs again after the first couple of stops of the day; chances are the brake pads have scoured the discs, rendering them completely clean and shiny again.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

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