The Inner Workings of Your Vehicle

Understanding Your Vehicle

As an auto repair mechanic will tell you, repairing and maintaining vehicles is hard work. Even educated and seasoned technicians run into problems they’ve never seen before that present a unique challenge they have to overcome.

This is why the vast majority of people bring their vehicles into auto repair shops, rather than trying to fix the problem themselves. Many people simply don’t know much about vehicle maintenance beyond filling up the gas, changing a tire, jumping the battery, or replacing the oil.

To give you a better understanding of your vehicle, we’ll be covering all its basic parts as well as common problems associated with them.


vehicle engine

The internal combustion engine is where it all begins. It’s the heart and soul of your vehicle. It’s what gives it life. It is comprised of:

  • Timing
  • Chain
  • Camshaft
  • Crankshaft
  • Spark plugs
  • Cylinder heads
  • Valves
  • Pistons

Common engine problems that lead to a slow, stalled, or dead engine include:

  • Missing or loose gas cap
  • Worn spark plugs
  • Clogged radiator
  • Coolant loss
  • Poor compression
  • Damaged or sub par oxygen sensors
  • Dirty oil (this could lead to engine overheating)
  • Bad air/fuel mixture



The battery provides the electrical stimulation your vehicle needs for its electrical components to run. Without a working battery, your vehicle won’t even start.

Low battery fluid, extremely cold temperatures, a swelling battery case, or a battery leak are common problems with car batteries. 

Signs of battery problems include:

  • Dim headlights
  • A clicking sound when the key is turned
  • The gas pedal needs to be pressed in order for it to start
  • Your “check engine” light comes on
  • A sulfuric, “rotten egg” smell around the battery (the smell of a leaking battery)


idaho falls auto repair

This helps keep the engine cool. It removes heat from the coolant before it gets pumped back through the engine.

Common problems include a failed thermostat, leaky radiator hose, radiator leaks, failed water pump, obstructions in the cooling system, or a failed radiator fan. Common signs of radiator problems are:

  • Overheating vehicle
  • Coolant leaks
  • Sludge building up in the radiator
  • Low coolant levels



A structure of the electrical system, the alternator is responsible for charging the battery and powering the electrical system as you run your vehicle.

Common problems include a loose or missing fan belt, broken wiring, a blown fuse, blown rectifier diodes, poor battery condition, failed regulator or rotor, loose pulley, worn alternator bearing, relay problems, or a loose wiring plug. Common signs are:

  • Low charge
  • No charge
  • Overcharging
  • Noisiness
  • No warning light
  • Dim warning light
  • Continuous warning light

Front & Rear Axle

idaho falls auto repair

These are part of the suspension system where the wheel hubs are attached. They are the direct link transferring power from the engine to the wheels and, as such, can wear out over time.

Signs of front and rear axle problems include:

  • Clicking noises when you turn or accelerate
  • Grease on the edge of your tires
  • Shakiness and vibration while driving


brake pads

Arguably the most important part of your vehicle, the brakes are located on all four wheels. They feature calipers and brake pads.

Most brake problems have to do with normal wear-and-tear over time. Don’t ignore these common signs of brake damage:

  • Brake light is on
  • Squeaking, squealing, or grinding noises when applying the brakes
  • Vibrations and wobbling when applying the brakes
  • Fluid leaks from the master cylinder
  • A soft or spongy brake pedal
  • Your car pulls to one side when you brake
  • A burning smell
  • Your car bounces up and down when you suddenly apply the brakes

Front & Rear Suspension

front and rear suspension

These allow for better driving and maneuverability, keeping your vehicle stable on the road. Parts include:

  • Shocks/struts
  • Tie rod ends
  • Ball joints
  • Idler/pitman arms
  • Rack and pinion

Problems occur when these parts start to degrade and wear out. Symptoms include:

  • Vehicle pulling to one side while you drive
  • Driving seems excessively bumpy
  • The vehicle is sitting low in one corner
  • Your vehicle nose dives or leans back with too much momentum
  • Steering difficulties


vehicle transmission

This is a gearbox comprised of gears and gear trains. The torque of the engine changes the gears that power your vehicle. Transmission problems often include low transmission fluid levels (often due to leaks), torque converter problems, solenoid problems (the solenoid controls how fluid flows through the transmission), and clutch problems.

Symptoms include:

  • Shaking or grinding sensation
  • Car fails to engage or respond when in gear
  • Noises such as humming, whining, or clunking (your vehicle may also be noisy when in neutral)
  • A burning smell
  • Your vehicle slips out of gear
  • Low or leaking transmission fluid
  • The “check engine” light is on

Catalytic Converter

catalytic converter

This converts harmful gasses and poisons that would otherwise be emitted from your vehicle into safer emissions.

Sometimes the catalytic converter fails to sense oxygen, fails to effectively trap carbon emissions, or becomes clogged.

Signs include:

  • A knocking sound that increases when you rev the engine
  • Excessive smoke
  • Oil burns too quickly
  • Compression loss
  • Excessive fuel consumption
  • Sludgy oil


auto repair mechanic checking possible issues

This utilizes baffles or other materials to help reduce the sound of the exhaust system. Problems usually result from the muffler being exposed to salt and sudden, consistent smacks with ground obstacles like rocks, speed breakers, etc.

Signs of damaged muffler include:

  • Backfire from the engine
  • Loud noises from the exhausts
  • Condensation inside the exhaust system
  • Overuse of fuel
  • Bad odors

Fuel Tank

fuel tank

The fuel tank holds the gasoline that powers your vehicle. It is usually located before the rear axle.

One of the most common problems with vehicle fuel tanks is moisture build up. Atmospheric moisture can condense in your gas tank after your vehicle has been sitting for long periods of time. When combined with low-quality fuel, it can result in the following symptoms:

  • Engine ping
  • Low fuel economy
  • High nitric oxide emissions
  • Rough idle
  • Stalling
  • Hard-start issues
  • The “check engine” light coming on

Because gasoline is lighter than water, the water pools in the bottom of the tank. Fuel pumps usually pick up fuel from the bottom of the tank, so it makes sense why many of these problems occur.

Choose C&S Auto Repair for Any of These Problems

We’re the Idaho Falls auto repair shop with the technicians you can rely on. With plenty of combined education, training, and experience, you can leave your vehicle with us knowing we know how to handle whatever problem it may be having.

We will communicate with you, explaining what the problem is and what we can do to fix it. Afterward, we’ll send you off better informed on how you can best avoid the problem from occurring again in the future.


We Service All Makes and Models

We Specialize in Repair on 1996 and Newer Domestic and Asian Vehicles
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