Can You Tell Us How to Fix This Engine?


By: Robin Tyler

7 Min Quiz

Image: M_a_y_a/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Who doesn't love their car? We spend so much time in them that we do get attached to them. They even seem to have a little personality of their own, filled with little quirks — especially older models that have spent a few decades cruising along coastlines, or through mountain passes.

But we have all been there ... a clunk, whizz, and vrrrrr come from the engine, and your beautiful car grinds to a halt! What could be wrong? Can you fix it? And more importantly, how much will it cost? Cars are made up of many, many thousands of parts that work in perfect harmony to get us from point A to point B. And when things go wrong, we worry.

Luckily, we are far better off now than in the past. Cars are just infinitely more reliable now than they were 60 years ago. They also have so many more onboard systems that help detect problems before they become something more serious.

That said, do you think you have what it takes to troubleshoot a range of common car problems? In this quiz, we will give you a scenario or question and test your knowledge of what the likely cause of the problem is or what needs to be fixed to get your car going again.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Let's hope you know your magneto from your oil pump!

Good luck!

When starting your car at night, you notice that the interior lights dim. What car part could be faulty?

If there is a problem in the starter motor, it can often drain battery power during the startup process. That would cause the interior lights to dim. Replace it before it becomes something more serious!


What is mechanic lingo for the serious problem of a broken connector between the piston and the crankshaft?

While pistons sit tightly in their own cylinder, they are still connected to the crankshaft. This connection is achieved through the connecting rod and if one of these breaks, it can cause some problems. Mechanics call it "throwing a rod."


In a diesel-powered car, an orange dashboard warning light that looks like a rectangle with dots means which of the following should be checked?

Today, cars that run on diesel are just as efficient at their gas counterparts. Of course, a diesel engine can have its own set of unique problems. If this light flashes, it is best to get the diesel filter checked out. You certainly don't want dirty fuel entering the engine.


If you notice black, sooty smoke coming from the exhaust, what could be the problem?

If you notice black smoke coming from your vehicle's exhaust, this indicates your engine is burning too much oil. A black sooty tailpipe will confirm that as well. It's best to consult with a professional to find the cause of the problem.


A little bit of blue smoke escaping the hood of your car while it is running indicates ______.

An engine that is running too rich is getting too much gasoline. During the combustion process, not all the fuel is being burned. That will lead to some blue smoke under the hood. Not only are you wasting money on excess gas that is not being used, but your car is not running at optimal performance.


You notice a yellow glowing light on your dashboard. It is in the shape of a car engine. What do you do?

The engine warning light can indicate a small problem or it could indicate a big problem. It's better to get it checked out as soon as possible. What you do not want to do is to drive your car with that light burning. It came on for a reason, and that means you should get it checked out.


Your car won't start. You have checked the battery and starter motor and they are working. What else could it be?

A car needs fuel to start; it's part of the ignition process. If a fuel pump has failed, it will not be pushing fuel into the ignition system and the car won't start.


Your car is not starting. In fact, the engine won't even turn over. You have checked that the lights work, so it can't be the battery. What is the other likely cause?

The main cause of the engine not turning over is a problem with your starter motor. A gentle tap can sometimes help it to turn over again, but if you are unsure, call someone who is knowledgeable to have a look.


You notice a rattling sound coming from underneath your car when you are driving. What could be causing it?

Part of the cleaning system on the catalytic converter is a honeycomb cluster. This often breaks free from the converter's housing and will rattle. Replace the converter to fix this problem.


You notice white smoke coming from under your hood and out of the exhaust, as well as a loss in performance. What could be the problem?

A severe cracked in the cylinder head gasket can produce plenty of white smoke from your car's engine and exhaust. This should be addressed immediately, so take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible before it causes more damage.


You have noticed a terrible smell in your car lately. It's almost like rotten eggs. What could you check first to pinpoint the problem?

A smell of rotten eggs is generally a sign that your catalytic converter is failing. It cannot convert the exhaust gases into sulfur dioxide. This should be checked right away since, in all likelihood, your car is not adhering to emissions standards.


Your car has an idling problem and is not smooth at all. You have checked the plugs and high tension leads and they are perfect. What do you check next?

If the fuel injector is clogged, it could be causing the uneven idling problem. Why? Well, a clogged fuel injector means that fuel is not getting into the engine effectively, and that is causing it to run poorly.


A dashboard light with a picture of a thermometer indicates you should check what in your vehicle?

Failure to investigate why the temperature light on your dashboard has started flashing could cause your engine to overheat, which can harm it. As soon as you see this light, pull over at your nearest gas station and ensure the radiator is filled to its proper level. You should also check to make sure that it doesn't have a leak.


Which of these below describes a seized engine?

The most common reason for an engine to seize is simply a lack of care and maintenance. You need to check the oil in your vehicle often to make sure there is enough to keep the engine lubricated. Failure to do so will see the engine seize and your car won't start. It will also cost plenty of money to fix, so it's best to keep up with regular maintenance checks.


It was fine yesterday but all of a sudden, your car won't start. The engine won't even turn over. In fact, it is totally dead. What should you check first?

An engine that is totally dead and won't turn over could have a number of causes. The first thing to check, however, is that the terminals are connected to the battery. You won't believe how easily these can come off. If they are fine, you should then check to see if the battery is still good, and go from there.


Despite turning your old '65 Corvette engine off, it keeps on running for a bit. What must you fix to stop that?

Build up of carbon in the ingition chamber can cause a car to run, even though it has been switched off and the key removed. No, it's not the previous owner's ghost. It's a relatively easy fix, especially on old cars.


A flashing red light on your dashboard which shows a can with a handle and a small droplet indicates you should check which of these?

Failure to check the oil level in your engine when you see this light could be catastrophic. Oil is the engine's lubricant. Without it, metal will grind on metal, and your engine could seize up.


Your check engine light stays on, but there's nothing wrong with the engine. What else could be the problem?

In many modern cars, a loose gas cap will not only cause you to lose gas through evaporation, but it often can cause the check engine light to flash on your dashboard. If this happens, check that the gas cap is fitted correctly.


An overheating car could be a result of failure in one of two cooling systems in the car. What should you check?

In a water-cooled engine, two of the most important parts in regulating the temperature within the engine are the radiator and the water pump. The radiator stores the water and coolant to be used when needed, and the water pump moves it from this storage area into the engine where it helps cool the power unit down.


What is another important part of a car's cooling system that helps regulate when coolant is fed to a overheating engine?

It's a relatively small piece of your cars cooling system, but don't underestimate the thermostat. It controls when coolant is released from the radiator into the engine to cool it down. If this is faulty, an engine can overheat very quickly.


You have tried starting your car but have had no luck doing so. You notice the distinct smell of gasoline as it tries to turn over. What is the problem?

A flooded engine simply will not start. This is because the gas/air mixture is too rich. There is too much gasoline for combustion to take place. Wait 20 minutes and try again, but do not press the accelerator when starting the car.


A car that belches white smoke from the exhaust indicates what type of problem?

When a car starts belching white smoke out of the exhaust, the first thing to check is the head gasket. Often, worn or broken head gaskets no longer make a proper seal and should be replaced. Check the engine block as well; it could be cracked.


A rather strange light, which is shaped like a side profile of an engine, has started blinking on your dashboard. What is it warning you about?

All cars today have systems in place that regulate vehicle emissions. This could indicate a problem with either the sensors or the catalytic converter itself. A faulty catalytic converter is a serious problem that needs to get checked right away.


A car that burns off all its oil will have its engine _____.

It is crucial that you check the oil level in your car at least once every week, especially in older cars. Don't rely on the dashboard warning light to tell you to check your oil; do it yourself. If the engine has no lubricant, it will seize.


While approaching your car, you notice a puddle under the engine. What should you check?

A leaking radiator is a massive problem. If not fixed, coolant levels will drop, your engine will overheat and could seize. A quick fix is to use a radiator sealant, but ultimately, it will need to be replaced.


A car that starts with difficulty and idles roughly thereafter should have which of these checked?

The easiest thing to check in this situation is your the spark plugs. These can get fouled up easily, particularly ones that have been in the car for a long time. This means they will not fire properly and can certainly lead to your engine misfiring. It's a good idea to clean them regularly, particularly in older cars.


Once you have checked the spark plugs and find them to working fine, what should you check next if your car continues to have difficulty starting and idles roughly?

Faulty high tension leads can also cause starting and idling problems. So, if your car is harder to start or idles very roughly, a high tension lead breaking down could be the reason. Always keep them free from any dampness by spraying WD-40 on the connectors.


In a diesel-powered car that is struggling to start, particularly in cold weather, what should be checked first as a possible cause of the problem?

A diesel engine has no spark plugs since fuel is ignited through the heat caused by compression in the cylinder. It does have glow plugs, however, and they help start the engine. Effectively heaters, the glow plugs help to warm the engine, making the fuel combust easier, especially in cold weather. If a diesel-powered car is starting hard, it could be the glow plugs that are faulty and they should be checked first.


When adding oil to your engine, you notice that the current oil is frothy and has a foam-like covering. What could the problem be?

If coolant or water has somehow gotten into your engine, it will turn the oil a milky white and produce foam, nowhere near the normal brown/black color it should be. This means you probably have a leak in the coolant system.


A warning light on the dashboard showing a box with a + and - inside of it indicates a problem with which engine part?

If this light shows on your dashboard, it generally means your battery is not taking a charge. If this happens, the battery will eventually run out of power, and your car won't start. Check to see if the battery has a dead cell. If it does, the battery needs to be replaced.


Despite replacing your battery, the battery light remains on when you start your car. Which is the next logical thing to check?

The alternator is an essential part of a car's engine. One of its most important roles is to help charge the battery while the vehicle is in motion. If the alternator does not do this, the battery will quickly go flat.


Your diesel vehicle has suddenly started flashing a warning light on its dashboard. It looks like a thin line making two ovals. What should you check?

This light will come on when you start your engine, particularly in cold weather. If it stays on, it indicates that a glow plug, which helps to start and warm a diesel engine, is faulty.


If your car is leaking oil, what color liquid might you find on the ground under it?

A tell-tale sign that your vehicle is leaking oil is the patches of fluid it will leave on the ground below it. If it is brown and has an oil-like smell, then it is oil. The older the oil in the vehicle, the darker it will become, so even a black fluid might be oil.


A high-pitched squealing sound coming from your engine could indicate ________.

A wearing belt, which is generally easy to spot as it would have frayed, is a relatively simple fix. That will solve your squeaking problem. Never leave the belt that is squeaking on too long because if it snaps, it may cause more serious problems.


To start a car, one of these is essential. What is it?

In a gasoline-powered engine, lots of things need to click into place for the engine to start. But without a spark, which is provided through the spark plug, the air/fuel mixture cannot ignite, and combustion cannot take place. Without combustion, a vehicle won't start.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!