Many of us can’t remember the last time we drove a car that required a good smack on the dashboard to get the stereo to play, or when a certain and very specific something had to be done in order to get something else to work properly. After all, today’s cars are more complex than ever and an old-fashioned smack on the instrument cluster probably isn’t going to make that warning light go away or stop the speedometer from flickering.
Still, despite their complexity, there are a multitude of problems that happen in modern cars that can likely be fixed by doing three very simple things. Based on years of research into owner-reported issues with second-hand cars and the reported solutions, here are three magic-bullet fixes to literally hundreds of possible problems with your car or truck.
Change Your Cabin Air Filter
If your climate control system seems a bit sketchy these days and is acting erratically, start by making sure it can breathe by checking and replacing its filter as needed. Changing a cabin air filter is a simple thing you can do yourself that can fix many problems.
Cabin air filters clean particles, bugs, and dirt from the air outside as it’s drawn into your vehicle by the climate control system. Whenever the fan is running, that filter is slowly but surely being clogged up.
Forgetting to change that cabin air filter in a timely fashion is a leading cause of problems with your climate control system including poor defroster performance, weak heat in winter, weak air conditioning in the summertime, and even excessive wear or failure of air conditioner parts.
In some vehicles, a clogged cabin air filter can make the air conditioner act like it has a mind of its own, working on some occasions and not others. In other vehicles, a clogged cabin air filter can even result in water leakage into the front footwell carpeting as excessive ice and frost buildup occurs within the system, thanks to the restricted airflow caused by the clogged cabin air filter.
Swap Out That Weak Battery
If you’ve been suspecting that your car might have some sort of wiring gremlin causing weird and random problems with your car’s electronics, there’s a really solid chance you just need a new battery.
If you think your car is fancy and high-tech inside, you should see the complex array of electronics, sensors, and computer modules underneath its skin. Even in the simplest cars, these electronics play a vital role in making your vehicle operate and perform the way it was intended to – until the battery starts to get weak.
Modern electronics get really fussy if they don’t consistently get the right amount of power to do their jobs. And if the battery in your car or truck is starting to die, it might be having trouble keeping all of those electronics properly powered at all times.
With insufficient battery power affecting the electronics and their ability to communicate properly with one another, a plethora of issues may arise. These include the spontaneous and dramatic illumination of multiple warning lights, random operation or non-operation of certain features, and other frustrating problems like push-button ignitions that won’t work, or not being able to start your car when it’s freezing cold outside.
I wouldn’t be surprised if about half of the weird problems owners experience with their cars could be fixed by a new battery.
Get the Software Update
Just like your computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or video game console, cars sometimes need software updates to fix potential issues, make things run more smoothly, and prevent certain problems from popping up.
Cars have a multitude of computer control centres responsible for operating a multitude of features, which means there’s an awful lot of software.
Sometimes, a software update becomes available to keep it working properly. Some software updates are small and might reprogram the computer brain of your power tailgate. Others are enormous, replacing and optimizing the software that controls your vehicle’s transmission, for example.
In some cases, these software updates are released to fix a known problem like unwanted battery drain, harsh shifting from the transmission, problems with infotainment system compatibility, and more.
Software updates can even make your car easier on fuel, stop it from rolling away when you swore you put it in Park, and prevent smelly mould from growing within your climate control system by changing fan behaviour.
There are literally hundreds of other examples.
In any case, a dealer service advisor can check your VIN against a database to determine which, if any, software updates need to be applied to your vehicle or if they’ve already been applied during regular servicing.
Some high-end cars can even perform their own over-the-air software updates over a Wi-Fi connection.