How to check the health of car engine

Checking the health of a car engine can be tough because there are so many constituents to an engine. Even when the car seems to be running smoothly, the engine might still have a problem. Sometimes the help of a professional might be needed to reveal the problems but most times, all you need to look out for is a few signs and symptoms of engine damage. The following are some of the symptoms:

  • The engine light turns on
  • The car uses more gas than it used it
  • Loss of engine power
  • A lot of smoke from the exhaust/dark smoke from the exhaust
  • Strange noises coming from the engine

When buying a used car, it is important that you carefully inspect the engine. This is because engines are costly to repair. It’s also hard to assess the condition of the engine with a test drive. There are however ways to identify a bad engine.

Check service records:

If you’re buying a used car, it is important that you buy from a dealer with service records. Although service records aren’t always readily available, they are important in the evaluation of a car engine. Service records provide mainly oil change history. To check if the engine is in good health, ensure that the recommended oil change intervals are done.

Start the car and listen to the engine:

As obvious as it might sound, this method might reveal all you need to know about the engine. To spot a bad engine, listen for any cracking, popping, tapping and knocking noises from the under the hood. The presence of smoke should also indicate an unhealthy engine. Also, watch the exhaust and check to see if there is an unusual amount of emissions gas being emitted. Emission gases should be clear and unnoticeable and any other color should be cause for alarm.

Check out for leaks:

Leaks are a bad sign that there’s something wrong with the car, specifically, the engine. You’ll be able to see leaks by parking the car overnight on a clean concrete slab. In the morning, check for any leaked fluid on the ground because the fluid will have sucked in by on the concrete under the leak. Alternatively, look from underneath. Take a video to assess better

Burnt oil smell in the hood:

If after a test drive there is a noticeable oil smell coming from the hood of the car, this might indicate a problem with the engine. At higher mileage, the pistons and cylinders wear out which causes more gas to enter the crankcase. This pushes the oil through the crankcase ventilation causing it to burn and smell. As much as it occurs mainly in turbo engines, this problem can occur in regular engines. This issue should be quickly dealt with as waiting too long can be quite expensive.

Check Oil level using dipstick:

To do this, ensure the engine is off. Open the oil lid (use a cloth as it might be hot) and dip the dipstick inside. If the level is low, it would mean that the engine has expended oil you’re late for oil change. For a car in great condition, the oil level should be near the full mark (of the dipstick). If there is no oil at all, the best choice would be to avoid the car. If the oil has mixed with coolant, commonly known as dirty oil, avoid purchasing the car too.

oil levels

Test Drive:

A simple test drive can go a long way to reveal a faulty engine. When the car is started, all warning lights on the dashboard should come flash (come on then off). If the engine light stays on, this means there’s a problem in the engine. There is no way of knowing whether it’s a trivial problem or a serious one. A proper diagnosis should therefore be done by a qualified mechanic,

So, you’ve now discovered if the car has engine problems. What should you do next?

After realizing the car has engine problems, you need to decide on what to do. If you were buying a used car, weigh and gauge the problems discovered. Serious issues such as a ‘no oil’ issue, it would be better to avoid buying the car and pick an alternative, preferably from another dealership. If the issue is less serious, you can consider buying the car although it is not advisable, unless the dealership fixes the car for you.

If the car has always been yours and you’re just discovering the problems, you might want to fix the car. But if the repair cost is too high, you’d rather buy a new car and let go of the old thing. Let it rest.

What else to check before buying a car?

Other than the engine, there are other things you can check before buying a used car. Here are a few to check:

Tires: Ensure the car is on level ground to check any tire issues. The car should be level and the tires should have new treads.

Paint: Take note of any rust spots, dents or scratches.

Trunk: Check the trunk for any holes or damages.

Battery: Cold start the car and if it fails to start, this means that the car stayed in park for too long indicating battery damage.


The engine is the most important part of the car, it is the car. Ensuring that the engine is in good condition should be the top priority when buying a used car.

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