Your car is speaking, are you listening?

What you need to know:

In most cases, car components do not break down at the same time. Usually, there are warnings such as a squeaking sound, a roaring, a rattle under the tyre, to mention but a few signs that drivers need to watch or listen out for.

A lot of times drivers or car owners will call their mechanic after a breakdown. Most mechanics will ask what the problem is and the response is almost always, “I do not know, the car just stopped.” Or sometimes “my car won’t start”. However, as most mechanics will tell you, a car will just not start.

By asking what is wrong, the mechanic expects the driver to give a history of the breakdown. You as the owner or driver of the car, having spent time in or with the car, should be in position to give the history of the problem that will then lead to a proper diagnosis.

Ben Pajobo recently took a trip to Budaka in Eastern Uganda. While there, he noticed a roaring sound every time he accelerated. The car made this same sound as he drove around on his visit. In his own admission, he had heard the same sound before leaving Kampala for Budaka but he ignored it.

On his way back to Kampala, Ben drove from Budaka to Iganga smoothly, sometimes even overtaking. All was well until he tried to overtake a truck at the Magamaga weigh bridge just out of Iganga Town. As he sped uphill, the car dashboard lit up. First was the battery warning indicator light, then all the lights before the car came to a sudden halt.

Faulty alternator

After a check, a mechanic discovered that the car battery had burnt, which he said could have started from failure of the alternator, which could not charge the battery.  In addition to charging the battery, the alternator is also responsible for running the electrical components in the car. Ben was driving a Toyota Noah 2006 model, a highly electrical car. The roaring sound he had heard earlier was the alternator struggling to supply electricity.

A failing alternator is not able to steadily supply enough current to all the components. calls a failing alternator ‘bad news’ stating: “It may not allow your battery to recharge enough, making it slowly drain to the point where you will need a jump start to get things going. And, since electrical current supplied to the spark plugs is what creates spark, your engine may stop running if the alternator gives up the ghost entirely.”

Cost of neglect

By the time Ben called a mechanic at about 8pm, the alternator was beyond repair. His battery was also burnt and had to be replaced. It was late on a Sunday evening, so none of that could be done. He and his two passengers ended up renting a hotel for the night. By the time the repairs were done, Shs600,000 had been spent.

Cars are machines

Cars are composed of several simple machines to help them run. A car is a combination of inclined planes, levers, pulleys, wedges, wheels and axles, and screws. All these work together to make the car function properly. As a machine, the car is subject to wear and tear.

In almost all cases, one component breaks down before another does. Normally as this happens, there are warnings; a squeaking sound, a roaring, a rattle under the tyre, to mention but a few signs that drivers need to watch or listen out for.

The dashboard

Christopher Ssendaula, a mechanic, says every driver should keep their eyes on the dashboard, adding that when a car starts developing a problem, there will always be an indication on the dashboard.

According to, dashboard warning lights come in a variety of colours. The most serious lights are red, and they typically indicate a major issue or component failure. Yellow or amber lights often indicate a lower-grade hazard or warning, such as the activation of the traction control system when driving on slippery roads. Green and blue lights simply indicate that a feature is engaged, such as the headlights or cruise control.

Ssendaula says the most common indicators are the check engine light, the oil light and the engine temperature light. While a check engine indicator might signal a wide range of problems, from fatal to minor ones, Ssendaula says it should always be detected.  He, however, says drivers should be mindful when the check engine indicator lights up and look out for any other changes in the car’s performance.

Check engine light states that the check engine light (CEL) is one of the most common dashboard warning lights but also one of the least specific. That is because it warns of any engine-related issue. This can include something as simple as a loose gas cap, or a more-serious issue such as a misfire, knocking, or a loss of compression, which could result in premature engine wear or failure. It is completely normal for the check engine light to illuminate momentarily when turning the key in the ignition, but it should disappear as soon as the vehicle is running. If not, the system is detecting an issue.

Due to the potential for severe engine damage, it is recommended not to drive your vehicle if the check engine light is on. Call for a tow truck and have a mechanic diagnose and fix the issue.

Coolant temperature light

According to Ssendaula, the engine temperature light features a red thermometer, and, when illuminated, it indicates that the engine is overheating. This is a serious problem and it can result in catastrophic engine damage, so you should always pull over and turn off your vehicle if you see this warning light. There are a number of issues that can cause the engine to overheat, such as a broken water pump, a stuck thermostat, a leak in the radiator or in one of the coolant hoses, or a broken head gasket.

Battery warning light

The battery indicator light is red in colour and it features the outline of a battery with plus and minus symbols. When illuminated, this light indicates that the vehicle’s charging system is not functioning properly. The battery could be the issue, but the cause could also be a loose or corroded battery cable, a worn alternator, a broken accessory belt, or another electrical fault in the system.

According to John Mukasa, a mechanic, it is completely normal to see this light turn on and then off when starting your vehicle. If the light turns on while you are driving, you should pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so. Otherwise, the engine will stall once the battery is completely drained, which may only take a few minutes.


Servicing your car on a regular basis ensures its smooth running and makes it fuel-efficient. Furthermore, there is a lower risk of its breakdown and you do not have to get into any unwanted expenses and repair. Ignoring the car service is not a good habit as you never know when minor wear and tear turn into a costly affair.

When you are taking your car for regular service, you in a way are contributing to its life as well. If your car will work appropriately for a longer duration and all the things are managed appropriately, you will be able to extend the life of your car for many more years.


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.