These Are The Most Perplexing Problems Our Readers Ever Had With Their Cars

Photo: Noel Hendrickson (Getty Images)
Photo: Noel Hendrickson (Getty Images)

We asked our readers earlier this week what were the most perplexing problems they’ve ever encountered with their cars. The comments were filled with tales of faulty sensors and persistent check engine lights. Some of these cars spent so much take in the shop that I’m surprised drivers weren’t charged rent. Without further ado, here are all the issues that plagued your vehicles:

Only Three Anti-Lock Brakes

Photo: Greg Gjerdingen / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Greg Gjerdingen / Wikimedia Commons

Right now, it’s my front passenger-side ABS sensor on my 2000 Jaguar XK8.

It works, mostly. Other times you start the car and get “TRAC NOT AVAILABLE. ABS NOT AVAILABLE.” Then you stop the car, get out, jiggle the connector, start the car, and it works again. For a while.

I’ve replaced the cable to no avail. I’ve cleaned the sensor. Maybe the sensor needs replacement but somehow I think that’ll just be flushing money...


Submitted by: Skipp

Modern Times, Modern Problems

Image: Apple
Image: Apple

My issue isn’t not mechanical, but I am sure many, many people have the same issue.

Smartphone operation. The advent of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have made smartphone usage in your car much smoother. But, it’s also much more frustrating when the connection does not work. Most of my experience has been with Android Auto; but I know there frustrated CarPlay users as well.

My Subaru Impreza has a very quixotic nature when it come to my Android Phone. Sometimes Android Auto works, sometimes it does not.

Here’s a list of “solutions”:

1. - Turn off car, restart car.

2. - Turn off radio, restart radio.

3. - Restart phone (soft restart).

4. - Turn off phone, restart phone (hard restart).

5. - Change USB cable.

6. - Change USB port.

7. - Change USB cable and USB port in differing combinations.

8. - Run through car infotainment settings and make sure car is master or slave (PATA joke).

9. -Run through car infotainment settings and make phone is master of slave (Another PATA joke).

10. - Enable developer mode on Android phone.

11. - Enable USB debugging (developer mode) and switch to USB default to file transfer.

These suggestions may or may not work depending on your phone, it’s Android version or car’s unit.

I just want to use Waze and Spotify. Is that too much to ask?

Submitted by: radioout

Issues With Volvo’s City (Too) Safe

Photo: Damian B Oh / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Damian B Oh / Wikimedia Commons

The City Safe feature in my wife’s Volvo s60, which will trigger a false positive for what it thinks is a pending collision, but only at a very specific intersection and during a very specific time of day. My wife will get up early some mornings to head out for an early workout before starting her workday. At one specific intersection, coupled with driving into the direction of the rising morning sun, City Safe will freak out and apply the brakes even though nothing is there. This is the only circumstance in which the system has activated since we’ve owned the car. Conditions for it to happen require her being the first or second car in line if she gets caught at this particular red light. Upon the light turning green and slowly pulling away, she’ll make it the middle of the intersection where the car thinks a collision is imminent and wants to bring itself to a stop. This has caused her to almost get rear-ended on a handful of occasions.

We’ve had the car at the dealer for warranty coverage on this at least twice but they could never duplicate the issue and diagnostics have not revealed any faults with components. They still replaced the camera in addition to the windshield, assuming there could be some invisible defect in the glass but it hasn’t resolved anything. So, for about 2 months out of the year my wife either has to avoid this intersection entirely on her morning commute to the gym, or remember to turn City Safe off before leaving the house.

Submitted by: Hankel_Wankel

Low Voltage And Low Fuel Pressure

Photo: order_242 / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: order_242 / Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had two that vexed me.

1. A 1993 Saab 9000 CSE where the car’s system voltage would mysteriously drop at seemingly random times to the point that the car would stutter like it was cutting off and the dash warning lights would come on like they do when cranking the car. Dealer threw a new alternator at it but the problem persisted. Luckily, the gauge display had a voltmeter you could bring up which showed drops down to ~10V at times when the problem was happening. I could now see that these dips were occurring whenever a high current device turned on like the AC compressor or switching on the headlights. After thinking about it for a while, I realized that the electrical system was acting like the battery wasn’t there to provide temporary current to the system while the alternator spooled up its output. Replacing the positive battery cable fixed the issue.

2. My 2010 BMW 535i would cut off randomly at stoplights every so often then refuse to restart even though there was plenty of gas and a strong battery. If you let the car sit for 15 minutes or so, it would fire back up like nothing happened. This only seemed to occur in warm weather as well. My go-to indy shop replaced all the pumps and lines in the tank after the second incident (Bye-bye $1200!), but the same thing happened 2 weeks later. They wanted to replace the high pressure fuel pump (a common problem on early N54 engines) but I wasn’t convinced since I had had no other symptoms and the codes I pulled didn’t support that diagnosis. Finally, I ran across a thread online that seemed to match my situation pointing to an overheating fuel pump control module (which explained why it wasn’t happening in the cooler months). Evidently, this was a know issue in the modding community with people putting heat sinks and fans on theirs when running bigger injectors and turbos. BMW redesigned the part to solve the problem so, once I put the new module in, everything has been working well.

Submitted by: Aerogrp

Who Needs A Timing Belt Anyway

Photo: Bull-Doser / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Bull-Doser / Wikimedia Commons

First car - 1987 VW Jetta (this was in 1995). Suddenly, it just wouldn’t start. Would crank and crank, but nothing else. With help from my dad, who had plenty of experience with pushrod-based engines from the 50s-70s, we set to diagnosing. Wasn’t getting spark. Put a new cap, rotor, plugs, wires on it, because why not. Still just cranked. Hmm. No fuel either. Clogged filter? Swap it out. Pump running? Seems to be, so let’s leave it. Crank, crank, crank. Still no start. He even thought to leave the distributor cap off when we cranked...spins. Hmm. Let’s check the timing...took the cover off and found the belt to not be spinning! All this time, the timing belt, with 135k miles on it, had completely sheared at the crank pulley. Thankfully, that old 1.8 liter 8-valve motor was non-interference, so we set about replacing the belt and she lived to fight another day. IIRC, the distributor was driven off the crank, so it was still turning even though the cam wasn’t doing anything. Also, I think the Bosch CIS needed the car to be running in order to fire off the injectors, but I could be wrong about that...long time ago.

Submitted by: VoltRon

Cylinder Mismangement

Photo: HJUdall / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: HJUdall / Wikimedia Commons

Honda Odyssey VCM (Variable Cylinder Management). I hadn’t dealt much with it in the past but the 3.5L v6 engines they used in many Honda models use a VCM that can cause some issues with the car. It wasn’t until the last couple years I discovered there is actually a VCM Muffler “cheat”. This involves soldering on an 82 ohm resister to the ground wire going to the VCM that helps stop it from activating. What caused me to even do the research was my Honda wasn’t running right when slowing down (not to a full stop) then trying to re-accelerate, sometimes even shaking when trying to do so. Found a few threads on the issue, and spent less than a dollar on the resister and installed it in less than 5 minutes. Sure enough I’ve never had any issues since then.

Submitted by:

Problematic Montana

Photo: IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons

We had a 1999 Pontiac Transport Montana, and really the van only had two problems...

1. We got a notice of a recall for issues with the power sliding door. Now we’d never had issues with our door, but since the recall stated that the door, could open while driving, and we had small kids, we had the recall applied. And then our we had the recall to the recall applied, because it appeared that “a small number” of vans still had issues. Not us, we never had problems with the automatic door opening while driving.

Opening while parked, however became an issue. And I don’t mean, oh, the door didn’t shut all the way, and it opened after we left it. I mean, we watched the doors shut and lock, and would come out to the van being unlocked and the door open. Of course, the dealer didn’t do anything but park the van on their lot and then tell us it didn’t open on them. But it wasn’t a regular occurrence, it happened maybe once every other month. The final straw was when the van opened on a night where it rained 4" and a cat with muddy paws took shelter in the van. After that we started having electrical issues and ditched the van.

2. Somewhere in early 2001 we starting having issues with the gas gauge swinging from Full to Empty almost randomly. We had it towed to the dealer after if died on us with a supposed full tank. The dealer said it was out of gas and we needed a new fuel pump for $600. Instead, we just started using the trip mileage to trigger refills, at 475 miles (approximately 50 miles left) we filled the tank. This lasted us for about 3 years.

Then in early 2004, the van died again with gas in it. We had it towed back to the dealer, and before we could even get home, the dealer had called and said we needed a new fuel pump for $600. I had it towed back to the house, and climbed under the van. I pulled the fuel pump wiring harness from where it went through the floor of the van to find that 6 of 8 pins were corroded off. The local Chevy dealer gave me replacement pins for free and I’ve never used a dealer since.

Submitted by: Go Padge (GoPadge)

Unstoppable Tri-Force

Photo: the_AUGHT
Photo: the_AUGHT

In my E36 I used to just call this the Tri-Force. They stayed on for pretty much the whole time i owned the car. I know one has to do with 1 of 4 cooling fans in the engine being bad or non functional. the other two.. well after realizing that it essentially cost 2 grand to get one to turn off for a few weeks - i stopped fighting the Tri-Force.

Submitted by: the_AUGHT

Challenging Charger

Photo: Sicnag / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Sicnag / Wikimedia Commons

“Will the problems ever stop?” as you restore a car has been my overwhelming question.

You want to open a can of worms, take a half century-plus Charger and decide as one last hurrah to yank the tricked-out 440 and throw in a roller-stroker 512 instead. To wit:

The neck of the electronic distributor wasn’t long enough to get past the taller aluminum heads—had to pop for a new dist.

The 750cfm Holley couldn’t keep supplying the gas needed, had to go with an 850cfm.

The new higher-flow mechanical fuel pump was a failure—had to install a Holley electric pump, which meant stringing the wire and installing a larger diameter fuel line.

Found out the turds who had redone my trans earlier had installed a regular stall torque converter, so I had to order a Hughes higher stall unit from Summit.

Go for a test drive and my Chrysler radiator, the biggest they made, couldn’t supply enough cooling capacity. Researched, bought and installed an aluminum unit. Had to go through three iterations of electric fans to find the biggest pair that would fit. (Big kudos to Summit for me returning two sets of fans with no guff whatsoever—probably because I’ve ordered so much off them over the years.)

The new forged aluminum pistons clatter due to the short skirts and tolerances. It bugs me so much that I’m having custom hypereutectic pistons manufactured, which of course means yanking the motor and then the heads yet again so those pistons can be installed.

Discovered the rear wheels lugs were too short, so had a timeout as the axles were yanked so longer lugs were pressed in and new seals installed.

All the tires were replaced, but that I knew up front would happen.

The speedo gauge was twitching due to the speedometer cable’s connection having worn out and since its replacement would’ve been $400 and a temp gauge would’ve been $100, I decided on pulling the whole cluster and install a Dakota Digital unit instead. (The way the gauges light up is so cool.) But it keeps glitching due to power issues, so throwing in the towel and going with a whole new wire harness—still waiting for it to be finished by the wire harness shop.)

Out with the old alternator, in with the high-amp 1-wire alternator.

And since we’re about to totally rewire it, now is the time to research a GPS-enabled stereo head unit so I’m ready for the trips that I will take with the Charger. (So help me, I’m getting to El Mirage for high-speed runs yet.)

So yes, if you’ve ever watched a car resto show like Bitchin’ Rides where the owner brings in his baby and swears there’s only one issue that needs addressing and all else is fine—chuckle, chuckle, snort, snort—it ain’t like that AT ALL. It’s a whole series of dominoes falling—expensive dominoes. And they’re still not done toppling.

Meh, the car is a total knockout. It’s worth it.

Submitted by: the1969DodgeChargerFan

RFID Reader Bricked A Car

Photo: TuRbO_J / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: TuRbO_J / Wikimedia Commons

Maybe not perplexing in the way you mean, but - back in 2016(?), the RFID reader in my ‘14 GTI died, so it would not read the key and would not start. I had to have it flatbedded to the dealer, i.e. there was no emergency mode or other way to drive it the 2.5 miles from my house to the dealership. Then I find out that the reader/immobilizer is embedded in the instrument panel, meaning the whole thing needs to be replaced, not just one little module. Then I found out that there are no Mk6 GTI instrument panels anywhere in the United States, and they have to order one from Germany (at this time, GTIs weren’t being hecho en Mexico yet). At least I got a free loaner for the week and a half it took to get the replacement...

Submitted by: Mike_Smith

Lemon Expedition

Photo: IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: IFCAR / Wikimedia Commons

Years ago, I repaired a ‘lemon law’ 2005 Ford Expedition that Ford failed to fix multiple times.

I purchased the Expedition at auction for about $1500. The dash showed airbag lights and the CEL was on. The 4 wheel drive system was listed as “inoperable”. It had well under 100k miles (which was low mileage at the time) and despite being a midwest vehicle, it had almost no rust whatsoever. The interior also looked new. I believe it was parked for years after Ford bought it back.

I fixed all the electrical issues and resolved the CEL by replacing the front airbag sensor (its an impact sensor right behind the front grill, and gets rusted out easily) and a few other engine sensors for less than $50 and a few minutes. The four wheel drive system was a different story.

I could get the system to engage using the button on the dash, and everything worked fine while it was engaged. But I could almost never get the system to disengage. I threw parts at the problem. I replaced a bunch of pneumatic parts on the front axles , the dash button, and another sensor. Nothing changed. I swallowed my pride, and took it to a Ford dealership.

The dealership had it for 2 days and couldn’t fix the problem. They couldn’t even identify the source of the issue. At that point it was personal. For days, I poured of wiring diagrams and pinouts of every harness in the engine bay. I figured out that I could get the transfer case motor to engage or disengage correctly by connecting it to a 12v power source, but never from inside the truck.

I finally gave up, and was cleaning up my tools for the last time as I tried to figure out how to try to scrap the truck and reclaim as much of my $1500 as possible. As I was disconnecting my multimeter from an underhood junction box, the voltage changed from 0 to 12.4. That seemed odd because that wire had been reading 0 every time I checked it. Turns out there was +12v on ignition wire that was damaged somewhere in the harness going from the junction box to the transfer case, and would sometimes carry voltage. The junction box had several other +12v on ignition wires in it, and I was able to easily bypass the damaged line and use another wire. The 4 wheel drive system was back and working like new. Turns out a 10 cent butt connector (and knowing exactly where to put it) was the solution the whole time.

I sold the truck on Craigslist and made a little over $2000 profit. The guy that bought it used it to tow cars he was buying on Craigslist. He got a great deal on a truck, and I used the money to buy more Craigslist specials.

Submitted by: GrannyShifter (don’t judge my Hofmeister kink)

Mysterious Escort

Photo: Charles01 / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Charles01 / Wikimedia Commons

My first car, purchased new while I was in grad school was a 1988 Ford Escort GT. It had an issue where when it was extremely cold (Iowa) it would at times buck and jerk violently at highway speeds. It was never a consistent thing and was never an issue in city driving. Ultimately, the dealer attributed the issue to the vane air meter (predecessor to the MAF) and replaced it, saying that there was “erratic and inconsistent movement of the assembly”.

The weird issue though was that the first two times it happened, I simply got off the interstate, turned around and went back home and it NEVER bucked and jerked on the return trip (both times!). A couple years later after I had graduated and was back in NC, it did the same thing again and then after that, mysteriously never happened ever again.

Submitted by: sounbwoy

Unsecure Colorado

Photo: RL GNZLZ / Wikimedia Commons
Photo: RL GNZLZ / Wikimedia Commons

Security Mode on the 2007 Chevy Colorado we owned for a few years. Based on my research it impacted all similar generation Colorado’s - but not all of them.

Randomly when you would get in the truck and turn the key the truck would not start and the security icon would flash on the dashboard. You needed to wait 10 min for it to clear before trying again and the truck would start right up. If you kept trying the time-out on the release of security mode would increase and you could lock yourself out for 20, 30, 40 min.

It is never great to have to wait an extra 10 min when you get in the car and get a random security mode error - but it always felt like the worst time when it would happen.

Traded it in and bought a Silverado and never looked back.

Submitted by: klurejr

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