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Five of the Most Common Engine Problems

With well over 200,000 breakdowns a year on UK roads – and a majority of them are caused by common engine problems. However, common does not always mean simple; here are five common engine problems and the way they may present themselves, so that you might know exactly what’s going on with your car next time you break down.

Coolant Leaks

Coolant leaks come in different levels of severity, depending on the location of the leak. While more severe leaks can require more involved repairs [see Overheating], the more easily accessible leaks are often a simple fix. Many times the issue lies with a loose hose connector, and is as simple a fix as re-tightening the connector by hand. In some cases, the leak may also be found in the form of a blown radiator cap, owing to the high-pressure conditions inside the radiator.


Overheating is more of a general condition than a specific problem, and often as symptom of the aforementioned coolant leak. In many cases, engine overheating is a simple problem with a simple fix: the engine oil may require a change, or your radiator could be blocked or leaking. Otherwise, something more serious might be at play – for example, an internal coolant leak might be mixing coolant with oil. If troubleshooting indicates your oil and radiator are fine, you may need an engine crane in order to examine the engine properly and determine the true cause of its overheating.

Worn Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are essential to the running of your engine; they are the igniting spark in the engine, which lights the fuel in the piston chamber and drives the pistons. Over time these can wear, as every electrical spark erodes a small amount of metal from the ground electrode, lengthening the distance between tip and earth and eventually preventing a spark from occurring. Worn spark plugs can cause engine misfiring and fuel wastage, resulting in a sluggish engine.

Low Battery

If your battery runs low, you may find it difficult to start your car at all, while running a car on a low battery can cause a host of electrical issues, as well as intermittent control over electronic safety technologies. Low batteries do not cause lasting damage to your car’s engine, but you will struggle to get good performance out of your car until your battery is replaced.

Old Engine Oil

Neglecting regular oil changes can cause issues with your engine, escalating to serious damage and even engine seizure depending on the length of time since the last change. Engine oil is used as a lubricant, to ensure the smooth motion of the engine’s fast-moving parts. Over time, the oil picks up particles of metal shed by the engine, becoming more and more viscous in the process. The more metal is taken up by the oil, the less the oil can lubricate the engine, resulting in increased friction and the possibility of serious damage to pistons.

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