How to Trouble Shoot your Vehicle Problems

Use This ER Mnemonic for Describing Vehicle Problems

Have you ever had your car or truck make a weird noise, only to have it stop by the time you got to the mechanic’s shop? Mystery vehicle troubles can be hard to diagnose when they come and go or if they only show up under specific circumstances.

Here’s a handy mnemonic — a memory device — that EMTs and emergency room doctors use to help diagnose patients in pain OPQRST. You can easily adapt it to your vehicle to help paint a better picture of the problem with your car or van for your auto mechanic to troubleshoot your vehicles issues.

What Does OPQRST Stand For?

The OPQRST mnemonic stands for: onset, palliative/provocative, quality, radiation, severity, and timing. It’s used to give a complete description of pain to make diagnosis easier. And employing a run of letters from the alphabet makes it easy to remember each element of the algorithm.

Onset: When Did the Problem Start?

What were you doing when you first noticed the concern with your vehicle? Maybe you were on a cross-country trip and somewhere along the QE2, your car started making a strange noise. Or perhaps it was at the onset of colder or warmer weather when you observed your car had difficulty starting.

Common times for car problems to first pop up include:

Palliative/Provocative: What Makes It Better or Worse?

Think about driving with your current problem? Does anything make it better or worse?

Perhaps an odd vibration goes away once you get into fourth gear at high speeds. Or, conversely, you rotated your tires and a steering problem intensified.

Be sure to be honest with your mechanic about any DIY work you’ve done on the vehicle or any service you’ve had performed elsewhere.

Have you tried anything to fix the problem? Did it help? Maybe you added a fuel system cleanser because someone suggested it to you. Or you drove your vehicle at high RPMs for an hour because you were hoping it would charge the battery.

Quality: How Would You Describe Your Vehicles Issues?

There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing or experiencing something wrong with your car when you’re alone, but when you take it to the shop, the problem utterly disappears. That’s why it’s important to be as precise in your description as possible. If your vehicle is making a weird noise, what word would you use to describe it?

  • Buzzing
  • Grinding
  • Knocking
  • Banging
  • Humming
  • Whistling
  • Rattling
  • Squealing
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Screeching

If you can record the noise on your mobile phone, even better. Just don’t use your phone while you’re actually driving, as that’s dangerous and can get you in trouble with law enforcement.

Not every car problem is going to entail a strange noise, of course. But you still want to be accurate in your depiction of the problem. For example, you could say that you’re suddenly struggling to find the various gears on your manual SUV, meaning it could be a transmission problem. Or you feel like you have less control behind the wheel than you used to, which might point to a steering column connection that needs tightening.

Radiation: Does the Problem Spread?

This won’t necessarily happen with all car troubles, but when it does, it’s pertinent information. Does the problem start in one location and radiate elsewhere as you drive?

For instance, you might find that, at first, it’s just one vent on your dashboard that’s not blowing cold air when the AC is on as you leave the house for work. However, by the time you reach your office 45 minutes later, none of the vents are providing any cooling.

Maybe you have a vibration that seems to spread throughout the car over time. Or a noise that starts with the left front wheel shows up in the left rear wheel a little later.

Severity: How Would You Rate the Issue on a Scale of 1-10?

You can use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate your auto problem in a couple of ways. First, if you’re describing an unusual sound, how loud is it, 1 being fairly quiet and 10 being earsplitting, like a bad muffler or stolen catalytic converter?

Alternatively, you can use the severity scale to put a number to how much the problem is affecting your driving. Is it a nuisance issue that you’re worried will morph into something worse, or are you finding your truck barely drivable?

Timing: When Does the Problem Occur?

This part of your evaluation is different from the onset; that’s when the problem initially began. But now your mechanic needs to know if this problem is chronic (occurring all the time) or sporadic.

If it’s the latter, when does the issue crop up? It could be an answer like “every time I make a left turn” or “whenever I downshift into second gear.” Maybe it’s a random thing that comes out of nowhere every few days.

How to Use the OPQRST Mnemonic at the Auto Mechanic to help Troubleshoot

Use this mnemonic any time you have to take your vehicle in for non-routine service at your auto mechanic. The better you can describe a problem, the quicker you can work together to come up with a diagnosis and get the issue fixed.

Having car troubles in Aldergrove or North Vancouver? Call the experts at Supertech Auto for a solution. You can reach our Aldergrove location at (604) 409-4478, or call North Vancouver at (604) 980-9801. We also have diesel truck specialists in Nanaimo: 250-585-4030. For your convenience, we also offer easy online messaging after hours, so you can let us know how we can help.