Started having problems with my Chevy Malibu (1999, with 95,000 miles on it) while driving two times this week. Both times an alert warning flashed on my dashboard. The first time, flashed the brake check and ABS warning on the left side of the dashboard, and the second time the check oil and check battery warning on the right side. In both cases, after the warnings flashed, the car was still running, but stepping on the gas pedal resulted in no acceleration, but brakes still worked. The steering wheel also locks-up to the point where I can’t turn any more. Both times, I stopped and shut off the engine, waited about 30 seconds and restarted, after which everything is fine and normal. The brake pads were changed recently, but not the rotors which may not be in very good shape. Any information is appreciated. Lisa
Well, Lisa–did you check the dipstick for the oil?
Did you have a mechanic check the level of your brake fluid, and assess the condition of your battery?
If you are driving a car which has any questionable situations regarding its brakes and/or its steering, you are being incredibly foolish.
You need to take the car to a qualified mechanic immediately, as you potentially have multiple safety-related issues. We cannot accuratel diagnose these problems via cyberspace, but a qualified mechanic should be able to do so, possibly saving you from a life-altering accident.
And, you should be aware that “qualified mechanic” almost always eliminates the guys who work at Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, Pep Boys, AAMCO, and other chain operations. You need to take this car to an independent mechanic with a good reputation, a.s.a.p.–before you wind up in an accident for which you are liable.
Thank you for the response. I’ve also received the following response from another source:
"One thing that can cause problems like this is a battery that is starting to develop an intermittent short. This will cause voltage fluctuations that cause unusual and seemingly unrelated electrical issues. I would start by trying another battery to rule this out. When they do this they can still pass a battery test and will start the car normally. I have seen many batteries with bad cells test as good one time and then bad the next. Or continue testing as good but actually be bad. A battery with a bad cell will cause voltage fluctuations that confuse the computer but will still start the vehicle normally. When I get issue like yours I replace the battery or at least swap another in temporarily to rule it out. I once chased a problem for two days after the battery tested good and it turned out to be a battery issue. So I learned my lesson.'
Does it sound like the right diagnosis? Thanks. Lisa
Can you clarify this part: “The steering wheel also locks-up to the point where I can’t turn any more”
When you stop the car, turn it off, and remove the key the steering wheel locks - mechanically. If you tried to turn it, it would go clunk as it hit a mechanical stop.
But if the key is in the run position - like just before you start it or if it stalls the steering will get very “heavy” - you’d still be able to turn the wheel, but it would take a lot of force to do it.
So which is it?
Yes, it’s the second part you are referring to. The car is still running with key in run position, but the steering begins to be “heavy” as you state it, to the point where it becomes very difficult to turn. Once I was unable to turn it anymore, that’s when I shut off the engine and restarted the car. Thanks for responding.
Regarding voltage fluctuations, it is possible that these phantom electrical problems are caused by a bad battery, but it is also possible that the diodes in the alternator are dying. I would suggest that the OP have the alternator output checked a.s.a.p., as bad diodes in the alternator can quickly kill that new battery.
And–electrical problems or not, the OP should still confirm that the motor oil and the brake fluid are at the correct levels.
I would check the serpentine belt, tensioner, and idler pulleys. A slipping belt will cause you to lose power steering (that “heavy” steering wheel) and can cause a multitude of lights to come on in your dash. While the belt and accessories are being checked, fluid levels should also be checked, the battery should be checked, and if there is any doubt in your mind about the brakes or steering systems, those need to be checked as well. The brakes and steering are the two most important parts of any car, not the engine or transmission like a lot of people think.
The first thing to do is attend to exactly those things VDC and mark referred to.
Does your car actually have a CHECK OIL light, or are you referring to the light that comes on due to low oil pressure? Was your oil actually low? The low oil pressure light can come on for a variety of reasons, INCLUDING low oil level. Your low oil pressure indication can also be caused by too thin oil, bad bearings inside the engine, a bad oil pump, or (hopefully, because it’s cheap) just a bad oil pressure switch.
All that said, I’d lean toward the loose serpentine belt, as Mark suggested. The belt drives your alternator which keeps the battery charged and the power steering pump too.
Thank you for everyone’s help. here are some extra information: “check oil” light on due to low oil pressure, but the oil is not low, and brake liquid is fine. If the serpertine belt is the problem, i think the problem should not be intermittent as I have? If the battery has a short, the steering wheel should not lock up as I experiecned on both occasions? I am confused. The brake pads were changed recently. Thanks!! Lisa
“check oil” light on due to low oil pressure, but the oil is not low…"
Lisa–Unfortunately one of the most potentially expensive automotive misconceptions is that a crankcase full of oil eliminates the possibility of low oil pressure.
Just as your body’s circulatory system relies on having a sufficient quantity of blood AND on having blood pressure that falls within a healthy range, the same is true for your engine’s lubrication system. If your doctor detects abnormally high or abnormally low blood pressure, he is likely to treat that condition, rather than assuming that you don’t have enough blood in your circulatory system. In this way, the human body and an automobile’s engine are somewhat similar.
If your oil pump is failing, your engine can have low oil pressure, despite the oil level being normal.
If the oil has not been changed often enough, there can be damaging sludge deposits (think of it as the automotive equivalent of cholesterol deposits) that impede the flow oil to the bearings and other areas that rely on full lubrication at all times. Restricted oil flow to certain areas of the engine=low oil pressure.
If there is excessive wear inside the engine, your engine can have low oil pressure.
No matter which of the above scenarios might be the cause of low oil pressure, the outcome is the same, namely the premature demise of the engine. An engine which is maintained properly and which has “normal” oil pressure can likely run for a few hundred thousand miles before giving up the ghost. On the other hand, once a low oil pressure situation exists in an engine, the engine could be toast within days.
So–that is why some of us are harping on having this situation properly diagnosed by someone who can examine the car first-hand.
Yes, it could be an electrical issue, but there could be internal engine issues involved.
If your acelerator pedal doesn’t respond, your power steering becomes tight and all the warning lights are on your engine has stalled. After you restarted the engine everything was working properly wasn’t it?
When you take the vehicle in to be diagnosed be sure to describe the operating conditions when the problem occured, vehicle speed, accelerating or coasting, engine temperature ect.
- If it’s an issue with the belt, would that be something that would only occur every so often? Since the first time this happened was in Dec 2011, is it likely that the belt was fine for almost 4 months, and then only recently started having problems on and off? Or is it more likely that it’s all due to a battery issue ?
- On the other hand, if it’s the battery problem, do you think it will lock up the steering wheel (that “heavy” steering)? Any information is appreciated. Lisa
The belt drives the alternator and power steering pump. The next time this happens get the car to the side of the road, open the hood and look to see if the pulleys and belt are turning. I think your engine had stalled.
Hi! I have replaced both the alternator and battery, and also changed the brake pads. Car ran fine for a day. Today while driving, had another issue of the accelarator not working while in the middle of driving. Was going up a small hill, tried to accelerate, but stepping on the accelarator didn’t do anything. A few seconds later, I could not press down on the pedal anymore (as if the car was off). Brakes worked, I could turn, and no warning lights. Turned off ignition, restarted the car, and everything was fine. Same problem with the accelarator as I first reported, but no poblem with charging or turning the wheel, and no warning lights this time since battery and alternator are new. I feel very frustrated. Any suggestions? Thanks!!