When you own a car that's more than 15 years old you learn to key in on noises and smells. Take my 93 Olds beater. I noticed the faintest smell of ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) in the garage in the morning. Since it blew a heater hose about 6 months ago my alarm level is low, because I think it might be some residual odor from that. Now the Olds has a coolant overflow reservoir the size of a gerry-can that has long ago lost its transparency, however, with a lot of jumping on the bumper I think I can get a glance at the fluid level which appears stable. While driving home today I heard a squealing when I turned the steering wheel. I'm hoping it's the car next to me, but then I realize I hear it only when I turn my steering wheel. I pull over, lift the hood and I see the water pump dripping coolant on the serpentine belt. I'm not surprised since it's the original water pump and it has lasted 18 years and 170K miles.
Meanwhile, CP's 2004 Honda Element with 64 K miles on it throws a computer code. The little "D" on the dash starts blinking. The manual says this means there could be a problem with the transmission. The "D" never starts blinking again but we have to go to Honda to make sure CP wasn't hallucinating. Honda tells us the third gear solenoid is weak and it may fail in the future and the car wouldn't go into third gear. Well, with this prophecy in our future we get it fixed. We didn't have any problem, but we did have a computer telling us their was a problem in our future. No noise, no smoke, no smell, just a flashing "D".
I think it wasn't till I was forty years old that I owned a car that was new enough that random sounds and smells didn't cause a panic. It wasn't till I owned a Honda that my reaction changed to "that must be the car in front of me". My Olds has a transmission that occasionally takes about thirty seconds to engage when you put it in drive. It's not my favorite get away car. If my Olds had the same computer as the Honda, I'm sure the dashboard would be lit up like a Christmas Tree. Every system is about to fail and functioning well beyond its life expectancy; like its owner.