When a vehicle has a problem with the brakes, engine or steering, it's very likely that a driver will notice almost as soon as they turn on their car. Drivers slowly become attuned to the way their vehicle operates, and it's usually pretty easy to notice any potential problems with these critical systems. One part of the car that is a bit more difficult when it comes to diagnosing issues is the exhaust. Drivers may not notice a problem with this part right away, but if left unchecked an exhaust issue could potentially lead to major repairs and even pose a health risk.

The first thing to check is the exhaust piping itself. Most drivers only really notice the end of the pipe, which is located underneath the trunk of the vehicle. Yet this pipe travels all the way underneath the car up toward the front, where the engine is housed. That's a lot of space for small cracks or fissures to develop.

You may be able to see the exhaust piping by crouching down and using a flashlight, depending on your vehicle. Alternatively, you may have to put the car on jack stands and get under there yourself. You especially want to examine any areas where the pipe connects to the vehicle, as these are prone to develop holes and other issues.

Open up your engine compartment and locate the cylinder head. The exhaust should connect here at the exhaust port. Check for cracks again, but also see if you notice any burned or discolored paint. That's a sure sign that your exhaust system is having a problem and will need to be looked at.

Now turn on your engine and leave it idling. Listen for any unusual sounds - specifically any hissing or an irregular popping noise. This tends to signal a leak in either the pipes or muffler. While you have the engine on, check out the intake manifold vacuum, which you should be able to locate using your owner's manual. Be cautious, as the vehicle will be hot while the engine is running. This device has a gauge on it - the ideal measurement here is 18 inches. Otherwise, there's some type of restriction inside your exhaust.

Finally, turn off your engine and look at your muffler. This should hold up to visual inspection - look for a shiny and solid surface that's free of rust and other issues.