11 Car Noises You Shouldn’t Ignore

Auto mechanic inspects car suspension. Diagnostics of the condition of the car

Is your car making loud noises when you speed up, slow down, or just park? Even though today’s cars are generally quieter than older models, you might still hear some squeaks, rattles, or hums. Occasionally, you might notice a strange noise from under the hood, the tires, or some hard-to-pinpoint spot.

When this happens, don’t just crank up the stereo or hope the noise magically disappears. Instead, be attentive! Seek out a reliable mechanic who can identify and fix any car issues.


Related article: What All the Signs On Cars’ Console Mean?


Here are 11 Sounds Telling You Should Get Your Car Checked

1. Knocking, Popping, or Banging

Engine knocking often results from using low-octane gasoline in a car that needs high-octane, leading to performance issues. Popping sounds may indicate problems like worn spark plugs, a clogged fuel or air filter, faulty ignition components, or issues with the distributor cap, rotor, mass air flow sensor, oxygen sensor, or catalytic converter.

2. Squealing

If your car produces squealing or chirping sounds when you accelerate, there might be a loose or slipping engine belt or issues with the water pump. Squealing during braking could point to serious problems with brake rotors, pads, or shoes. Squealing while turning into a parking spot might indicate an alignment issue.

Woman turning on car air condition system on dashboard in car panel, Auto car air condition.

3. Clicking or Tapping

Clicking noises, especially during turns, could be due to issues with CV joints at the axles’ inner and outer ends. These joints facilitate efficient power transfer to the wheels while allowing them to turn and move freely. Clicking can also result from failing universal joints on the drive shaft.

When a car makes noise while accelerating, and the clicking or ticking speeds up with higher RPMs, it’s likely coming from the engine. This typically signals low oil levels or issues with oil pressure or valves.

4. Whirring or Whining

Whirring and whining noises from the engine can vary with the car’s speed. These sounds may indicate various issues, such as a failing water pump, a problematic power steering pump, a low-power steering fluid, a failing alternator, or air-conditioning system problems. Tensioner pulleys can also contribute to a humming noise during acceleration or deceleration.

Additionally, a whining sound might suggest wear or problems with the transmission or differential gear train. Mismatched, worn, or oversized tires can also produce a whirring sound in some cases.

Discussing some car problems. Handsome young man talking on the mobile phone and looking at clipboard while standing in workshop with car in the background

5. Hissing

A hissing noise under the hood often signals a leak, typically in the cooling or vacuum system. If you hear hissing after turning off the car, it could indicate oil or coolant leaking onto a heated engine part. High-pitched hissing during operation may suggest a vacuum line, hose, or fitting leak, potentially accompanied by a rough idle (when the engine runs at its lowest RPM, like when stopped at a light or in a driveway).

6. Grinding or Humming:

Grinding or low-pitched humming sounds in a car may indicate wear and failing components. Gears grinding during manual transmission shifting could point to clutch, transmission, or synchroniser issues. If grinding occurs when applying brakes, it usually means you need new brake pads and possibly rotors.

Low-pitched humming beneath the car might signify a failing transmission, worn universal joints, a bad wheel bearing, or a worn differential. Humming from the tires often indicates uneven wear or damage, while grinding from a wheel (without brakes applied) suggests a failing wheel bearing.

7. Rattling

Rattles on your car, unless you’ve recently tied cans to your bumper for a celebration, are often indicators of equipment issues, body damage, or loose/missing bolts. Under the car, a common cause of rattling is an issue with the exhaust system, like a loose/damaged heat shield, corroded exhaust pipe, or loose bolts on the muffler or exhaust pipe.

It could also be linked to a problem with the catalytic converter. Engine compartment rattles might signify a failing water pump or a faulty pulley bearing on the timing belt. Interior rattles could suggest missing screws on trim pieces, worn window channels, or problems with roller tracks on doors and windows.

8. A Loud Exhaust

Engines are naturally noisy, given the frequent small explosions they undergo. The exhaust system’s role is to minimise this noise by guiding it through pipes and a muffler designed to dampen sound while allowing exhaust to pass. A break anywhere between the engine and muffler can make the exhaust significantly louder, resembling a low rumble during slow acceleration or a loud drone at highway speeds. A damaged exhaust can impact emissions control and performance, necessitating prompt attention.

9. Ticking

If you hear ticking under the hood and notice the car running less smoothly, ignition issues might be at play. Modern cars’ ignition systems include coil packs, spark plug wires, and spark plugs. Cracked coil packs or worn spark plug wires could cause voltage to jump from these components to the engine block or another grounded object.

This typically results in sputtering, hesitation, or poor gas mileage. The ticking may be RPM-specific and might even vary with the temperature under the hood. (Note: A slight tick is normal, often the sound of fuel injectors spraying gas into the cylinder.)

10. Clunking

A vehicle’s suspension is built to absorb the impacts of everyday driving, ensuring a smooth ride. Key components in this system, known as ball joints, are located at each front wheel. Their role is to provide significant flexibility, allowing the suspension to adapt to potholes, speed bumps, and uneven terrain by pivoting and twisting. When these ball joints start to deteriorate, drivers may notice clunking or thumping noises while navigating small bumps in the road, barely noticeable ones.

11. Clicking at Low Speeds

If you hear a clicking sound at low speeds, especially in parking lots, it’s important to identify its source. Typically, this noise is caused by an object lodged in the tire. It might be a rock stuck in the tread that will eventually dislodge while driving. However, it could also be a nail, screw, or another less harmless item. Although these objects may eventually come loose, there’s a higher likelihood that they will slowly release air from the tire, leading to uneven wear and inconvenient trips to the gas station air pump.

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