Car noises can mean a whole host of things — depending on when they happen and where they come from — which makes it hard for the untrained ear to work out what’s wrong.
Here are some things to be aware of, and what they can mean:
- Growling noise: A growl that rises and falls with engine RPM can point to a low power steering fluid level, as the pump in the unit starves for lubrication. You may simply need to top off your power steering fluid, but you should also inspect the system for leaks, as repairs may be needed.
- Ticking from under the hood: A slight ticking noise is normal; it’s the sound of the fuel injectors doing their job. A louder ticking can indicate lifter or valvetrain noise. Valvetrain noise by itself isn’t especially worrisome — an engine can run another 70,000 miles with a noisy lifter, but you should check the oil level nonetheless.
- Ratcheting sound from the front end: Failing CV joints on a front-wheel-drive vehicle will make a rhythmic clicking or ratcheting noise that you can hear with the windows down. A good way to pin this noise down is to find a parking lot and drive in a circle, with the wheel racked to one side, and see if the noise gets louder as you turn in one direction compared to the other direction.
- Noticeable clunk when you put the transmission in gear: On a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, failing U-joints will clunk when you put the vehicle in gear, or when you step on or let off of the throttle. It’s the sound of slop being taken up in the joint as you apply the throttle. On an FWD vehicle, this sort of clunk can mean worn motor mounts, although it will come from the front end. Often in FWD vehicles, worn motor mounts will also mean a vibration that gets stronger when the engine is under load.
- Squeaky front end: Squeaks or pops from the front end as you go over bumps can point to failing ball joints. Worn ball joints will often also mean poor road manners and a lot of slop and play in the steering, with the constant correction to stay in a straight line. You can diagnose ball joints by safely jacking the front end up so that the wheels hang and the suspension has no load on it. Grab the wheel at 12 and 6 o’clock and work it back and forth, as well as 3 and 9 o’clock. See how much excessive play is in the wheel and listen for popping or creaking noises.
- Groaning noise: A whining or low groaning noise can come from the transmission if the fluid level is low, or if the fluid is excessively dirty and worn. This is a problem that should be addressed right away.
- Clunk as you apply the brakes: A caliper is misaligned or loose, or some other piece of brake hardware is loose. This is dangerous, and the vehicle should not be driven until it’s diagnosed and repaired.
What do I do if my car makes a noise?
Hearing your car making an unusual noise can be a worry for any motorist but don’t panic.
Listen to the noise and if it sounds like an immediate concern, then pull over and get a mechanic to look at it as soon as possible.
To help you find a mechanic you can trust, the Just7 in all locations.
And just in case the worst should happen out on the roads, make sure you have the correct breakdown cover in place.
If you start your car and it continues to make a clicking sound after you’ve let it sit for a while, it could be a sign of low oil pressure, which will need some professional attention sooner rather than later.
If there’s a hissing sound coming from under your bonnet while your car’s idling, your engine might be overheating, which can be a serious problem.
However, it could also mean that you’ve got a vacuum leak somewhere, which should be easy to fix once you’ve managed to locate it.
My car is making a noise when accelerating
If you can hear a slapping sound that seems to increase in tempo as you increase your speed, one of your tires could be on its last legs.
Driving on a flat or damaged tire can cause lasting damage to your wheels so if the slapping starts, stop driving.
If your gear stick is grinding while you’re shifting up through the gears, it could mean your clutch is worn out or your shift linkage needs adjusting.
Grinding could also signify a deeper problem within the transmission.
If you hear a chirping sound coming from your wheel that changes when you accelerate, it doesn’t mean there’s a budgie caught under the bodywork.
Chirping usually means that a wheel bearing or axle is starting to fail, so get this seen to before it makes your wheels lock up or come loose.
This is just a quick overview of some of the strange noises your car might make, and how to interpret them. That doesn’t mean that you should become an automotive hypochondriac, but it’s important to develop an ear for this sort of thing anyway.