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Four Common Car Noises, Their Causes, and How to Fix Them

Eddie spent 35 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE Certified Master Technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.

If you own a car, it probably makes noises you can't identify, but would love to fix. Car noises are not just annoying: sometimes they are a warning sign, like the calm before a storm.

Here are the four car noises customers most commonly complain about. Sometimes noises are hard to identify, because a noise travels throughout the vehicle and it is hard to pinpoint where it's coming from. But with a trained ear and some insight, we should be able to figure out what is causing the noise in your car and what you can do to fix it.

Common Car Noises and Their Likely Causes

NoiseMore DetailsLikely CauseFixing It

Clicking noise while turning

Starts faint, gradually becomes more noticeable until very loud

Failed outer CV joint (constant velocity joint) due to torn boot (most likely) or old age

Replace either the whole axle assembly (recommended) or the outer CV joint

Water pump noises

Difficult to diagnose because of water pump's location

Noise usually caused by damage to the bearings in failed water pump

Only cure is replacing it. If possible do it at the same time as a timing belt replacement to cut down on labor costs

Squeak or squeal from an engine belt

Loud, high-pitched squeak or squeal

Belts either need adjustment or replacing

If belts only squeak when damp, they probably just need adjustment. If they squeak constantly, they probably need to be replaced

Exhaust heat shield noises

Rattle that you hear when car is idling

Damaged heat shield

Replace heat shield

Knocking noise from engine

Low knock at idle, noise gets louder as RPM's increase under a load

Piston wrist pin or worn crankshaft bearing. Lack of lubrication/ low engine oil

Tear down engine/diagnose or replace engine

1. Clicking Noise While Turning

Probable Cause: Failed outer CV joint

If your car is making a clicking noise when turning, it is likely you have an outer CV joint (constant velocity joint) that has failed because of a torn boot or old age, most likely a torn boot.

Without going into too much detail about what a CV joint is, I will just give you a basic idea of its function and why it might have failed.

What Are CV Joints?

A CV joint is a set of ball bearings at the inner and outer ends of an axle. It lets a spinning axle bend while it’s still spinning (see this cool animation if you like). A rubber “boot” covers the entire joint and protects it from dirt, debris, and moisture, while holding in the grease that lubricates the ball bearings.

A CV joint lets an axle bend while it is spinning

A CV joint lets an axle bend while it is spinning

Over time, since it’s just rubber, the boot becomes brittle and dry. Eventually it will split open and allow specks of dirt and debris to enter the joint. Once foreign matter mixes with the grease, the damage begins, and it is only a matter of time before the CV joint starts to make a clicking noise when turning. This clicking noise while turning will start out faint, but gradually it will become noticeable and eventually very loud.

How to Fix It

The only way to fix this condition is to replace either the whole axle assembly or the outer CV joint. My professional opinion is that it’s better to replace the entire axle assembly; it’s usually cheaper, even if you can even find the outer joint sold by itself, and it doesn't make much sense to mix old parts with new parts.

Noise From the CV Joint When Turning

2. Water Pump Noises

Probable Cause: Failed water pump

Water pump noises are very difficult to diagnose, because the water pump is generally buried deep in the motor, and the noise will resonate through the engine making it difficult to identify. The water pump on your engine is a thick metal casting containing a pulley, pump fins (a palm-sized propeller to push the water along), and a bearing set. When a water pump fails, the noise is usually caused by damage to the bearings. The video below is a great example of what a noisy water pump sounds like.

How to Verify the Sound Is Coming From Water Pump

If you suspect your water pump is the culprit for the noise in your car, try to locate the water pump on the engine. if you can see the casting of the water pump, you can pinpoint the noise by holding the end of a long screwdriver against the casting and putting the other end of the screwdriver against your ear; if the bearing is bad you will hear the noise through the screwdriver. (See the video below, under “Using a screwdriver like a stethoscope.”)

Replacing It

The only fix for a noisy water pump is to replace it. Because of its location (often under the timing belt cover and bolted to the engine block), an awful lot of parts have to be removed to get to it, so it can take several hundred dollars worth of labor to replace a $50 part.

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Read More from AxleAddict

If it is nearly time for a routine timing belt replacement (every 60,000 to 105,000 miles or so depending on the car), you might want to have that done at the same time as the water pump, because timing belt service is one of the rare occasions when a water pump is easy to get to. In fact dealerships will often want to replace your water pump routinely, whether it’s worn out or not, as part of a timing belt service.

Great Example of a Water Pump Noise

Using a Screwdriver Like a Stethoscope

In the video below, the mechanic uses a screwdriver like a stethoscope, pressing it against the hub of a wheel to listen to a wheel bearing noise.

3. Squeak or Squeal From an Engine Belt

Probable Cause: Dry, cracked, or loose engine belt (just needs to be replaced)

Engine belts can create a loud, high-pitched squeak or squeal that will drive you and your neighbors crazy. Some engine belts only squeak after you go through a large puddle or if there is heavy moisture in the air, and others squeak constantly. If your engine belts squeak only when damp, you probably only need to have the belts adjusted. If your belts squeak constantly, they may be dry, cracked, or loose, and probably need to be replaced.

Does Belt Dressing Work?

Some folks like to use a spray called “belt dressing” to stop the engine belt squeal or squeak. Keep in mind that this spray will not fix anything permanently. It is, however, a great tool for diagnosing the noise and finding out which belt the noise is coming from.

If you have belt dressing, this is what you do: when the engine is running, just spray it on each belt to see which belt starts to quiet down. Inspect your engine belts for cracks, damage, and tension, and replace or adjust them as needed.

This serpentine belt is dried and cracked on the backside of the belt and was making a loud squealing noise.

This serpentine belt is dried and cracked on the backside of the belt and was making a loud squealing noise.

This serpentine belt is dried and cracked on the backside of the belt and was making a loud squealing noise, the ribbed side was cracked just as bad.

This serpentine belt is dried and cracked on the backside of the belt and was making a loud squealing noise, the ribbed side was cracked just as bad.

How to Use Belt Dressing

4. Exhaust Heat Shield Noises

Probable Cause: Damaged heat shield

A heat shield noise is a type of rattle you hear while your car is idling, or at a specific engine speed or RPM. Heat shields are metal plates along the exhaust system of your car that deflect heat away from the floor of your vehicle and other heat-sensitive components like fuel tanks, wiring, and brake lines.

As the exhaust system ages, sometime the heat shields start to rust at the hold-down points and become loose. If this is your problem, the engine vibrations will cause an awful noise as you’re sitting at a stop light or as your car is idling in the driveway warming up. It sounds like rocks being shaken on a cookie sheet.

How to Fix It

Heat shields can become damaged due to road debris, snow banks, automotive lifts, and just plain old age. In some cases, a damaged heat shield can be removed temporarily without causing any repercussions, but it's best to replace them as soon as possible. An automotive exhaust system can become extremely hot, even 1000o Fahrenheit if you are running your engine at high RPM for long periods, like on the highway.

Exhaust Heat Shield Rattle

A Car-Buying Secret

Car noises are inevitable; even new cars have noises that need to be fixed.

Here's a little tip that not too many people know about. When buying a new car, if possible, find out what day it came off the assembly line. Watch out for cars built the day before a holiday, or on a Friday afternoon.

It may sound funny, but humans are building these vehicles, and you know what happens at 5 o'clock on Friday or at closing time the day before a holiday: we rush our work so we can head home to relax or prepare for the holiday. This is not a fact I found in a documentary or anything, it's just my experience. When our shop saw new cars with a lot of little problems, it seemed like they were always built on these out-the-door days.

Ask Someone About Your Noise

There are a lot more car noises than what is outlined here in this article, and it would take a lot more time to explain every one of them, so I only covered the noises my customers complain about the most. Just remember, noise could be a warning sign, so if you have a noise in your car that you are unsure of, bring it to your trustworthy mechanic to have it checked out before it costs you even more money.

If you have a noise in your car and you can't seem to figure it out, ask me about it in the comment box below and I will answer your question as soon as possible.

If you found this article helpful, please share it on Facebook or Twitter, just click the buttons at the top of the page. Thank you, I really appreciate it.

More by Eddie Carrara on Car Noises

  • Diagnosing a Wheel Bearing Noise. Your mechanic says you need a wheel bearing. What's a wheel bearing? Pictures, video, and my own interpretation of what a wheel bearing is, what its job is, where it's located, and the noises it makes.
  • Steering Wheel Vibration: My Car Shakes While I’m Driving. If your steering wheel vibrates, or your car shakes while driving at highway speed, find out why. Don't spend money unnecessarily on an alignment or other services that won't fix this problem.
  • Four Common Brake Squeaks. if your brakes squeak, and you want to know why, maybe I can help! Here are four common brake squeaks plus a bonus scraping noise; compare these situations to yours. Questions are welcome.

Bonus Noise: Scraping Noise From Wheel

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: My Honda Accord makes a rattling sound when I come to a stop and when slowly driving away. Sounds like it's coming from under the front of my car. What can it be?

Answer: Have the heat shields on the exhaust checked, they may be rusted and loose.

Question: I was just turning into my complex when I heard a low scraping noise from the rear right side of my vehicle. Do you know what this may be?

Answer: Check out my video on this type of noise, this may help: https://youtu.be/HR8UbHpBfmU.

Question: My 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee makes a weird whining noise when sitting in traffic with my foot on the brake. If I put it in park, it only seems to do it when the vehicle is warmed up. It also made the noise when I was backing into my carport when turning the steering wheel. The noise only lasts for a few seconds then goes away and is fine when driving any ideas?

Answer: I recommend checking the power steering fluid reservoir; it sounds like you may be low on fluid. If so, have the steering system checked for leaks.

Question: My 2011 Mitsubishi Galant is making a whining sound on the passenger side front end. What could this be?

Answer: If the whining sound is heard above 25mph and gets louder with speed, it possible that you're hearing either a wheel bearing starting to fail, or the tread is starting to wear uneven. I recommend checking the tire tread first, and if everything looks OK, have the wheel bearings checked.

Question: I have a 97 Jeep Cherokee. it sounded like a tailpipe dragging. Looked under and saw nothing. Started back up, the sound was gone. Drove a few miles and it started back again. Stopped for a minute and it was gone again. It's parked at home now. Can you help?

Answer: It sounds like one of your rotor backing plates is rusted off and is rubbing against the rotor sometimes. I recommend checking all your rotor backing plates first. Check out this video https://youtu.be/Ah62R9pEwg0

Question: My jeep patriot is making a low noise around 30mph. It almost sounds like the noise a ceiling fan makes. It doesn't do it while I'm sitting at a light or when I'm going any faster than 30 mph. Any Ideas?

Answer: Possible wheel bearing or tire noise? Check the tire wear first, make sure it's even.

Question: I just got a 2015 Toyota Camry. It idles quietly, and can drive under 45 mph. I don't hear any sounds until I take it close to 50 mph and let off the gas pedal, in which case I will hear a knocking sound. The sound will cease when I slow down, and I won't hear it until I go around 50 mph again. There are no warning lights on the car, nor is there a noise until I get over 50 mph. What is happening, and what should I do?

Answer: It sounds like maybe a CV joint. You should have a 5/50 powertrain warranty, so call the dealer and ask.

Question: Why does my Honda Odyssey front end make an occasional moaning sound at low speeds?

Answer: There are a lot of reasons for a moaning sound in your Odyssey, but it may not be coming from the front end. Here are a few examples of a moaning sound from an Odyssey: struts, water pump, power steering pump, alternator, AC compressor, suspension bushings, ball joint moan, etc...

Question: My car just started making a noise like drums in the area under the dash. I have a Pontiac Vibe. Any idea what it might be?

Answer: If you only hear it when the fan is on, you could have some debris stuck in the blower motor.

Question: My Toyota Corolla 2015 is making a soft thumping and soft banging noise. It sounds like it's coming from one of the tires. What could it be?

Answer: If you hear the noise when braking it's possible the rotors have pad impressions caused by rust. If the noise is heard while driving without applying the brakes, it's possible your tires are worn or uneven and are causing the noise.

Question: I have a loud vibration/rattle coming from my car; it does this as I’m accelerating and also at idle, but obviously goes away if I rev the car. My exhaust is solid, and I have no lights on my dash so concerned as to what it could be and how to fix this?

Answer: Exhaust heat shields can appear to be solid, but when examined closely you may find a corner near the stay rusted and completely disconnected. I recommend having a mechanic place the car on a lift and take a look underneath.

Question: My car starts rattling when accelerating uphill, but taking off from idle blows a grey smoke. What could be the issue?

Answer: It sounds like you're describing a ping noise from the engine, and you're burning oil. You should have the ignition timing checked.

Question: My 181 Golf diesel engine continues to run after the engine is switched off, do you know why?

Answer: Have the engine timing checked, that would be the most common reason for this to happen.

Question: Why does my 2009 Chevy Traverse make a rattling noise when stopped at a light? It seems to be coming from the middle console.

Answer: If the noise is coming from under the car, check the exhaust heat shields, sometimes they become rusted and loose, then start to rattle at idle.

Question: My 2016 Ford Edge makes a single clunking/clicking low pitched dumb short noise when moderate to hard braking is applied, right before or almost when the vehicle is coming to a complete stop. What could this be?

Answer: I'm not sure there is such a thing as pad shift, but this only happens the first time you hit the brakes moving in a forward or backward direction and you only hear it once when moving in the same direction, you will only hear it again when going in the opposite direction and hitting the brakes once.

Question: My car is a 2003 equinox. Everytime I come to a complete stop it makes a clunk noise. What does that mean?

Answer: It's possible you have a worn or loose suspension component. I recommend having it inspected to locate the noisy component.

Question: When the engine of my Fiat Punto is hot and running at 2000 rpm, it sounds like a rattle or some kind of rumble coming from the top of the engine. What could this be? It only does it when the car is hot.

Answer: It could be that the oil level is too low, or that it is in need of an oil change.

Question: My 2004 Hyundai Sonata has been making a weird thudding noise. It seems to come from my right rear tire. It only happens when I seem to hit a rough spot on the road, and goes away when I slow down. Any ideas of what it could be?

Answer: I recommend having the shocks/struts checked, it's possible one is leaking and causing the noise.

Question: How can I correct rear wheel noise on a Honda CR-V ?

Answer: I think what you are hearing is a loud rubbing noise on tight turns. If this is true, you need to replace the rear differential fluid with genuine Honda differential fluid for your year make and model. Sometimes we need to drive the vehicle for a week then change the fluid a second time.

Question: My 2013 G37x started making a low humming noise that sounded like it was coming from the left rear wheel. It starts when I get to about 40 mph and I can only hear it when the back rear window is open. The car only has 26k miles on it. What might it be?

Answer: If you hear it with the window open, most likely it uneven tire wear.

Question: I have a 92 Jeep Wrangler with a manual transmission. Lately, it has been riding very hard. It feels like its pulling from the back, I think. It drives super slow when I’m between about 15mph to 40 mph. After 40 mph, it resumes driving smoothly; well as smoothly as you might expect of a jeep. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: It sounds like your engine is lacking power. Spark plug wires can have that effect on an engine, it will sputter and choke until you get up to speed and will smooth out when coasting, but as soon as you put a load on the engine, it will do it again. Check your wires first.

Question: My car was making a whining noise, but it has stopped. What could it have been?

Answer: I recommend checking your power steering fluid level.

Question: I hear a high pitched whistling noise coming from my front left tire and under my truck. I have a 05 Silverado 2500HD. It does it both driving and idling. What could it be?

Answer: It could be a vacuum leak of some sort. You'll need to pinpoint the location of the noise and see if you have any disconnected or broken vacuum lines.

Question: After turning the engine off of my 2014 Avalon, I can hear a clicking noise coming from the rear part of the car. What do you think it is?

Answer: It's either your exhaust pipes cooling down or the fuel tank expanding and contracting.

Question: I am hearing a faint whining noise when my car is stopped. I don't hear the sound as I am coming to a stop; I only hear it when fully stopped with my foot on the brake. Once I take my foot off the brake and accelerate, it goes away. What could be causing it?

Answer: I recommend checking the power steering fluid level; it sounds like it may be low.

Question: I have a 04 Impala LS 3.8lt auto, it has developed front end noise on the passenger side, only when turning right. It sounds like a metal clattering noise to me. Turning the s-wheel to right while driving or bumping the s-wheel to right, bing bing bing, like broken spokes hitting metal, is my best guess to describe the sound. Replaced front struts, cv axles, motor mounts, but still have the same noise. Do you have any advice?

Answer: Are you sure this noise is not coming from the brake area? It is possible your rotor backing plate is touching the rotor or maybe there is a rock stuck between the backing plate and rotor.

Question: My 2002 Sebring is making a knocking and squeaking noise on the passenger rear side. At first, I thought something was rattling around in the trunk, so I emptied it. But it's still there and getting worse every day. It is mostly during in-town driving; when I get on the interstate, it seems to lessen. What could it be? Is it safe to drive?

Answer: I recommend checking your shocks first. One could be blown out and causing this type of noise. If they are not leaking, check to make sure both top and bottom of each shock is tight. Try bouncing the car in the driveway to see if you can reproduce the noise, and have a partner see if they can locate the noise if it can be replicated while bouncing the car.

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