Troubleshooting Car Front Suspension and Wheel Problems from Noises or Rumbling Sounds
What Causes Unusual Sounds When a Car Is Moving?
An unusual noise or sound coming from your car when you are driving usually means one thing. Money!
Before you rush off to the dealership or workshop mechanic to troubleshoot the problem, consider this: Many mechanics are just lousy trouble-shooters, so it is a good idea to have a bit of information yourself first.
You have probably had this experience before: Your car makes a noise, and the mechanic keeps replacing parts without finding the source of the problem, or he replaces several parts that do not need replacing before he finds the problem.
Your mechanics may tell you that all those parts needed to be replaced, when the truth was that he was just guessing (at your expense) until he found out what was wrong.
Unfortunately this often happens with suspension and engine/drive-train problems. It is also common after an accident, when guesses are made as to which components are bent or have been stressed.
If you are a follower of my car articles you will know that I try to teach non-mechanically minded people how to avoid getting ripped-off by the motor industry. It is very useful to be able to troubleshoot your car problem from the noises it makes, and it is not as hard as it seems if you understand some basic concepts.
Read on for some ideas about what might be causing the noise in your front suspension. The comments section below is very active as well, so read through that (and leave a comment!) for more specific scenarios and suggestions.
What to Check First Troubleshooting Suspension Noise
Firstly, look for the obvious,
- Have you driven over something that could have damaged your car?
- Have you been the only driver, or could someone else have driven the car and bumped something?
- Have you hit the curb a bit hard?
- Have you hit a really big bump that made your suspension make a loud "thunk" noise?
Any of these events could cause your wheels to go out of alignment. When the wheels are not aligned, you will hear a lot of tire noise.
The Two Most Common Tire Noises
Two totally different tire noises are common.
- A normal tyre rumbling noise while driving on the highway, but much louder than usual, coming from one side of the car only, usually the one closest to the curb.
- A screeching sound when you turn corners, even slowly.
Noise When Car Is Turning
If the car is front wheel drive, check the constant velocity (CV) joint. It may be damaged.
A good way to do this is to drive the car on full-steering-lock both left and right. If the noise is louder on one wheel, you may have a damaged joint. If your car is rear-wheel-drive, ask your mechanic to check the disc shield plate (if it has one), to look for crushed rollers in the wheel bearing, or look for a crack in the bearing sleeve.
Noise After Hitting a Curb Hard
If you have hit the curb hard and then hear noise coming from that side, look under the car while someone shakes the wheel. If the wheel itself has movement, then you have probably damaged the wheel bearing.
It may also be that the ball joint has collapsed. Ask your mechanic to examine the aluminum suspension unit itself, as they have been known to break. If a suspension bush is damaged, it will look a little different to the other two bushes and you will be able to see it by putting a lever against it and moving it.
Constant Rumbling From One Front Wheel
A constant rumbling noise coming from one front wheel, that changes as you go faster or slower, will often be a worn wheel bearing. No big deal to repair, except on 4WD vehicles, where it can be expensive.
The other cause of this noise is exclusive to front wheel drive or 4WD vehicles and is a bit tricky to identify: Noises from drive joints, CV joints, or short shafts all make noise when they are worn out.
A quick way to see if a front wheel drive vehicle has worn out CV joints is to drive the car in a tight circle and listen for a clicking sound. The clicking sound means that the CV joint needs replacing. This is usually a $300 to $400 repair for both sides (always replace both sides).
Is the Rumbling Due to Low Tire Pressure?
If your tire pressure is too low, the tire will make a large rumbling sound that will seem to be coming through the vehicle. The noise will be more pronounced as you increase speed. The noise is the sound of the tire walls being destroyed! Put air in now!
Keeping front tire pressures identical for both sides is essential for good braking.
A Good Mechanic Is Hard to Find
My biggest challenge in running my mechanical businesses was always finding top mechanics. To give you an idea of how hard that is, for one business I rebuilt for a client, I had to replace nine of 13 mechanics!
That's the real world. I needed quality mechanics and had to source some of them from other countries. Incidentally, I was able to replace the 9 mechanics with 7 who did twice as much work in half the time, and the repair quality saved the business from certain bankruptcy.
After many years in this industry I still marvel at the pure bulldust mechanics tell their customers and get away with.