Why Does My Car Vibrate or Make Noises?

Updated on July 2, 2018
Dan Ferrell profile image

Dan Ferrell writes about do-it-yourself car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in automation and control technology.

Speed can be used as a diagnostic tool to solve car vibration or noise problems.
Speed can be used as a diagnostic tool to solve car vibration or noise problems. | Source

Car vibrations and noises are not only irritating but can be the sign of possible serious engine, suspension, or driveline problems, making hard to pinpoint the exact source. Still, some common problems in these areas show up time and again, making them easier to diagnose.

To help in your diagnostic, try to get as much information about the symptoms. This can help you locate the source of the vibration or noise faster. For example, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it a vibration or noise?
  • Is it a vibration that can be felt or just heard?
  • Can I tell from what part of the vehicle the noise or vibration is coming from?
  • Does the noise or vibration happens at a certain vehicle or engine speed?
  • Does the noise or vibration happen only during acceleration?

Pay attention to the tachometer, speedometer on the dashboard, and how the accelerator affect the symptoms, if at all. Use these devices as diagnostic tools during the next test.

Following the test, you'll find listed some of the most common noises and vibrations you can hear or feel along with their potential sources. These vibrations and noises are categorized in relation to engine speed, acceleration, or vehicle speed to make the problem easier to diagnose and fix. These categories may relate to the results of your test or the information you've gathered from the symptoms.

Index
1. A Test to Help You Isolate a Vibration or Noise Source
2. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration at Certain Engine Speeds
3. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration When Accelerating
4. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration at Certain Vehicle Speeds
Are There More Vehicle Vibration and Noise Sources?
Use your tachometer and speedometer as a diagnostic tool.
Use your tachometer and speedometer as a diagnostic tool. | Source

1. A Test to Help You Isolate a Vibration or Noise Source

Vibrations are usually hard to isolate to a particular area or system of the vehicle. But here's a common test you can do yourself that might help you locate the potential source.

  1. Let's say that you've noticed a vibration that occurs when your vehicle reaches a speed of 40 mph.
  2. Chose a road with low traffic and bring your vehicle up to a speed of 50 mph.
  3. Shift the transmission to neutral and let the vehicle coast down to 40 mph.
    • If the vibration is still there, more likely the source of the problem is one or more of the wheel-tire assemblies.
    • If the vibration is gone, continue with the test.
  4. Notice the engine rpms when your vehicle reaches a speed of 40 mph.
  5. Go back to your garage and let the engine idle.
  6. With the transmission in Neutral or Park, bring up the engine to the same speed it reached while driving at 40 mph.
    • If the vibration is not felt, then the problem is in a driveline component (drive shaft, rear differential, rear or front axles, CV joints, wheel bearings).
    • If you still can feel the vibration, the source is in the engine itself or one of the engine accessories. Among the possible sources of vibration or noise are engine mounts, accessories, drive belts, and harmonic balancer condition.

Engine mounts, drive belts and alternators can also be the source of vibration or noises.
Engine mounts, drive belts and alternators can also be the source of vibration or noises. | Source

2. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration at Certain Engine Speeds

Within the engine compartment, engine accessories, engine mounts, hoses and other devices can become noisy or even be the source of vibrations when loose, worn or broken.

1. Engine accessories

An engine accessory that becomes loose from its mounting bolts or a mounting bracket that breaks can produced a noise at any engine speed, especially when the device is driven by a belt like the alternator, steering pump, or air conditioning compressor.

2. Engine Drive Belt

Engine drive belts can also become noisy when worn or loose. Unlike engine accessories, a drive or serpentine belt can become loud at engine speeds ranging between 20 and 40 mph. However, a noisy belt can become quiet at engine speeds above 40 mph.

3. Engine Mounts

A grinding noise or vibration while the vehicle is moving at a steady speed (usually at engine speeds up to 30 mph) may come from a loose or broken engine mount, depending on its exact location and how close it is to engine accessories.

Often, problems with an engine mount can produce a jerky movement of the engine upon starting. You may even see the engine moving. Other times, you may actually feel the movement or vibration from behind the wheel.

4. Vacuum Hoses

A problem that may cause an engine to vibrate or make noises hard to hear is a loose, disconnected or torn vacuum hose. Vacuum leaks can easily disrupt the proper air fuel ratio the engine needs and lead to noticeable engine vibrations.

Most vacuum leaks are felt as a vibration during idle and tend to disappear at higher engine speeds, but can lead to driveability problems you may identify and use them to isolate the source of the problem.

If you can feel the engine vibrating at idle, check that all vacuum hoses are properly connected and in good condition.

5. Valve Tapping

Valve tapping is not as common as other engine sounds but it can happen when a valve or a valve train component is in need of adjustment or replacement. The noise may also occur after doing some engine repairs.

You may hear a clicking sound from behind the wheel that increases or goes away at higher engine speeds. The source of the problem can be a push rod, rocker arm, sticking valve or collapsed valve lifter.

Chassis, axles, and joints are a frequent source of noise and vibration.
Chassis, axles, and joints are a frequent source of noise and vibration. | Source

Whatever the source of the noise or vibration your vehicle may be experiencing, though, remember to take note of the conditions under which the problem occurs.

3. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration When Accelerating

Just like engine speed, other noises or vibrations can be heard or felt when depressing the accelerator and stop when vehicle speed becomes steady. You may be dealing with bad universal joints, axles, CV joints or chassis problems.

1. Universal Joints

Universal joints can be a source of noise and vibration when they develop problems or wear out. This problem affects large rear-wheel drive, 4WD and AWD vehicles using a drive shaft assembly.

Depending on the severity of the problem, worn universal joints can become noisy when accelerating at speed ranges above 30 mph; a driver can also feel a vibration during acceleration at any driving speed. When a problem can cause a shift in the proper angle of a universal joint, a vibration may be felt at low speeds.

2. Rear and Front Axles

Front axles transfer rotating power from the differential to the front wheels, while rear axle assemblies transfer rotating power to the rear wheels.

Axle gears and, more commonly, bearings and CV joints are a common source of noises when worn or damaged. Usually, you'll hear a noise or vibration during acceleration at speeds above 20 mph. Sometimes at even high speeds. Watch the next video for an example of a CV Joint going bad and causing vibration at high speeds.

3. Chassis

Chassis components, specially around the rear of the vehicle, can be a source of noise and vibration when worn or loose. Sometimes, they can be heard during acceleration at relatively low speeds, usually above 20 mph.

4. Constant Velocity Joints

Front drive axles connect to the front wheel hubs and wheels through constant velocity (CV) joints (ball joints) to transfer rotating power to the wheels.

Ball joints also allow an axle to move at angles while still transferring rotating power as the vehicle travels over road imperfections and bumps and rounds corners.

This constant movement of the joints can eventually wear them after years of operation. This can lead to audible noises or vibrations.

If a CV joint is worn or damaged, you may hear them as you accelerate.

5. Automatic Transmission Noise

An automatic transmission can produce various types of sounds coming from an equal number of problems. You may hear grinding, whirring, or whining noises from bad gears, torque converter, bearings, and, sometimes, because of low oil level.

However, a worn bushing, located at the end of the extension housing can produce a noise during acceleration or deceleration at speeds above 30 mph.

Wheel and tires are one of the most common sources of vehicle vibration and noise.
Wheel and tires are one of the most common sources of vehicle vibration and noise. | Source

4. I Can Hear a Noise or Feel a Vibration at Certain Vehicle Speeds

Tires, wheel bearings, CV joints and drive shafts can become sensitive to vehicle speeds when certain problems arise.

1. Wheel and Tires

Many tire problems can show up as noises or vibrations. Here are the ones you are more likely to encounter:

  • Lack of proper balance: This is perhaps the most common vibration issue coming from a wheel and tire assembly. An unbalanced wheel translates into more weight on one side than the other. The vibration may be felt at vehicles speeds of 20 mph and above.
  • Uneven wear: When they develop uneven wear, tires can also produce vibration at vehicle speeds above 30 mph.
  • Radial runout: Also, a tire or wheel with radial runout can produced the same effect. Radial runout refers to a tire rotating in an inaccurate circle due to an unequal distance from the center axis of rotation to the edge of the wheel or tire. Radial run out can produce a vibration at about 20 mph and above.
  • Lateral runout: Similar to the previous issue is lateral runout, the side-to-side movement of the tire. However, the vibration is usually felt at 60 mph and above.
  • Bad tire body: Faults in the tire body can also lead to vibration issues. For example, separation of the internal strands, a damaged belt, or road impacts that may damage the tread or sidewall.
  • Bad alignment: Also, wheels out of alignment and worn tires can produce a whining noise.

Usually, front tire vibration is felt on the steering wheel, while rear tire vibration can be felt around the center and rear of the vehicle.

2. Wheel Bearings

Worn, dried or damaged wheel bearings can also become noisy. A wheel bearing allows the wheel and tire assembly to turn freely around the wheel hub assembly.

A bad wheel bearing can produce a whining noise at any vehicle speed.

3. Drive Shaft

On models with rear-wheel drive, AWD or 4WD, the drive shaft and universal joints that help transfer rotating power from the transmission can also be a source of noise or vibration due to runout, imbalance or wear issues.

A drive shaft spins faster than the wheels and, at high gears, it equals engine speed. So a drive shaft should be perfectly balance and straight.

Manufacturers may use balancing weights, just like they do in wheels, to balance a drive shaft. If one or more of the balancing weights is lost or road impact distorts the drive shaft, audible and physical vibration can result, usually at vehicle speeds above 40 mph.

However, a grinding noise coming from under the vehicle can point to worn out or damaged universal joints, located at either end of the drive shaft.

An unbalanced drive shaft can cause a vehicle to vibrate.
An unbalanced drive shaft can cause a vehicle to vibrate. | Source

Are There More Vehicle Vibration and Noise Sources?

There are many more vehicle vibrations and noise sources not touched upon here. For example, when problems arise in specific areas like the brake system (rotor runout), transmission issues (torque converter problems, chattering clutch, low fluid level), or the engine (misfires). Those outlined here are some of the most common and hard to diagnose, but now you can get to the source faster and, hopefully, will help you decide to make the repair rather sooner than later, specially on those situations where safety may be an issue. Whatever the source of the noise or vibration your vehicle may be experiencing, though, remember to take note of the conditions under which the problem occurs: vehicle, engine, and acceleration speed. This will help you diagnose the problem faster. And making a repair sooner rather than later will prevent the vibration or noise from turning into an unsafe driving condition and costly repair.

Questions & Answers

© 2018 Dan Ferrell

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