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Common Car Problems That Cause Noises

I am a fully licensed automotive technician who has worked on all makes.

Where Do Car Noises Come From?

Even new cars sometimes have squeaks, rattles, and creaks that have to be fixed. A vehicle fresh from the manufacturer is never 100% perfect; that is why a new vehicle comes with a manufacturer warranty for the first 3 to 5 years.

Car noises can come from any moving parts or anywhere that air flows through the car. Car noises may come from:

  • the engine
  • belts
  • pulleys
  • brakes
  • tires
  • exhaust
  • suspension
  • steering
  • aerodynamic interference

Noises should not be taken lightly. It's possible they indicate a safety-related issue or something that could cause severe damage to the vehicle if you continue driving as is. As a daily driver, you will be the first one to notice something out of the ordinary. Listen to your vehicle and have a mechanic inspect it if it's making an odd noise. That can save you a lot of money from costly repairs.

Steps to Identifying Your Noise Problem

One: Identify that there is a problem by listening closely to the noise when it's signaling you there is something out of the ordinary.

Two: Pinpoint where the noise is coming from. Is it from the inside or outside? From the left or right? From the front or back of the vehicle?

Three: Note down what is happening when the noise occurs. For example:

  • Road conditions
  • Weather conditions
  • Speed
  • Action (accelerating, decelerating, cruising, braking, turning, shifting, idling)

Four (if the noise is intermittent): Record the noise.

Five: Have a trusted mechanic diagnose and repair the problem.

Your notes will help the mechanic reduce time in isolating and diagnosing the problem, which will in turn save you money!

Common Car Noises

Here are some examples of common car noises and a first guess at what might be causing them.

Old belt

Old belt

Squeaking, Squealing, or Chirping Noise With Engine On

Condition: During cold startup, while idling, during hard acceleration, during full turns (with conventional power steering), or with the air conditioning on.

Common Causes: Worn, cracked, glazed, or brittle belt, or possibly a seized or dry pulley system (includes alternator, air conditioning, water pump, idlers, etc.)

Repair: Replace fault belt or pulley system.

Brake pad very thin

Brake pad very thin

Squeaking, Squealing, or Chirping Noise When Braking

Condition: Noise during braking

Likely Causes:

  • Worn brake pads hitting squealer
  • Edges on pads, shoes, rotors, or drums
  • Glazed, pitted, or rusty rotors
  • Pads old, dry, or coated with rust, due to not being driven enough or parked outside in the cold

Repair: Replace pads or shoes, or machine or replace rotors or drums.

Grooves have been worn into the rotor

Grooves have been worn into the rotor

Scraping, Grinding or Metallic Noise During Braking

Condition: Noise during braking.

Likely Cause: Brake pads or shoes worn down to the backing plate, grinding metal-to-metal on the rotors or drums. Or possibly normal operation from the ABS (antilock braking system) due to slippery conditions.

Repair: Replace brake pads or shoes, and, if necessary, rotors or drums.

Heat shield

Heat shield

Pinging, Metallic, or Rattling Noise When Driving

Condition: Noise during idle that becomes louder or faster during acceleration.

Likely Cause: Exhaust heat shield on exhaust system loose.

Repair: Resecure, replace, or remove exhaust heat shield.

Muffler

Muffler

Fluttering Noise, or Engine Sounds a Lot Louder Than Before

Condition: Vehicle sounds like a race car, even during idle.

Likely Cause: Leaking exhaust or faulty muffler system.

Repair: Repair exhaust system or replace muffler.

Clunking or Clanking Noise When Driving Over Rough Roads

Condition: Clunking or clanking noise when driving over bumpy or rough roads.

Cause: Worn bushings, joints or suspension components such as sway bar bushings, steering tie rod ends, ball joints, struts, or shocks.

Repair: Replace worn component.

That's what's causing your ticking noise.

That's what's causing your ticking noise.

Ticking Noise That Increases With Vehicle Speed

Condition: Ticking noise that accelerates along with the vehicle speed.

Likely Cause: Rock or nail stuck in the tire.

Repair: Remove rock or nail from tire.

Sloshing Water Noise From Inside the Vehicle

Condition: Water noise from inside the vehicle when driving and turning.

Likely Cause: Plugged air conditioning drain preventing water draining from evaporator core and tray.

Repair: Unplug drain.

Advice on Preventative Maintenance

Preventative maintenance will reduce the possibility of you or your passenger ever saying "What is that awful noise?" or "Is it safe to continue driving?" The best maintenance habit for your vehicle is to have the vehicle inspected annually, or every 16,000 km or 10,000 miles, and change or service the vehicle's engine oil and other fluids at the recommended intervals. Different manufacturers may recommend different intervals, but more frequent servicing will be healthier for the vehicle depending on the driver's driving habits and usage.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.