Common Vehicle Noises: What They Might Mean

Common Vehicle NoisesWith a twist of the key or poke of its start button your vehicle’s engine should fire up with the urgency of a physician responding to a code blue.

Of course it should also idle as smoothly as a sewing machine running a line of chain stitches. If this isn’t the case you ought to take note because something serious could be awry.

The same is true for the rest of your car or truck. It should operate as silently as a napping kitten and feel smoother than satin underwear. Modern vehicles are engineering marvels built to exacting standards with basic car maintenance, but as with anything crafted by man, things will go wrong and often in spectacular fashion.

If for some reason your car is making uncouth noises here’s a small sample of what could be going on.

Screeching or Groaning

If there’s a screeching sound when you apply the brakes it’s a good chance the pads have reached the end of their useful lives. Many are engineered with small metal tabs that rub against the rotor when the friction material is worn away to a certain point. The squealing sound is an indication that it’s time for a brake job.

If you put off this necessary maintenance for too long the noise could progress to a demonic growling. No, this doesn’t mean your car has been possessed by malevolent spirits bent on your destruction. Instead it occurs when the pads have been worn down all the way to the rivets or steel backing plates, a very bad situation. If a similar but less harsh rumbling noise happens all the time while moving it can signal a bad wheel bearing.

Clicking and Clacking

If your front-wheel-drive vehicle sounds like an Amtrak train while moving at low speed with the wheels turned it could be an indication that the constant velocity or CV joints are failing. They’re located on the ends of the drive axles.

And these are some of the hardest working parts in a car. They send power the wheels and deal with vertical inputs from the road all while allowing you to steer. There’s a lot going on in a small area so cut ‘em some slack. A similar noise coming from the back of a rear-drive vehicle can be an indication of a bad universal joint.

Hissing

Sure, there might be a bundle of rattle snakes living under the hood but if your car or truck’s engine makes a hissing sound it could also be an indication of a leak, either in the cooling system or a vacuum line. If it’s the former overheating is a concern, the latter, drivability and fuel-economy issues could result. A trip to the mechanic is in order.

Clunking

If your vehicle clunks while driving over bumps or pot holes something is definitely out of order. Chances are it’s not a case of roadway elves knocking on the undercarriage, even if these diminutive humanoids are sworn to protect the highways and thoroughfares of America. Moving on …

Bad ball joints, worn control-arm bushings or faulty stabilizer link-pins can cause uncivilized sounds, but other chassis components could be to blame as well. Even a loose exhaust system can flop round and make percussive noises.

Squealing

If your car’s engine is making a shrieking sound it could be an issue with the serpentine belt. Either the rubber has gotten old and brittle or the tensioner could be failing. If the latter is to blame the belt may not have the appropriate pressure applied to it, causing slippage and ultimately ill-mannered commotion. Fortunately this repair should be relatively simple and inexpensive so there’s no excuse for putting this off. Get it taken care of before the belt snaps or pops off when you’re driving home at 2:00 in the morning during an ice storm, because, you know, that’s when it would happen.