Troubleshooting Car Noises

By YOUCANIC on Aug 5, 2019

Identifying a Car Noise

Is your car making a strange noise when driving, braking, turning or at high speed?

To help you, we identify the problem we build a library of car noises. Listen to each of the sounds below and compare it to the noise in your car. Don't replace car parts based on sound alone.

Noise when turning the steering wheel

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Cause: Low Power Steering Fluid Level
Sound: Whine, Growling
When you hear it:  As you turn the steering wheel, the engine is running, parked or driving
Solution: Add Power Steering Fluid, Fix Leaks

 

A vehicle can make a few noises while turning. The most common noise is growling noise which is often due to low power steering fluid. This noise is caused because the power steering system may have developed a leak. You will hear this sound when you are parked and turn the steering wheel (engine running).

The noise can be heard when driving and making a turn. Noise varies as you change the engine RPMs too. Check all hoses for possible leaks. The power steering pump itself does not have enough power steering fluid thus making the growling noise. Top off your power steering reservoir with power steering fluid.

Don't continue to drive the car with low power steering fluid or you will permanently damage the power steering pump. If you are on a tight budget at the moment and can't fix the leak, keep the power steering system topped off. Ideally, you shouldn't have to add power steering fluid even once a year. If you are adding PS fluid once a month or more often, you have a leak. Keep the PS fluid level at the recommended range until you get the leak fixed.

Noise at startup

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Cause: Worn serpentine belt
Sound: Squeak
When you hear it: At startup, often goes away when the car warms up. 
Solution: Replace Serpentine Belt, If the noise remains, replace Belt Tensioner

 

One of the most common noises is a squealing noise coming from a worn drive belt. When the drive belt starts to deteriorate it loses its ability to function properly. Inspect the drive belt for glazed, peeling, oiled, split and so on.

To test the drive belt; spray water on the drive belt while the engine is running; be mindful to not let water splash on you. If the noise goes away the drive belt is worn.

With the engine off, inspect the drive belt for cracks. 

Click click when making a turn

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Sound: Click, Click, Click
When you hear it: While driving or making a turn or when accelerating
Solution: Replace CV Joint

The second most common noise is a bad axle. When you make a turn you may hear a clicking noise when turning. For example: if you turn your wheel to the right, that means the right axle is bad and vice versa. Inspect the axle for torn and deteriorated axle boot.

The third most common noise is noise coming from a loose tie rod end. Inspect the tie rod and make sure it is not coming loose; this is very dangerous as you can lose control while driving.

Noise when you drive over bumps 

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Cause: Sway Bar Links or Bushings
Noise: Banging, Rubbing, Clunk, Squeak
When you hear it: Going over bumps, hitting potholes.
Solution: Replace Links and Bushings

If you hear a squeaky or banking noise when you go over bumps or potholes, the chances are that the sway bar link or bushings are bad. As you drive the car, the suspension may feel very loose as well.

They are easy to replace and can be changed in your driveway. It is recommended to replace both the sway bar links and bushings at the same time. It is not required to perform front wheel alignment when replacing the sway bar bushings.

Other possibilities:

  • Worn strut or shocks
  • Worn ball joints
  • Worn control arm bushing
  • Worn strut tower 

Noise from under the dashboard

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Cause: Brake Booster
Sound: Hiss, Air Leak
When you hear it: When pressing or depressing the brake pedal. When turning off the engine.

Sometimes you may hear a noise from under the dashboard. Noises from the dashboard can be caused by various items. 

  • Brake Booster Boot
    • If you hear a hissing noise when the car is running there is a good chance the brake booster boot or seal is cracked. You will normally hear the noise only when the engine is running and you press or depress the brake pedal. You also hear the noise for a couple of seconds when the car is turned off. 
  • Stepper Motor
    • Some vehicles have motors and flaps or butterfly type valves that divert the airflow to your face, windshield or your feet. The motors can fail or the flaps can get stuck causing a clicking noise when you turn on the A/C or first start the car. 
  • Blower Fan
    • The blower fan is mounted under the dashboard and can fail to cause a squeaky noise. You should only hear this noise if you turn the A/C or heat on. Sometimes you need to set the fan speed to high or maximum to hear the noise. 

Click, Click, Click Noise | Car won't start

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Cause: Dead Battery
Sound: One or more clicks
When you hear it: Trying to start car
Solution: Charge battery with a trickle charger

 

If your car won't start in many cases the culprit is the battery. It can be tricky to diagnose a bad battery especially if everything else seems to be working fine. It can be tricky especially if the low beam lights still turn on, the dashboard powers up, the blower fan works. Yet, the battery may still be the problem.

Symptoms of a bad battery include. 

  • Engine sounds weak when starting
  • One-click and car won't start
  • You hear several clicks and engine won't turn over

Noise when braking

noise when braking

Brake noises are one of the most common complaints by drivers.  The most common noise coming from a brake system is a squealing noise when you brake. The squealing noise is a sign that your brake pads or drum shoes are running low.

There is a mechanical sensor on your brake pads and when your brake pads run low; the mechanical sensor rubs against the rotor. It is an indication to alert the driver that it is time to replace the brake pads. The second most common noise is grinding noise; when you hear a grinding noise coming from the brake area; it means that the brake pads are very low or there are no more brake pads.  

In this case, the rotors will be damaged from the low brake pads thus requiring replacement. Furthermore, additional noise may result from the brake system such as clucking noise or grinding at all times.

This can happen when the brake caliper is seized and not allowing the brake pads float freely or the clucking noise result from loose brake pads; most likely not sitting correctly on the brake hardware caused by poor installation. 

If you hear a metal rubbing noise after changing the brake pads, the problem often is the dust shield getting bent and touching the rotor. 

Engine Noises

engine noises

An engine has many moving parts. Noise can come from the top end or the bottom end. If the noise is coming from the top end; you may have bad lifters which result in a loud ticking or tapping noise usually caused by high mileage or low oil.

Moreover, the cam lobe may also be worn from excessive miles. In addition, noise can come from the timing belt area or timing chain area. Furthermore, noise can also come from worn bearings such as the alternator bearings, air condition bearings, pulleys and so on.  

Noise when accelerating

A noise when accelerating can be caused by various problems. 

  • Whining noise: bad alternator 
  • Growing noise: power steering pump
  • Howling noise: worn differential
  • Clunking noise: worn driveshaft u joint or worn engine and transmission mounts
  • Squealing noise: drive belt  

Noise when backing up 

Here are some of the noises that can be heard when backing up.

  • Grinding noise: low brake pads, seized brake caliper
  • Whining noise: bad transmission
  • Howling noise: bad differential 
  • Clunking noise: worn driveshaft u joint or worn engine or transmission mounts
  • Suspension: excessively worn bushing 

Noise from exhaust

The exhaust system is responsible for exhaling the exhaust combustion fume from the engine to the end of the tailpipe where it gets released. However, due to wear and tear the exhaust system will eventually rust and leak. 

The common noise is a puffing noise and you can smell the exhaust fumes. If this happens; take the vehicle to the muffler shop and have them inspect for exhaust leaks. 

Noise from lifters

Noise coming from the lifters usually makes a loud clicking noise or a clacking noise. It depends on how severely worn it is.

The noise will always come from the top end of the engine. If the lifters are worn; take it to a mechanic and have them remove the valve cover for inspection. 

Noise from rod bearings

If the noise is coming from the bottom end that means you may have bad rod bearing or main bearings. The noise usually sounds like a knocking noise. 

Moreover, if the noise is coming from the center and sound like a slapping noise; that means your piston ring are worn or the piston wall is excessively worn.

Either way, once the knocking or slapping noise starts, the engine requires rebuilding or replacement. 

Rattle Noise

A rattling noise is caused by a loose component on a vehicle. Some of the loose components that can make noises are:

  • loose exhaust heat shield
  • starter heat shield
  • exhaust pipe
  • timing chain tensioner
  • loose internal panels
  • pulley bearings
  • worn strut tower 
  • loose disc brake shield 

Noise from rear end

A howling or whining Noise from the rear end can be a sign of a failing differential. Usually, the noise becomes loud as the vehicle is traveling faster.

In addition, a low disc brakes or drum brakes can also contribute to noise from the rear end.

Get the opinion of a trusted auto mechanic before you start replacing car parts. A good auto mechanic would love to listen to a car noise and share with your their knowledge. 

Comments

Gordon Cooper, 2019-08-04

Referring to your #1; We've been experiencing a chronic nuisance since owning our current 2017 VW Alltrack Wagon. This annoying, abnormal, noise has been with us since our third or fourth month in ownership.

We owned a 2009 VW Jetta Wagon for eight years, a diesel, and purchased a new Alltrack Wagon in 2017. In the eight years with the 2009 we experienced totally quiet operation of our electro-mechanical steering system. With the 2017, a like system, from the early months of ownership, we've been experiencing very annoying unusual noise from standing still and during low speeds. It is non-metallic; sounds like rubbing rubber; however, noisy and annoying. Our dealership, whom is well respected, has attempted a number of times to diagnose and correct with no success. Most recently they've concluded that this noise is normal for the electro-mechanical system. Unfortunately, I find this difficult to accept because of the eight years of silent operation of our 2009 VW electro-mechanical system.

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