You can identify car problems by listening to the sound. That's only if you are an experienced mechanic, right? Because how are you supposed to know what causes a particular noise without having years of experience.
To help you, we decided to build a library of car noises. Listen to each of the sounds below and compare it to the noise in your car. Keep in mind that the similar sounds can often be emitted by various issues. Don't replace car parts based on sound alone.
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. Hopefully without charging you money.
Noise when turning steering wheel
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 start up
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; get a bottle water and 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. In addition, make sure to inspect the drive belt for cracks.
Click click when making a turn
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
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 suspention 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.
- Worn strut or shocks
- Worn ball joints
- Worn control arm bushing
- Worn strut tower
Noise from under the dashboard
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 cracket. 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 air flow 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 causing 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.
Car won't start, click noise
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
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. 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.
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.
A rattle 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.