7 Noises Your Car Might Make and What You Can Do About Them

The Mechanic Doctor – Resources for Amateur and Pro Auto Mechanics

Cars are complex machines with thousands of individual parts. Although there are many different makes and models, most of them function in much the same way. And when parts wear down or fail, they can make a distinct, often memorable sound.

From the crunchy grind of worn-out brakes to the boiling hiss of a failing radiator, all drivers are going to hear some strange sounds at some point. But since most people are not trained mechanics, it can be difficult to know what exactly is making the sound.

Check out these seven common noises cars can make and what to do about them.

A Grinding Noise

A grinding sound that seems to be coming from the wheel area is often the sound of the car brakes wearing down. Drivers will usually hear this grinding, scraping sound when they press the worn brakes to slow down and come to a stop. As the brakes wear down more, the sound will get louder. If drivers don’t replace the brakes, the friction will damage the brake rotors, resulting in a much more expensive repair.

Solution: Try to get the brakes inspected and changed before the sound gets louder. The longer a driver waits to change bad brakes, the more damage they do to the whole brake assembly.

Car brakes are usually not covered by warranty because they are a wear and tear part, so fixing them quickly is the best way to save money. Some extended car warranty companies do offer additional coverage for brake pad replacement. Using an extended car warranty can help people budget and pay for expensive brake maintenance and repairs.

A Whistling Noise


Sometimes, cars start to make what drivers describe as a distinct whistling noise. They might hear it only when the car is moving or while the car is idling. Some whistles seem low-pitched, while others are loud and high-pitched. Several different failing parts can cause this annoying whistling sound.

A vacuum issue is an easy fix. When air is escaping from a vacuum or hose, it can cause the car to make a whistling sound. Failing or worn-out belts can also make what sounds like a whistling sound to some. But a few issues that cause a whistling noise are much more serious and costly to repair.

Solution: Mechanics can replace worn hoses and belts and end that pesky whistle. They’ll check for these issues first, as they are more common and less expensive to repair. But in some cases, a whistling sound could be something much more difficult and costly to repair, like a bad oil separator unit or a worn differential. Those issues could hurt the wallet, so it’s not a good idea to let the noise go on for long without getting it checked out.

A Whining Noise


A steady, whining noise is the calling card of a bad transmission. It’s often accompanied by struggling to change gears, jerking and shaking, and a burning smell. A transmission failure on a car is a big problem to repair. Once the transmission fails, the car is inoperable until it’s fixed.

Solution: At the first sign of trouble, head to the mechanic. If the “service engine soon” light comes on, go there even faster. A mechanic could head off the problem if it’s a faulty bearing. Sadly, many people don’t get much warning the transmission is going out until it is too late.

A few auto insurance companies offer Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI). MBI can cover bigger repairs like a bad transmission. Even drivers of new cars must consider transmission failure as a possibility. Since not every auto insurance company offers MBI, it’s a good idea to compare quotes from different companies that do.

A Knocking Noise


An unhappy engine often makes itself heard with a knocking noise. Engine knock is a broad term covering several different engine issues. These problems range from cheap to fix and annoying to serious and pricey. A bad spark plug can cause engine misfires and create that knocking sound. Other things that can cause it are:

  •       a bad sensor
  •       a poor air to fuel mix
  •       faulty rods

Solution: The most important thing to do is figure out what causes that distinctive knock. Even casual home mechanics could change out a faulty spark plug at home with the right tools. Some people feel confident enough to diagnose a bad sensor and change that out as well. For other engine issues, it’s always a good idea to have a mechanic take a look.

In some cases, the engine might be knocking on death’s door. In this situation, car owners could choose to replace or rebuild the engine. Many will instead look for a new car.

To avoid the heartache of a failing engine, some people take advantage of their Mechanical Breakdown Insurance through their auto insurer or arrange for an extended warranty to cover major repairs.

A Hissing Noise


A hissing or bubbling noise from the front end of the car is the siren song of an overheated automobile. The coolant that maintains the right temperature range for the engine heats up and eventually boils. As it escapes from the overflow or from a faulty cap, it causes a hissing sound.

Many faulty parts can cause a car to overheat. A coolant cap with a bad or worn seal will allow the coolant to leak and evaporate, leading to dangerously high temperatures. Sometimes, radiator hoses crack and leak. If the car heats up too hot for too long, conditions can cause a blown head gasket. When this happens, there’s a steady leak of coolant, which the owner must then continually replace.

Solution: Some of the solutions for a hissing noise are simple, and most owners can do them at home. Replacing a coolant cap is as easy as purchasing a new cap from an auto store. Some owners may feel confident enough to replace a cracked hose as well.

It is possible in some cases to keep driving with a blown head gasket. Still, most cars struggle to build up enough pressure in the coolant system, and engine performance will dwindle. Owners could try to have the head gasket re-machined.

Fixing a blown head gasket is almost as expensive as changing out the engine of the car. The repair could also cost more than the car is even worth. Consulting with a machinist and mechanic will help the owner decide the best route.

A Roaring Noise


Most owners need to drive their cars for a long time before they hear a wheel bearing go out, but when it does, it is an unmistakable sound. Some people describe it as more like a growling noise, but for many, it is a roaring sound coming from the front or back wheel of the car. The bearings can go out one at a time, and there may be no indication as to which will go out next.

Solution: A replacement is necessary when a wheel bearing gives up. There are a lot of great online resources that will help guide homegrown mechanics in replacing a bad wheel bearing on their car. The alternative is to take it to the mechanic. Drivers should get this repair done as soon as possible. If it gets worse, the wheel could seize up while the car is moving—an extremely unsafe situation.

A Chirping Noise


Some drivers describe it as a chirping sound, while others think it sounds more like a squeak. The usual reason for hearing this noise is a bad belt or pulley. If the belt is too loose or too tight, frayed, or old, the driver will hear a rhythmic chirping sound. So long as the belt has not snapped, the car will continue to run. Some drivers don’t like the attention that a loud belt draws.

Solution: Cars can have many belts, while others have only a few or a single long belt called the serpentine belt. Sometimes, all an owner needs to do is adjust the belt alignment on the pulley to end the chirp. But all belts will wear out over time, so car owners should inspect the offending belts for fraying or cracking.

If the belt snaps, they won’t be going very far, so it’s important to replace worn belts before that happens. In some cases, it’s not a bad belt but a bad pulley. Owners should inspect the pulley for dirt and buildup.

The moral of the story is that cars making certain noises are telling their owners that something is amiss. Owners shouldn’t rely on the “check engine” light alone. They can often avoid expensive and catastrophic part failures by tracking down the source of the noise as soon as they hear it. Don’t ignore any unusual sounds, or the next sound could be the sound of crying over the mechanic’s bill.

The post 7 Noises Your Car Might Make and What You Can Do About Them appeared first on The Mechanic Doctor.

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