Weird car noises are the bane of every driver’s existence. Whether you have a strange sound that comes and goes or one that annoys you every time you drive your vehicle, it’s important to get it checked out.
Here’s a list of some of the most common weird car noises and what they mean. Being able to describe them and give your auto mechanic some clues will help you both get a jump on what’s happening, so you can fix it quickly.
Clicking When Turning the Ignition
Unfortunately, most people know the dreaded “click, click, click” sound that sometimes happens when you try to turn a car on. This is the classic sign of a dead battery. It’s time to get a jump or tow to your mechanic. Don’t keep trying to start the vehicle, as you could “flood the engine,” meaning to push too much gas into its cylinders, making it harder to start when you finally get a spark.
Grinding or Squealing Brakes
Have you ever asked, “Why is my car making weird noises when I brake?” You’re not alone. This is one of the most common questions mechanics hear.
Typically, a grinding or squealing noise means your brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced. Loud brakes should never be ignored, as brake failure could be a catastrophic safety issue.
Ticking While Idling
A sound like a metronome or clock ticking when your vehicle is idling usually means your oil is low. It’s hard on your engine to drive with low oil, so either get an oil change or top off your oil for the moment while you’re on the road. If you’ve recently had an oil change or added oil, you might have a leak, especially if you notice oil pooling under your parked car or truck.
If you’re lucky, this sound is due to low tire pressure. You can add air, but keep an eye on the pressure to ensure you don’t have a puncture.
Another cause of thudding tires can be wheel misalignment. Is your car also pulling to one side? It’s time for an alignment, or you could damage your tires and reduce your fuel efficiency.
Shrieking Under the Hood
You’ve probably heard others with this problem, as the piercing noise is hard to ignore. It typically means you have a loose serpentine belt, which affects your radiator fan, alternator, water pump, power steering pump, and air conditioning compressor. Your mechanic might be able to tighten it, or it may be so worn that it needs replacement.
An early sign of the belt loosening is a rhythmic chirping sound. If the shrieking stops and is replaced by a flapping sound, the belt may have broken, and a repair is urgent. Stop driving and get a tow to the shop, or you risk damaging your engine.
Hissing from the Engine Area
A hissing sound emanating from the engine is often caused by a leaking or loose hose. Your mechanic can see if it needs to be reattached or replaced. Don’t try to do it yourself, as you risk being burned by hot steam.
Sometimes using cheap or lower octane gas can cause engine knocking. If you change to a higher grade of fuel and the problem persists, it’s probably caused by one of these issues:
- Faulty fuel pump
- Damaged piston
- Worn bearings
- Bad spark plugs
- Malfunctioning gasket or seal
- Carbon deposits
Roaring When Accelerating
If you hit the accelerator and feel more like you’re in a jet plane than an automobile, you likely have a problem with your exhaust. It may have worn through, or parts may have come disconnected, particularly if you drive off-road or over potholes.
Another common cause of this noise is a stolen catalytic converter. Unfortunately, these are often pinched while cars are parked in a public parking lot, as the platinum they’re made from is valuable on the black market.
Squeaking When Accelerating
This squeak speeds up the faster you drive. The usual cause of this sound is one of the universal joints (aka U-joints) in a four-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicle. This should be checked by a professional as soon as possible.
If you can rule out loose items in your trunk, a rattling noise may be caused by one of these things:
- Something that has come loose beneath the vehicle, like part of the exhaust
- A loose lug nut in the wheel (will sound like a coin in the clothes dryer)
Snapping When Turning
There are multiple causes for this kind of weird car noise. Possibilities include:
- CV (constant velocity) joints on front axle (front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive vehicles) need replacing
- Low power steering fluid
- Problem with the suspension system
Whining or Howling
You might know this sound from other types of machinery malfunctioning. Usually, it means ball bearings need replacing. But where? Pay attention to where the sound is coming from, and that will give you a big clue.
If the noise is more like a groan or a whine, especially when turning or if turning feels stiff, it’s your power steering system that needs help. This is definitely not a problem to procrastinate with.
In fact, in general, it’s not a good idea to let strange car noises go, as they rarely resolve on their own. Your mechanic can help you catch problems when they’re still small, before they turn into larger, more costly ones.