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Common Car Noises & The Reasons Behind Them

If you've been a car or truck owner long enough, you’ve probably heard your car began to make odd, unexpected, and unnerving noises as it runs, drives, turns, or brakes. Sometimes, the noise source is clearly coming from a certain part of the vehicle, like the engine, wheels, or exhaust. Whereas other times, you can’t quite make out what the source of the noise is. Either way, if your vehicle is making strange noises, it’s a symptom that something isn’t quite right and that it is time to bring the vehicle in for service at CARS of America.

Luckily, most of the time, when your car is making a strange noise, it doesn’t mean that your car is in danger of immediate breakdown. (though it is a possibility) Sometimes, an unusual noise marks a minor problem that won’t affect your car’s function in the short term. But even in those cases, the noise probably represents an issue that can grow worse over time.

Here are some of the most frequent causes of abnormal vehicle noises. 
 
Tire Noise
One of the most common unusual noises you might encounter is tire noise. But, in fact, tires can make a variety of abnormal noises. Therefore, it’s important to understand not just that your tires are making some strange noise, but what that noise is and what it might mean for your car’s health. 
 
Squealing Noise
Almost everyone has encountered this one – Your tires squealing when you turn the steering wheel. As long as you’re not pulling tight turns at great speeds (not a great idea in general), your tires shouldn’t be squealing. 

The most likely culprit for squealing tires is one or more under inflated tires. So if you hear squealing, that probably means you need to add some air to your tires. Over time, underinflated tires can cause various problems for your tires, suspension, and other parts of your car, so it’s wise to address underinflated tires as soon as possible. 
 
Humming Noise
Another fairly common issue you might run into are tires that increasingly seem to hum as you drive. Remember that tires will make some noise naturally on most road surfaces, which is perfectly fine. But when that humming increases to a certain level, it's an indication of a problem. 

In this case, the number one reason for abnormal tire humming tends to be tires with uneven tread wear. But, of course, tires can wear unevenly for several reasons – a problem with the suspension, faulty wheel bearings, and/or several other causes can result in tires with uneven wear patterns. 

To prevent uneven tire wear, you should regularly get your wheels rotated and perform wheel alignment routinely. This will balance out the natural discrepancies in wear over time. In addition, we recommend getting your wheel bearings and suspension inspected if you suspect your tires are wearing unevenly. 
 
Thudding or Slapping Noise
If you’re hearing thudding or slapping noises coming from your tires as you drive, this suggests a problem that’s potentially larger than the others previously mentioned. Thudding noises can mean anything from severely underinflated tires to suspension and alignment issues, and it’s likely an issue needing to be addressed sooner rather than later. 

Significant tire noises like these indicate that you might be on the verge of blowing out a tire or suffering major damage to your suspension. You don’t want to be driving very long without getting an inspection by a trained professional if you hear noises along these lines. 
 
Brake Noise
Another widespread class of abnormal car noises are noises that occur when you’re braking. The process of braking the car is one of the most stressful in terms of wear and tear on your car, as bringing all that momentum to a halt requires a huge amount of energy. So while you might hear minimal noise when you brake under normal circumstances, the process should be fairly silent. If you hear strange sounds as you brake, that’s probably an indicator of an issue. 
 
Rattling
If you hear a slight rattling sound when you let up on the brakes, this may not mean you have a problem with your brakes. Brake pads expand due to the incredible heat generated by friction, and a little rattling may be normal due to the natural movement of the brake pads. 

However, it’s worth noting a couple of things about brake rattling: Number one, You should never hear a rattle when you’re pressing down on the brake pedal, and number two, you shouldn’t consistently hear a rattle. If either of these is taking place, you may have an issue with your brake pads. 
 
Grinding
In contrast to rattling, hearing any grinding noise when you apply your brakes is not only a problem, but it’s potentially a very costly and serious one if you don’t address it soon. 

If you hear grinding noise when you apply the brakes, it most likely means you’ve worn completely through your brake pad. Now, instead of the pad meeting the rotor disk, it’s the bare metal making contact. The most common cause of prominent grinding noise from brakes is metal-on-metal contact.
 
 
Squeaking
Another frequently encountered brake noise is squeaking noise when applying the brakes. Again, this is an important sound to take note of, as it might help you save a whole lot of hassle and money. 

One of the reasons brakes can squeak when applied is a little metal tab called a wear indicator. A wear indicator is installed along with a set of brake pads, and the wear indicator’s job is to let you know when the brake pad has worn down and needs replacing. When the pad has worn to a certain level, the wear indicator will contact the rotor disk and produce a squeaking sound. 

This alerts you that it’s time to get a new set of brake pads and avoid the nightmare scenario discussed in the ‘grinding’ section. Ignoring that squeak can potentially be costly. 

It’s worth noting that a cheap set of brake pads can result in a squeaking noise when braking as well. So, it’s good to remember how recently you’ve installed your last set of brake pads. If it’s relatively recent, it’s probably due to inexpensive brake pads or a problem of some sort with those pads. On the other hand, if you’ve gone a long while since replacing brake pads, there’s a good chance your wear indicator is telling you it’s time for new pads. At a minimum, a brake inspection is in order.
 
Suspension Noise
Most people have a general idea that the car’s suspension system exists to make your ride a smooth and bump-free one. And that’s somewhat true. But the full truth is that your suspension system is a finely-tuned combination of multiple complex systems that controls your wheels and the vehicle’s body, and problems with the suspension system can have major effects. 

Suspension noise can be a major red flag that some component within your suspension is either worn out or damaged, and driving with that part not functioning can snowball into a whole host of problems if not addressed. 

One of the more common suspension noises comes when driving over a speed bump, pothole, or any other bump in the road. You might hear a clunking or knocking noise. There are several possible culprits for a noise like this. 

The first is that you may have worn-out shocks or struts. When your shocks reach a certain state of wear, your coil springs will vibrate upon impact and may strike your vehicle’s chassis. Hearing a knocking sound when you hit a bump might mean it’s time for new shocks or struts. 

A clunking can also mean that you have an issue with your struts, ball joints, control arms, or any of several components within your suspension. Diagnosing exactly where the trouble lies can be nearly impossible to do yourself. Having your suspension checked by one of our ASE Certified Automotive Technicians is the safest course in getting your suspension back into good shape. 
 
Steering Noise
Yet another class of abnormal vehicle noises comes when you turn the wheel to steer your car. These noises will be ones you notice coming from the front of the car, either centered near your steering column all the way out to your wheels. 

A strange steering noise can indicate an issue with a part of your steering system, or it may be a problem down the chain in the suspension or wheels. The distinguishing factor between this and the previous section is that these noises will be observed when you turn the wheel, while the previous ones are observed when hitting bumps or driving straight. 
 
 
 
Popping or Clicking
If you hear more of a popping or clicking noise when you turn the wheel, this is more likely to be an issue further down in your suspension or the wheels. A popping noise may indicate worn or damaged suspension joints. Likewise, clicking or crunching tends to point to bad CV joints (constant velocity joints). And a humming noise when steering may mean your wheel bearings are damaged or worn. 

Any of these types of issues should be addressed as soon as you’re able. In addition, problems within the suspension and wheels can lead to unpredictable handling, uneven tire wear, and further damage within the component chain from the steering wheel to the tires. 
 
Engine Noise
Engine noise is always a scary one, both from a performance and a financial standpoint. The engine is in many ways the most crucial component of your car, and an engine failure will quickly leave you stranded. Also, engine repairs can often be quite costly. So, it’s never good news when your engine is making odd noises. 

The overall rule for abnormal engine noise is that you likely want to get the car checked out at your earliest convenience. Most sources of engine noises are various parts and components in the engine system being out of whack, worn out, or damaged. You’ll often get a little bit of warning via strange noise before a part fails more critically in these situations. Of course, it’s always good to listen to what your car is telling you. 

There are so many vital systems and parts within the engine that it’s difficult to summarize the sounds you might hear and their causes neatly. For example, you may hear popping, pinging, whirring, hissing, knocking, or grinding sounds – each of which might point to one of several issues. 


Bottom line: If your engine is making strange noises, it’s worth your while to have us checked it out. Our ASE Certified Technicians at CARS of America Inc are trained to get to the root cause of the noise and fix whatever is causing it. 

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