Because vehicles are composed of many different complex systems, they have the potential to make a wide range of sounds… “clicks”, “ticks”, “pings”, “bangs” and “pops”… to describe a few. Some are more serious than others. There are a few questions to ask oneself in this situation; where do I hear the noise? What sound is it making? Does it continue when you stop driving? Does it occur during braking or acceleration? Does it happen then the vehicle is motionless? These are good starting points which can point to certain issues – or at least help you to identify which system is in need of a repair.
Exhaust sounds. In most vehicles, the engine is located in the front of the car but the engine’s exhaust travels the length of the vehicle so anywhere along that system, noises can be created through defect or vibration. The further back you hear the noise, the less serious the problem is said to be. So with today’s front-wheel drive vehicles, any noise from the driver’s door to the back of the car (while the car is motionless) would not hinder you from driving to a service station, or home for that matter. Second, if it were an exhaust issue, you would expect to hear low-pitched or high-pitched sounds if the exhaust has a hole or crack leaking exhaust somewhere throughout the system. There may also be a bit of a thump at the same time in a repetitive pulse (due to the opening and closing of the exhaust valves in the engine). If you looked under the car where the leak was emanating from it would be more pronounced. You can drive home, but get it fixed. Leaky exhausts only get worse and believe it or not, can diminish your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and performance, depending on the location of the leak.
Engine sounds. Maybe you’re hearing sounds related to engine issues? A popping sound coming from your car’s tailpipe is a signal that something isn’t exactly right with the engine. It could mean a dirty air filter, dirty or worn spark plugs, bad spark wires, an ignition problem, a clogged fuel filter, water in your gasoline, a bad accelerator pump or power circuit in your carburetor or a clogged catalytic converter. Similarly, if you hear a rattling noise when sitting at a stop sign or stop light that sounds a lot like a box of rocks shaking, then that is another good sign that your catalytic convertor is bad. Also, a popping sound coming from under the hood or the engine could also mean your vehicle could benefit from a tune-up or a sensor might not be working properly. Get to a service station and do not ignore this. Allowing your engine to burn fuel improperly over a long period can cause damage to your engine’s components which can lead to significant repair costs.
Braking noises. Brakes are the most important safety feature on your vehicle, so ignoring any sounds that occur when you’re braking could put everyone in danger. When you have brake issues, you’ll usually hear screeching, squealing or squeaking noises. Do you hear a “clunking” noise? This could signal problems with worn steering system components, the disc brake caliper is not mounted properly or brake hardware is damaged or missing. A squealing noise when braking could mean several things; dirt on the brake rotors, drums, pads, and/or shoes, brake pads and/or shoes are worn, brake pads were overheated and are now glazed, disc brake calipers were mounted incorrectly or have come loose or wear indicator on the pads are contacting the rotor. You may have to install new brake pads, and resurfacing or replacing the brake rotors if necessary, will help ensure you’ll be able to stop safely and quietly without causing further damage to your vehicle.
Squealing noises can also signal other issues, not just brakes. For example, engine belts are considered a “wear item”. This is because they are attached to moving components such as pulleys and suffer a fair amount of friction over time. They also dry out and crack under heavy use or being left to the elements, particularly in dry states like Arizona. The serpentine belt, a drive belt that transfers power produced by the engine’s revolutions to multiple accessories like the air conditioning, power steering and alternator could also be signaling for help. After you drive over time, this serpentine belt can simply wear down and start to slip which causes this obvious squealing sound.
You may also hear noises like pinging or knocking. Although rare, they are not impossible and this usually means an issue with your ignition or fuel system. It could be as simple as the quality of fuel you pumped in the tank which could contain water or an engine in need of a tune-up which is sometimes referred to as “pre-ignition”. To deal with this issue, experts recommend that you not only start filling your tank somewhere else with better quality gasoline, but if the problem persists to get a tune-up (new spark plugs, air filters, etc.) and run a fuel injection cleaner fuel additive through your engine.
Hear more of a gurgling noise? It is one of the stranger sounds, we agree! The majority of the time, your cooling system isn’t doing it’s job. Boiling coolant can be heard from the coolant reservoir and even through the hoses so let your engine cool and check your reservoirs level indicator which will indicate if you need coolant.
When you’re hearing noises is important too. If you only hear the noises while the vehicle is in motion, then you could be dealing with suspension or steering abnormalities (clunks, banks and pops) or possibly drive train issues such as bearings (grinding and vibration). Again, as mentioned above, brakes will make lots of noises when they’re going bad or failing.