Roaring and Squeaking: A Guide to Car Noises
By Kimberly Graf. Published on July 28, 2023
So your car has a funny noise. Anyone who has ever owned a car has, at one point, had this same problem. But how do you know if it's something serious or something that's just annoying and won't cause you any other trouble?
The short answer is: you don't. Even one of the noises that we discuss below could be easily mis-diagnosed and be a much more serious problem. So if you're hearing a strange noise and your car starts handling differently, definitely do not hesitate to get it to a repair shop.
But to avoid going in blind, here are some of the most common car noises and what they usually mean.
When braking: Squeaking is the most common of car noises, and usually a pretty easy fix. If you hear squeaking or squealing when you hit the brake pedal, it usually means that your brake pads need to be replaced. Sometimes, perfectly good brake pads can become 'glassed over', by getting debris into the grooves along their surface. This will also produce a squealing sound.
The best way to know for sure is to check them. You can see the brake pads through your wheels, so you can easily check these yourself or take them to a brake shop for a quick inspection.
When running: If you're hearing continual squealing when the car is running, it is probably a belt. Belts are inexpensive components as a whole, but they do the crucial job of keeping your engine running. You should replace a worn belt as soon as possible, because if it breaks while you're driving it could cause you a lot of trouble and a lot more money to fix.
When turning: If your steeling is what's squeaking, or you hear a squeak near your steering wheel during a turn, you might be low on power steering fluid. This is an easy remedy you can fix yourself. If it doesn't go away after you allow the power steering fluid to get into its system, it might be indicative of a larger problem with your power steering system.
Inside the car: If you hear a whistling sound inside the cab of your car while you're driving down the highway, it might be time to replace the weather stripping around one of your windows or doors. Not a serious issue, but it could definitely drive you crazy!
Under the hood: A whistling sound under the hood could be another indication that a hose is cracked. These hoses carry pressure and air to and from your engine, and when they crack they allow that air to escape. That might be what you're hearing, so we'd recommend getting your hoses checked.
After it's turned off: If the whistling only occurs after you've turned your engine off, there's a chance the problem is something as mundane as the radiator cap. There is a gasket that keeps the radiator and all of its heat-sealed off under this cap, and when that gasket wears down, you might be able to hear air escaping. Do not check anything to do with the radiator until the car is cooled down, or you could give yourself serious burns.
When turning: If you hear a lot of groaning when you turn the car, chances are there's friction in your power steering system. This is a serious issue because you could slowly lose control of your car's steering. Get it checked immediately.
Over bumps: When your car is clunking or groaning when you hit a bump in the car, there's likely a suspension problem. It could be a bad wheel bearing, ball joint, or strut. It will definitely affect your car's handling, and there's no way to tell if it's a serious issue or not.
Most often, ticking is heard when idling or after the car is turned off. If it happens while the car is running, it's a good indicator that you have a low oil level. These are the pistons being noisy and rubbing together when the oil isn't providing enough lubrication. You might also need to get an oil change.
Ticking after the car is turned off, especially after long drives, usually means that the engine is cooling off. This isn't a cause for concern at all.
Loud while idling: If your car is louder than normal while it's in idle, it could indicate that the compression in your engine cylinders is off or there's a leak in this sealed system. Higher cylinder pressures produce these sounds – and it may even manifest as a knocking under your hood. If you don't get this looked at, it might lead to engine damage.
Rumbling in idle and drive: If your car doesn't usually sound like a racecar and suddenly starts, you need to get the exhaust system checked. This could indicate a hole in your muffler or other exhaust problem. The bad end of this noise is that you may be getting fumes into the cab that are toxic, so definitely get it checked out.
Rough Idling: If you notice that your car is idling a little differently than normal, including short, hard jumps while you aren't moving, it usually means the spark plugs are going out or need replaced. It's causing the engine to misfire, which could lead to power and control problems in the long run. Plus, your spark plugs help your combustion engine ignite – if it can't, you might not be going anywhere.
Lastly, a "rur-rur" sound when you start the engine will usually be a battery problem. It's low on juice and needs charged or replaced. Pay attention, because you only really get a few of these starts before the battery completely dies and you'll need a jump start to get it replaced.