17 Scary Car Sounds … and What They Mean

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Man Looking Under Car Hood

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When your car stops purring and starts making scary sounds, it’s time to head straight for the repair shop and have it checked out by a technician. Car sounds can range from clicking to booming, squealing to chirping. They most often occur during specific actions, like steering, stopping and accelerating. Many of them can indicate major mechanical problems and definitely should not be ignored.

If your car has one of these issues, especially one that isn’t an easy DIY fix, you should take it to a mechanic. Carfax’s service shop search tool has ratings and reviews of service shops in your area.

To make it easy to track your car’s scheduled maintenance, check for recalls and check prices for repairs, you can sign up for our free MyCarfax tool.

Here are 17 of the most frightening car sounds and what they could mean. 

1. Clicking

If the car doesn’t start when the ignition is engaged, you may hear a weak clicking sound. This usually means the battery is not holding a charge, though it can also point to more serious issues with the vehicle’s charging system. 

2. Chirping, Squealing or Squeaking

If you hear a high-pitched sound coming from under the hood, it probably means your car’s drive belt, which powers several of the vehicle’s accessories, is worn or loose. Have it checked and/or replaced before it breaks and the car loses its power steering, charging, engine cooling and air conditioning. 

3. Gurgling or Bubbling

If you hear what sounds like water boiling under the hood when you turn the engine off, it’s likely coming from the engine coolant expansion tank, which is part of the system that helps keep your engine from overheating. It’s not necessarily a serious problem, but the cooling system should probably be checked just in case.

4. Sloshing

If you hear a liquid sloshing sound coming from under the hood when starting the car or accelerating, it could indicate that air has gotten into the cooling system. It’s likely from a leak, or perhaps from the engine’s head gasket. It’s important to get this checked. Leaks in the cooling system and head gasket could lead to the engine overheating.

5. Hissing or Sizzling

If you hear this sound coming from under the hood when the car is switched off, there’s likely oil or coolant leaking onto a hot engine component.

If you hear hissing outside the vehicle, it could be the sound of air escaping a punctured tire.

6. Knocking

Also known as detonation, this is a rapid rattling you may hear as the car accelerates. This can occur if you’re using a lower grade of gasoline than the automaker recommends. Many cars that are equipped with turbocharged engines require premium-grade fuel. Check the owner’s manual to see what’s recommended for your vehicle. If you’re using the right grade, it could indicate other engine problems that need to be checked out.

Black and White Picture of Car Engine

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7. Popping

If you hear this sound coming from under the hood, it could mean there is a problem with the spark plugs or spark plug wires, or the fuel filter is clogged and needs replacing.

It could also mean there’s an issue with the vehicle’s catalytic converter, which is part of the exhaust system.

8. Tapping or Ticking

This sound coming from under the hood can mean the engine is low on motor oil. If the dipstick shows otherwise, it could indicate the engine is suffering from a lack of proper oil pressure or there are problems with its valves.

9. Rattling

If it sounds like someone is shaking a box of rocks under your car’s hood while the vehicle is idling, this could mean the catalytic converter is at fault.

A minor rattle coming from beneath the vehicle could indicate there’s a loose exhaust pipe or heat shield.

10. Whistling

If you hear a high-pitched whistling sound within the cabin while driving at highway speeds, a leak has probably developed in the rubber strip around your car door that’s causing excessive wind noise.

If it’s coming from under the hood, it could mean there’s a leaky vacuum hose. Vacuum hoses are used to power a number of different systems, including the power brakes. 

11. Grinding

If you hear a metal grinding sound while changing gears with a manual transmission, it could mean the clutch is worn or needs adjustment, or there are more significant transmission troubles that require attention.

12. Screeching, Grinding or Scraping

A screeching sound when you depress the brake pedal usually indicates one or more brake pads is worn and needs to be replaced.

If you hear grinding or clunking while braking, this could indicate a more serious problem. You could need to replace the braking system’s rotors and/or calipers in addition to the pads.

13. Clunking

If you hear this while driving over bumps or rough pavement, it can indicate something’s amiss with your car’s suspension – most likely worn shock absorbers.

If it’s coming from beneath the car or at the rear, it could also signal that an exhaust system component has come loose.

14. Humming, Whirring or Whining

This could indicate any number of issues.

You may hear strange sounds if the tires are becoming seriously worn. If the tires are okay, it could indicate more serious maladies.

One or more wheel bearings might need replacing, the differential could need lubricant or the universal joints may be worn. Wheel bearings are vital, as they keep your wheel spinning freely. The differential and universal joints help connect the engine to the wheels.

Humming, whirring and whining can also indicate problems with the transmission.

If it happens when you turn the steering wheel, it could mean the power steering fluid level is low or the power steering pump is defective. That could make it harder to turn the steering wheel.

Another engine accessory, like the alternator, which generates electricity for your car, could also be at fault.

Mechanic Working on Car

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15. Buzzing

If you hear an annoying buzzing sound when listening to the audio system, it could mean that one of the speakers is defective. If it comes through all speakers, it’s an issue with the audio system’s head unit – the part that contains the controls for the stereo.

16. Rumbling

While sporty cars are tuned to produce a hearty exhaust rumble while accelerating, most vehicles are reasonably quiet. If your exhaust suddenly sounds louder than usual when it’s getting up to speed, a pipe has come loose, there’s a hole in the muffler or a pipe, or the entire system is deteriorating. 

17. Backfire

This is a gunshot-like sound that comes from the engine or tailpipe. It could mean your fuel system needs adjustment or there’s an issue with the car’s catalytic converter.

Car Ownership Tools From Carfax

If your car is making any of these sounds but you’re not the DIY type, you should head to a local service shop. Our Carfax service shop locator has ratings and reviews of shops in your area.

Keeping up with maintenance and recalls can be hard. MyCarfax makes it easy. Just plug in your license plate and you’ll get an update when car maintenance is due. MyCarfax can also help you check prices of repairs.

If you’re tired of all the sounds your car is making and you’re ready for a new one, our used cars listings can help. Each listing comes with a free Carfax report. You can also research car models on Carfax’s website.

For more car maintenance advice, check out our car maintenance section.

By | 2019-11-04T16:50:46+00:00 October 30th, 2019|Maintenance|0 Comments

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