12 Common Car Noises and What They Mean

April 04, 2024
A man sitting in his car and making a concerned face.

One minute you’re driving your car and everything seems fine, and the next moment you hear a strange noise coming from your car as you accelerate. There are some normal noises that you could hear, from tires humming and windshields wiping to mirrors whistling in the wind. Take a listen for those so you can differentiate between them and new, problematic noises. Here are 12 common car noises and helpful tips on what to do about them.

1. Hissing sound under the hood

If you hear hissing under the hood after you turn your car off, it could be a sign of a leak from the cooling system or the vacuum system. When the high-pitched hissing noise comes while the car is running, this often means there’s a leak in a vacuum line, hose, or fitting. [1]

2. Chugging or rattling noises

If you hear chugging or rattling, this could mean a problem with your exhaust system. A damaged exhaust system can produce a lot of sounds, and each unique sound may mean something different. A chugging sound could mean there’s a blockage in the exhaust system. [2] A rattling sound might mean that the wheels are out of alignment. A hissing sound could mean there’s a crack in the exhaust system, so in that case, you should take your car in for an exhaust system check.

3. A low-pitched humming from under your car

This could be a few different issues. Note when the noise happens so you can better help your mechanic diagnose the problem. If your car makes a humming noise, it could mean the differential needs lubricant, the transmission is failing or the universal joints or wheel bearings are wearing out. [1]

Pay close attention to what happens before and when your car starts making the sound. Try to give your mechanic as much information as possible to work with; without a thorough, professional inspection, it can be difficult to tell what the problem is.

4. Screeching or loud grinding sound from your brakes

If you hear nails on a chalkboard every time you brake, this could mean it’s time to replace your brakes. If the sound is scraping or grinding, this may mean the brake pads are completely worn down, which can damage the brake rotors every time you brake. Get your car checked out as soon as you can. [1]

5. A thumping noise from your tires

If you hear a thumping or knocking noise, this could mean the problem is a worn wheel bearing. Other potential problems could be a flat spot in your tire, underinflated tires or improperly aligned tires. To narrow down the cause of the noise, check the tires first. If they look good, then check the wheel bearings. [3]

6. Scraping noises from windshield wipers

If you hear scraping, this could mean that your wipers are wearing down. If the worn-out wiper scratches your windshield, it can be expensive to replace. A bad wiper will also reduce visibility when it rains, making it much more dangerous to drive. It’s recommended that you fix this issue immediately, either by taking it into a professional or replacing it yourself.

7. Squeaky noises from windshield wipers

If your windshield is squeaking, this could be simply from a dirty windshield. If you clean your windshield and it’s still squeaking, make sure to wipe off your wiper blades as well. If both of those are clean and the squeaking is still happening, there might be a structural issue with the wipers and you might have to get them replaced. [4]

8. Clunking while driving

If you hear a clunking noise when you drive over a bump, this could mean that your suspension is faulty. This could indicate:

  • Worn-out shock absorbers: These absorb vibrations from the wheels when driving in rough terrain. If damaged, you’ll hear tapping noises.
  • Damaged struts: If noises happen while steering, this could mean the struts are damaged.
  • Worn-out leaf spring shackles: These help in off-roading and when they bend or break, can cause clunking noises.
  • Damaged control arms: If worn out, control arms can cause your wheels to move out of alignment, which leads to clunking noises when you steer.
  • Bad ball joints: If you’re having trouble steering in a straight line, this could be due to damaged or dented ball joints. [5]

9. Clicking while turning

If you hear clicking or knocking while you’re turning, the CV (constant velocity) joint, which lubricates the front axles, may be the culprit. When it wears out, it loses the grease that keeps the axles lubricated. It’s best to replace the CV joint rather than wait until you need costly axle replacements.

10. Engine making ticking noises

Your engine could be ticking for a few reasons. Here are a few guidelines that could help you narrow it down:

  1. If you don’t have enough engine oil or oil pressure, this leads to low lubrication and causes friction between metal components (such as the pistons and their cylinders).
  2. If your spark plug is misaligned, this could cause gas to enter the engine and result in a ticking noise.
  3. If the intake and exhaust valves in your engine are misaligned, this makes it difficult for them to open and shut, which can result in a clicking or ticking sound. [6]

11. A growling sound while steering the car

If you’re hearing a growling or soft grinding noise while you are steering, the problem could be the wheel bearing. Make sure to listen closely while turning and driving at high speeds on the highway, as early detection can help save you time and money. [7]

12. Loud squealing noises while steering

If you hear squealing while turning the wheel, this can be due to low power steering fluid. To help prevent this, make sure that your fluid reservoir is always topped off. If there are no leaks, the steering noises should disappear. [8]

It’s important to pay attention to the noises your car makes and take care of things promptly to avoid facing more expensive repairs. Find a mechanic you trust so you’ll know your car is being properly maintained.

Taking good care of your car also means making sure you’re properly insured. Create a policy that fits your specific needs and helps keep you and your car protected.

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“11 Car Sounds You Should Never Ignore,” Donna Boyle Schwartz and Tom Scalisi, bobvila.com/articles/car-sounds (April 28, 2023).
[2] “How can I tell if my exhaust needs attention?” kwik-fit.com/exhausts/information/exhaust-problem-solving (accessed Sept. 14, 2023).
[3] “Wheel Bearing Noise Vs. Tire Noise,” gmb.net/blog/wheel-bearing-noise-vs-tire-noise (accessed Sept. 14, 2023).
[4] “4 Common Causes of Squeaky Windshield Wipers,” Robert Maxwell, familyhandyman.com/article/why-are-my-windshield-wipers-squeaky (May 1, 2023).
[5] “What Causes Front-End Clunking Noise When I Am Going Over Bumps?” Dustin Hawley, jdpower.com/cars/shopping-guides/what-causes-front-end-clunking-noise-when-i-am-going-over-bumps (April 21, 2023).
[6] “Engine Ticking Noise: 6 Reasons, How To Fix, & Repair Costs,” repairsmith.com/blog/engine-ticking-noise (accessed Sept. 14, 2023).
[7] “What is a Wheel Bearing & How Can You Tell if Yours is Going Bad?” Paul Sakalas, onallcylinders.com/2022/04/17/what-is-a-wheel-bearing-how-can-you-tell-if-yours-is-going-bad (July 21, 2022).
[8] “4 major signs you’re low on steering fluid,” lindleysautocentres.co.uk/about-us/blog/4-major-signs-you-re-low-on-steering-fluid (accessed Sept. 14, 2023).


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