You’re driving down the road and suddenly start to hear thumping, scraping, or hissing coming from your car. What do you do? Call roadside assistance? Keep driving?
If you aren’t sure, read on to hear from two auto experts on which car noises you shouldn’t ignore and how you should respond to them. Further, if the noise ends up requiring an expensive repair, we’ll share tips on how to pay for it without breaking the bank.
5 car noises you shouldn’t ignore
A car can make many noises but which ones are really bad and require immediate attention?
Jill Trotta, automotive group director at RepairPal and 2017 Auto Care Woman of Excellence, shares the following five car noises you should listen for and what could be causing them.
1. Squealing, scraping, and grinding, particularly when braking
This could be a brake issue developing. Addressing this problem immediately is crucial because it could be a safety-related issue emerging. On the other hand, it might just save you some money.
2. Thumping noises that happen when the vehicle is in motion
These noises can occur when turning, driving straight, or accelerating. Possible causes can range from a tire that is coming apart, to a cv axle that is bad, to braking issues. All of these problems should garner your immediate attention.
3. Hissing or sizzling noises coming from your engine area
The sounds may or may not be accompanied by smoke or steam and are likely due to engine fluids (oil, coolant, power steering) leaking into hot exhaust parts. This could cause damage to your engine and is also a fire hazard.
4. Knocking noises on acceleration
This is something that should be addressed right away. The likely causes could be failing belt tensioners or internal engine problems. Both should be looked at to avoid more significant expensive repairs.
5. Consistent rattles from the engine compartment or under the car
These should also be addressed as soon as possible. They can indicate loose or failing suspension or engine components (power steering, alternator, tensioners, or a/c compressor).”
There you have Trotta’s top five noises you shouldn’t ignore. As you can see in her explanations, she can make guesses as to what is causing a noise, but can’t give a definitive answer until she inspects the car. Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com, explains more about the nature of identifying problems from noises.
He says, “It is hard to make a blanket statement that one sound leads to one problem, such as ‘if your brakes squeak, you need new brake pads’ because many times there are several elements to consider. Also, many sounds are simply normal operating characteristics of a vehicle. Instead of trying to identify every sound you hear, drivers need to pay attention to any change in sound.”
Troubleshooting auto noises: 5 questions to ask
If you hear a change in sound, it’s important to be proactive in identifying the problem. Reina recommends asking yourself the following questions:
- Is this a new sound?
- When do you hear it? (i.e., Is it when you’re turning or going straight?)
- Under what conditions do you hear this sound? For example, only when it’s cold outside.
- Does the vehicle drive any differently since the sound started? (i.e., do the brakes feel weak?)
- Is there a particular maneuver that stops the noise? For example, when you accelerate the vehicle.
“Evaluating car noises with these questions in mind will help you determine if a sound is serious and requires further attention,” says Reina. If you aren’t sure what the answers mean for your car, having this information and sharing it with the mechanic will help them figure it out.
Trotta says, “My advice is that, any time you hear a noise that is not normal, it’s never wrong to err on the side of caution. Breakdowns are hard; they can result in additional costs for repairs, towing, and could potentially put you in a
a dangerous situation.”
So after hearing a noise, head to the repair shop with the answers to these questions in-hand.
How can you finance an auto finance repair?
Say you speak with the mechanic and identify the problem, and the repair is going to cost more than you can afford. Don’t panic.
There are a number of ways you can try to get cash for your repair at a relatively reasonable cost.
It’s important to compare lenders before you apply for a loan. There are dozens of online lenders waiting to compete for your business. As a result, you can often find a good deal on the rates and terms.
Of course, the better your credit is, the less you’ll pay to borrow and the easier it will be to get approved. With that said, don’t get discouraged if your credit is bad. Some lenders cater to borrowers with poor credit, while others focus on those with good or excellent credit. Here are some examples:
- Poor credit lenders: Avant, KwikCash, OppLoans, Rise, and NetCredit
- Good credit lenders: Upgrade, Prosper, Lending Club, and Lending Point
- Excellent credit lenders: SoFi, Lightstream, and Earnest
If you want to find out what you qualify for with multiple lenders simultaneously, SuperMoney’s personal loan engine can help. Simply answer a few questions, and you’ll receive personalized quotes without any negative impact on your credit score.
However, different personal loans come with different rates, fees and requirements, so check out what the best personal loans are to ensure that you choose the best option for you.
5 frequently asked questions about car noises
Lastly, the experts provided their answers to these common questions about car noises. However, they wanted to note that the answers should not take the place of a proper diagnosis, as any car sound is very situational and there is a degree of uncertainty until it is checked out by a professional.
1) Why might my car be making a ticking sound?
Trotta: “Ticking sounds can be tricky. They can range from exhaust leaks to malfunctioning relays and electrical components. I’ve heard a ticking come from a rock stuck in the tire tread.”
Reina: “Ticking” is a word usually associated with an engine sound. It might be a valve lifter or a valve adjustment that could be needed. Sometimes it’s an exhaust leak. Usually, the car can be driven, but it should be looked at soon. Do NOT confuse ‘ticking’ with ‘knocking,’ which can indicate a more serious engine problem.”
2) What does it sound like when a wheel bearing is bad?
Trotta: “A wheel bearing can make a variety of noises that range from whirring and clunking to grinding, depending on the severity of the problem.”
Reina: “A bad wheel bearing may make a low-pitching whirring sound. It may get louder as road speeds increase. It also may get louder on left or right turns.”
3) Why might my car be making noise when starting?
Trotta: “A noise when starting would be caused by anything rotating. This could be the starter not meshing with the flywheel/flexplate on starting, loose belts, or failing belt tensioners.”
Reina: “Impossible to say without a description of the noise. ALL cars make a ‘noise’ when starting; that is the starter motor engaging with the engine’s flywheel. If the ‘noise’ occurs ONLY when starting, and it’s a change from normal, then either the starter or flywheel would be suspect.”
4) Why might my car be making a chirping noise?
Trotta: “Chirping is likely from loose, glazed, or failing belts, or tensioners and pulley bearings that are starting to fail.”
Reina: “Again, it’s more important to answer, ‘When do you hear it?’ and ‘Is it a change from what have been normal sounds?’ ‘Chirping’ can be anything from a loose auxiliary belt to an out-of-adjustment tailgate, to a pebble stuck in the brakes.”
5) Why might my car make a rattling noise when I’m driving?
Trotta: “Rattling could be anything. I’ve seen a bottle in the truck cause rattling that took hours to find. Common causes of rattling are loose exhaust shields, engine covers, and basically anything that can come loose.”
Reina: “A rattle in simplest terms means something is loose. Isolate the location of the rattle and check everything in that area for tightness.”
Fix problematic car noises and get back on the road
A noise is often the first sign something is wrong with your car. As Reina and Trotta advised, if something sounds unusual, don’t ignore it. Ask the five questions listed above and, if you’re not a mechanic yourself, head in to see one as soon as possible. Doing so can stop the problem from getting worse and keep you safe on the road.
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.