7 Car Noises You Should Never Ignore

car x-rayHmm. Purr. Vroom. Modern engineering has made driving a car easier on the ears than ever.

But there are some car noises you don’t want to hear, because they can signal trouble. Every once in a while, roll down the windows and start listening for “any sound that is odd,” says Mike Peth, director of technical training at Ohio Technical College in Cleveland. “You know your car, so you can often pick up something that may become a problem.”

These seven car noises might be warning signs of trouble:

  1. A sound like a coin in a clothes dryer.
  2. Brakes squealing, grinding or growling
  3. A finger-snapping, popping or clicking sound when you turn
  4. A rhythmic squeak that speeds up as you accelerate
  5. A howling, whining or even “singing”
  6. Rhythmic clunking, tapping or banging from under the hood.
  7. Squealing under the hood at start-up or when accelerating.

1. A sound like a coin in a clothes dryer

What it means: If you hear something rattling around inside a wheel at low speeds (and then stops as you drive faster) it could be a loose lug nut inside a hub cap. That might mean your wheel wasn’t tightened properly the last time it was removed and replaced. Take your car to a mechanic ASAP.

2. Brakes squealing, grinding or growling

What it means: If you hear a squealing noise, your brake pads or shoes might be nearing the end of their service life and must be replaced. If they grind or growl, get your brakes checked out immediately. It could be a sign that pads are so worn that metal is touching metal—a serious problem that could affect braking efficiency. (Check out these 5 signs you need new brake pads.)

3. A finger-snapping, popping or clicking sound when you turn

What it means: If you have a front-wheel-drive or all-wheel drive vehicle and hear this sound when you turn or corner (but the noise stops when you steer straight) one or both of the constant velocity (CV) joints on your front axle could need replacing.

4. A rhythmic squeak that speeds up as you accelerate

What it means: If you have rear-wheel or four-wheel drive and hear this sound, the culprit could be the universal joint (U-joint), which are found in pairs and are components of the driveshaft. Get it checked by a mechanic immediately.

5.  A howling, whining or even “singing”

What it means: This is usually a sign that your bearings—tiny metal balls that help parts rotate smoothly—aren’t doing their job. But which ones? If you have front-wheel drive, and the sound changes as you turn left, right and back again, it’s likely your front-wheel bearings; a gradually growing, steady howl signals rear-wheel bearings. If you have rear-wheel drive and the whine gets louder as you accelerate, your differential, which allows your wheels to spin at different rates when needed, could be leaking fluid. Get it fixed immediately.

6. Rhythmic clunking, tapping or banging from under the hood

What it means: There could be a serious problem with valves, connecting rods or pistons. Get to a mechanic ASAP.

7. Squealing under the hood at start-up or when accelerating

What it means: This could come from worn or loose accessory belts that drive things like your power steering pump, air conditioner compressor and alternator. With newer cars, it may point to the serpentine belt, which drives multiple accessories at once, and is relatively easy and cheap to fix.

If you’re ever stranded on the road, having Emergency Roadside Service (ERS) could get you out of trouble ASAP. (It’s available through your GEICO Mobile app!) Add ERS to your policy for just pennies per day per vehicle.

By Ira Hellman

Next article: 5 Signs You Need New Tires

Originally published March 2017.

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  1. Ray says

    Let’s play it the other way. I name the noise- you name what up is.
    “Bloom brop” , “bloom Brop” when driving over 55 on highway.

  2. Bobbert says

    So can I ignore the whining coming from the passenger seat? Sometimes it gets really loud but I only notice out when my wife is in the car.

    Seriously though, this is a nice reminder, especially for the car novice.

  3. Bobb Lawrence says

    Well, wonderful. I’ve learned from experience this is true and VERY Important since it portends or reminds of problems. Often too late but don’t ignore and get stuck in the wrong place. Mahalo. Aloha

  4. Mark darus says

    Great advice for those ages 18-thru 45.
    Being over 50 years of age, I’ve learned this, very painfully over time driving.
    Thank you for sending this to your clients! It’s my opinion they can learn a great deal from the email you sent. I applaud you for this!
    Thanks to all at Geico. You guys are great!
    Sincerely,
    Mark William Darus

  5. Rosemary Hocker says

    Thanks for the helpful hints when driving. They are most needed as a woman driving alone and not knowing what some of those noises could mean to me and my car.

  6. Mark Gary says

    driving over 30 or 40 miles an hour coming to a stop your steering wheel mite Trimblenine times out of ten it’s your rotors and the front wheels driving in rain and snow they may get hot and that’s when they warp going to a break specialist and getting your rotors shaved will solve the problem .a tip from mark Gary to Geico..

  7. Steve M says

    I recently had my snow tires removed, and upon leaving the tire shop. felt a weird little ‘wiggle’ as I drove down the street. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and found my left rear wheel hanging by 2 lug nuts. Be hyper vigilant if you have wheels removed and re-mounted. I always recheck the nuts when I get home..