Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Noises That Mean Your Car Needs Help

Driving down the road with a softly purring engine is a pleasure. There are times, however, when your car makes less-than-pleasant noises, like a knock, hiss, or rattle. Familiarize yourself with these common car noises, and you’ll be able to decipher the message your car is sending.

Knocking.  If you hear a knocking sound coming from the front of your car, it’s usually an engine problem. If the sound gets faster as you accelerate, it could be an issue with your car’s fuel cylinders. Normally, all the fuel in the cylinder ignites at the same time. But if the fuel burns unevenly or ignites at different times, you may hear a knocking sound. Another possible cause is excessively dirty or insufficient oil. Because there are many potential causes of knocking, get the sound checked out immediately, so you don’t have a breakdown.

Hissing. Your car has many interconnected hoses carrying coolant or other important fluids. Sometimes these hoses get damaged or crack, causing a hissing sound as liquids spray out. Don’t wait to find out what kind of liquid is leaking; your car needs all of its vital fluids to keep running well.

Squeaking when turning the steering wheel. Just about every car today has a power steering system, allowing you to turn the wheel with a minimum of effort. A squeaking sound when you turn the wheel could mean low power steering fluid or a damaged hydraulic pump.

Squealing or grating sounds as you step on the brake. Your braking system is made of many parts which can wear out, especially if you are in stop-and-go traffic a lot. A squealing noise when brakes are applied could be a sign of worn brake pads or shoes. Debris can work its way into the brakes, too, causing strange noises as it rattles around. Other signs of brake trouble: a burning smell, vibration when braking, and/or a “spongy” sensation when you apply the brake pedal.

Whining. When your car starts to whine like a tired toddler, it’s a sign that something is wrong with your bearings — the little metal balls that help parts turn and move. If you’ve got front-wheel drive and you hear the noise when you turn, it could be the front tire bearings. A steady whine that gets louder may indicate the rear tires are the problem. Bearings are used throughout your car, so it may require some detective work by your mechanic to isolate the problem.

Clothes dryer sounds. Have you ever put a pair of pants with change in the pockets in your clothes dryer or heard a sneaker clonking around with drying clothes? These kinds of sounds could mean one of the lug nuts has come off your tire and is banging around as the tire rotates. Be careful if you hear this sound; you don’t want to keep on driving if a tire isn’t securely attached.

For safety’s sake, it’s never a good idea to wait if you hear your car making strange or unusual sounds. Having those sounds diagnosed by a mechanic will prevent small problems from becoming worse, so you can get back on the road, listening to the sweet sound of a smoothly-running engine.

Photo by didesign021 from Getty Images via Canva Pro

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