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12 common car sounds and what they mean

12 common car sounds and what they mean

You heard it. Somewhere while you were driving today, you heard it. Your car made a noise.

“It doesn’t always take a mechanic to know when there’s something awry with your car. If you felt or heard something that seems out of the ordinary while driving, it’s worth investigating,” says Elmarie Twilley, spokesperson of Afrikaans insurance company, Virseker.

Here are a few common sounds that you could be hearing from your car, and what they could mean:


What it sounded like:  What it means:
A loud squeal, like metal on metal, when you hit the brakes. The brake pads or discs are worn and likely need to be replaced.
The steering wheel vibrates gently, even on flat roads. The wheels could be unbalanced. You should have them balanced and aligned.
Your windshield wipers stutter and ‘chatter’ when you turn them on. The rubber on the wipers has worn unevenly and is no longer wiping the windshield properly. Replace them as soon as you are able.
There is a persistent ‘whirring’ sound from the engine. Your fuel pump could be starting to fail and may need to be replaced. The car would typically also struggle to start, lose power and/or stutter when driving. You can prevent this from happening by trying not to let your fuel tank go beneath a quarter full.
You hear a distinct ‘clunk’ after passing over a speed bump. This is likely an issue with the car’s shock absorbers or bushings and joints connected to the suspension.
You hear a clicking or popping sound coming from near the wheels when turning. This could be CV joints that are worn and in need of replacement.
The steering wheel groans when you turn it. There might be a leak in the power steering system or the power steering pump may need replacement.
There is a loud screeching sound coming from the engine when the car is revved. This could mean that the fan belt is slipping and needs replacing.
Your car’s tyres are definitely not flat, but you can hear a light ‘thumping’ as you drive. This may be due to ‘flat spots’ on the tyres, especially if the car has been stationary for an extended period of time – typically a couple of weeks or more. Most flat spots will disappear once you’ve driven the car a couple of kilometres, but some are more permanent. If the noise persists, rather have the tyres checked by a professional.
The sound of compressed air escaping from the engine – typically a high pitched ‘squeal’. An exhaust manifold gasket could have failed, venting hot exhaust gases- including carbon monoxide- into the car.
You can hear a slight ‘hissing’ from the engine when the car is idling. A rubber or plastic vacuum line or fitting is leaking or has severed and needs to be reconnected or replaced.
The car makes a rattling or rumbling sound when idling. Check to see if there is any water coolant beneath the water pump, when the engine is cool. If there is, it is possible that the bearings are worn and the pump should be replaced.

“You should also check that, if all else fails, your insurance company has a roadside assist service in the event of a break down,” concludes Twilley.


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