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Common Car Noises and Their Causes

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Over the years as a driver, you’ve probably run across a time or two when your car began to make odd or unexpected noises as it runs or drives. Sometimes, the noise is coming clearly from a certain part of the vehicle, whether it’s the engine, wheels, or elsewhere. And other times, you can’t quite make out what the source of the noise is. Either way, if your vehicle is making strange noises, it’s a symptom that something isn’t right.

Most of the time, your car making a strange noise doesn’t mean that your car is in serious danger of immediate breakdown, though it’s possible. Sometimes, an unusual noise marks a minor problem that won’t affect your car’s function in the short term. But even in those cases, the noise probably represents an issue that can grow worse over time, eventually leading to serious repairs if not treated in time.

Here are some of the most frequent causes of abnormal vehicle noises. If you encounter any of these noises or sounds, bring your car to a trusted mechanic as soon as possible.

Tire Noise

One of the most common unusual noises you might encounter is tire noise. In fact, tires can make a variety of abnormal noises, each one potentially letting you know of a different probable issue. It’s important to be able to understand not just that your tires are making some kind of strange noise, but what that noise is and what it might mean for your car’s health.

Squealing Noise

Almost everyone has encountered this one – Your tires squealing when you turn the steering wheel. As long as you’re not pulling tight turns at great speeds (not a great idea in general), your tires shouldn’t be squealing.

The most likely culprit for squealing tires is one or more underinflated tire. If you’re hearing squealing, that probably means you need to add some air to your tires. Over time, underinflated tires can cause a variety of problems for your tires, suspension and other parts of your car, so it’s wise to address underinflated tires as soon as possible.

Humming Noise

Another fairly common issue you might run into are tires that increasingly seem to hum as you drive. Keep in mind that tires will make some noise naturally on most road surfaces, and this is perfectly fine. But when that humming increases to a certain level, its an indication of a problem.

In this case, the number one reason for abnormal tire humming tends to be tires with uneven tread wear. Tires can wear unevenly for a number of reasons – a problem with the suspension, faulty wheel bearings, and/or several other causes can result in tires with uneven wear patterns.

To prevent uneven tire wear, you should regularly get your wheels rotated and have a wheel alignment performed routinely. This will balance out the natural discrepancies in wear over time. Getting your wheel bearings and suspension inspected if you suspect your tires are wearing unevenly is also a good move.

Thudding or Slapping Noise

If you’re hearing thudding or slapping noises coming from your tires as you drive, this suggests a problem that’s potentially larger than the others previously mentioned. Thudding noises can mean anything from severely underinflated tires to suspension and alignment issues, and it’s likely an issue needing to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Significant tire noises like these are an indicator that you might be on the verge of blowing out a tire or suffering major damage to your suspension. You don’t want to be driving very long without getting an inspection by a trained professional if you’re hearing noises along these lines.

Brake Noise

Another very common class of abnormal car noises are noises that occur when you’re braking. The process of braking the car is one of the most stressful in terms of wear and tear on your car, as bringing all that momentum to a halt requires a huge amount of energy. While you might hear minimal noise when you brake under normal circumstances, the process should be fairly silent. If you’re hearing strange sounds as you brake, that’s probably an indicator of an issue.


If you hear a slight rattling sound when you let up on the brakes, this may not mean you have a problem with your brakes. Brake pads expand due to the incredible heat generated by friction, and a little rattling may be normal due to natural movement of the brake pads.

However, it’s worth noting a couple of things about brake rattling: Number one, You should never hear a rattle when you’re pressing down on the brake pedal, and number two, you shouldn’t consistently hear a rattle. If either of these is taking place, you may have an issue with your brake pads.


In contrast to rattling, hearing any kind of grinding noise when you apply your brakes is not only a problem, but it’s potentially a very costly and serious one if you don’t address it soon.

If you hear a grinding noise when you apply the brakes, it most likely means you’ve worn completely through your brake pad. Now, instead of the pad meeting the rotor disk, it’s the bare metal making contact. The most common cause of prominent grinding noise from brakes is metal-on-metal contact.

This is bad for two reasons. The first is that the metal is much less efficient at stopping the vehicle than the brake pad’s friction material. That means if you’re in a spot where you need to stop quickly and unexpectedly, your brakes might not be up to the task. The second reason is that grinding either the brake pad’s metal backing or the callipers into the rotor disk will rapidly destroy both components. Replacing a brake pad is relatively cheap. Installing new callipers and rotor disks is far more expensive. It’s much smarter to keep your brake pads in good shape than let them wear down and have to spend hundreds or even a thousand of dollars fixing your brake system.


Another frequently encountered brake noise is a squeaking noise when applying the brakes. This is an important sound to take note of, as it might help you save a whole lot of hassle and money.

One of the reasons brakes can squeak when applied is a little metal tab called a wear indicator. A wear indicator is installed along with a set of brake pads, and the wear indicator’s job is to let you know when the brake pad has worn down and needs replacing. When the pad has worn to a certain level, the wear indicator will make contact with the rotor disk and produce the squeaking sound.

This alerts you that it’s time to get a new set of brake pads and avoid the nightmare scenario discussed in the ‘grinding’ section. Ignoring that squeak can potentially be costly.

Suspension Noise

Most people have a general idea that the car’s suspension system exists to make your ride a smooth and bump-free one. And that’s somewhat true. But the full truth is that your suspension system is a finely-tuned combination of multiple complex systems that controls your wheels and the vehicle’s body, and problems with the suspension system can have major effects.

Suspension noise can be a major red flag that some component within your suspension is either worn out or damaged, and driving with that part not functioning can snowball into a whole host of problems if not addressed.

One of the more common suspension noises comes when driving over a speed bump, pothole, or any other bump in the road. You might hear a clunking or knocking noise. There are several possible culprits for a noise like this.

The first is that you may have worn out shocks or struts. When your shocks reach a certain state of wear, your coil springs will vibrate upon impact and may strike your vehicle’s chassis. Hearing a knocking sound when you hit a bump might mean it’s time for new shocks or struts.

A clunking can also mean that you have an issue with your struts, ball joints, control arms, or any of a number of components within your suspension. Diagnosing exactly where the trouble lies can be nearly impossible to do yourself and a mechanic is often required.

Steering Noise

Yet another class of abnormal vehicle noises comes when you turn the wheel to steer your car. These noises will be ones you notice coming from the front of the car, either centred near your steering column all the way out to your wheels.

A strange steering noise can indicate an issue with a part of your steering system, or it may be a problem down the chain in the suspension or wheels. The distinguishing factor between this and the previous section is that these noises will be observed when you turn the wheel, while the previous ones are observed when hitting bumps or driving straight.

Whining or Squealing

You may hear a whining or squealing noise when you turn the wheel, and a likely cause is low power steering fluid. Your power steering system is a hydraulic system relying on pressurized fluid, and if your levels drop you’ll often notice that whining noise before you run into performance issues.

Simply topping off your power steering fluid level may take care of this problem. However, while you should immediately top off low power steering fluid, we caution against just leaving it at that. It’s always a good idea a mechanic to thoroughly check for fluid leaks when the level f fluid is low.

Additionally, a whining or squealing may indicate a related issue within your power steering system, such as a loose belt or a problem with the power steering pump. Remedying those types of issues will probably require taking your car in for service.

Popping or Clicking

If you’re hearing more of a popping or clicking noise when you turn the wheel, this is more likely to be an issue further down in your suspension or the wheels. A popping noise may indicate worn or damaged suspension joints. Clicking or crunching tends to point to bad CV joints (constant velocity joints). And a humming noise when steering may mean your wheel bearings are damaged or worn.

Any of these types of issues should be addressed as soon as you’re able. Problems within the suspension and wheels can lead to unpredictable handling, uneven tire wear, and further damage within the component chain from steering wheel to the tires.

Engine Noise

Engine noise is always a scary one, both from a performance and a financial standpoint. The engine is in many ways the most crucial component of your car, and an engine failure will quickly leave you stranded. Also, engine repairs can often be quite costly. So, it’s never good news when your engine is making odd noises.

The overall rule when it comes to abnormal engine noise is that you likely want to get the car checked out at your earliest convenience. Most sources of engine noises are various parts and components in the engine system being out of whack, worn out, or damaged. Often in these situations, you’ll get a little bit of warning via strange noise before a part fails more critically. It’s always good to listen to what your car is telling you.

There are so many vital systems and parts within the engine that it’s difficult to neatly summarize the sounds you might hear and their causes. You may hear popping, pinging, whirring, hissing, knocking, or grinding sounds – each of which might point to one of several issues.

You may also notice abnormal engine noises at different times in the course of your drive. For instance, you might observe the noise when you first begin driving and then it goes away, or you may only notice it after driving for a while or in high-performance situations where you’re pushing the engine to its limits.

Bottom line: If your engine is making strange noises, it’s worth your while to have us checked it out by the experts at Eccles Auto in Dundas.

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