Why is my car making that noise? A guide to unusual vehicle sounds

Why is my car making that noise? A guide to unusual vehicle sounds
Modern cars are well-oiled machines, so when they start making sounds they shouldn’t be – it’s a concern.

Car noises can mean a whole host of things — depending when they happen and where they come from — which makes it hard for the untrained ear to work out what’s wrong.

To help you better understand the moans and groans of your vehicle, here’s our guide to what some of those noises mean and when you need to get help…

Guide contents:

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What do I do if my car makes a noise?

Hearing your car making an unusual noise can be a worry for any motorist but don’t panic. Listen to the noise and if it sounds like an immediate concern, then pull over and get a mechanic to look at it as soon as possible.

To help you find a mechanic you can trust, the RAC Approved Garage Network only includes garages that provide quality work and exceptional customer service, giving you peace of mind if your car needs attention.

And just in case the worst should happen out on the roads, make sure you have the correct breakdown cover in place.

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My car is making a noise when idling

Clicking

If you start your car and it continues to make a clicking sound after you’ve let it sit for a while, it could be a sign of low oil pressure, which will need some professional attention sooner rather than later.

Hissing

If there’s a hissing sound coming from under your bonnet while your car’s idling, your engine might be overheating, which can be a serious problem. However, it could also mean that you’ve got a vacuum leak somewhere, which should be easy to fix once you’ve managed to locate it.

My car is making a noise when accelerating

Slapping

If you can hear a slapping sound that seems to increase in tempo as you increase your speed, one of your tyres could be on its last legs. Driving on a flat or damaged tyre can cause lasting damage to your wheels so if the slapping starts, stop driving.

Grinding

If your gear stick is grinding while you’re shifting up through the gears, it could mean your clutch is worn out or your shift linkage needs adjusting. Grinding could also signify a deeper problem within the transmission.

Chirping

If you hear a chirping sound coming from your wheel that changes when you accelerate, it doesn’t mean there’s a budgie caught under the bodywork. Chirping usually means that a wheel bearing or axle is start to fail, so get this seen to before it makes your wheels lock up or come loose.

My car is making a noise when cruising

Squealing

A high-pitched squealing when you’re driving could well mean that your accessory belt (or “V-belt”) is telling you that it’s close to the end. If your belt breaks or snaps then your car won’t run anymore, so get it looked at as soon as possible to avoid a breakdown.

Rattling

Unfortunately, if you hear a rattling when you’re driving it can be difficult to pin down the problem as it can mean any number of things depending on where the sound is coming from.

If the rattle is underneath your car, that could mean a loose exhaust system component or a broken catalytic converter, which would both require a mechanic’s attention.

If something under the bonnet is rattling, it could be anything from problems with oil level to a bad fan clutch, so if the noise persists check the car into a garage.

If the rattling is coming from inside the car, then it could simply be a loose bit of plastic or even something clattering around in your glove compartment which, although annoying, is very easy to fix.

Ticking

A ticking coming from under the bonnet can mean that the engine is low on oil, so make sure you check your levels before heading to the garage. If your oil levels are fine, then a ticking or tapping could mean a deeper issue with your valve train.

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My car is making a noise when turning

Grinding

With power steering fitted as standard on modern models, it’s safe to say we’re spoilt when it comes to steering our cars. But if you’re running low on power steering fluid, your car will soon let you know by a grinding noise caused by air bubbles trapped in the fluid.

Clicking

If you’re taking a tight turn at low speed and your car is making a grinding noise, which could mean that your CV axle (which connects the wheels to the transmission) is damaged or worn out. A worn-out CV joint needs replacing immediately, so contact the garage right away.

My car is making a noise when braking

Squeaking

If your car squeaks or squeals when you apply the brakes, your brake pads are telling you that it’s time to replace them. Brake pads have built-in indicators which alert drivers when they wear down, so call your mechanic and arrange to fit some replacement pads.

Grinding

If you hear your brakes grinding that probably means you’ve missed the squeaking warning signs and have waited too long to replace your brake pads. You need to book your car into the mechanics as soon as possible.

Clicking

A clicking or scraping in your brakes could mean that one or more components in your braking system is damaged, or it might mean that there’s a stone or something stuck in your brake.

Either way, this needs to be looked at by a professional to prevent any long-term damage.

My car is making a noise after the engine turns off

Clicking

If your car makes a metallic clicking sound after you switch off the engine, it’s just the sound of the engine cooling down. It’s nothing to worry about and will stop of its own accord fairly quickly.

Hissing

A hissing or sizzling sound coming from under the bonnet when you’ve shut the engine off isn’t a good sign because it means something somewhere is leaking onto a heated engine component. Be careful investigating under the bonnet in case you get burnt, and book your vehicle into the garage.

 

Got any more mystery noises coming from your vehicle? Let us know in the comments below or ask the friendly and knowledgeable RAC community.

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