It’s never a good sign when our cars start to screech, thump, or grind…However, while we may not be excited to hear these sounds, paying attention to them can help us take care of the problem before it gets worse- keeping us safer and maybe even saving us some money.

We compiled a list of common car noises and what they could mean. Read on to find out what your car is trying to tell you.



A loud bang Like a firecracker could mean that your vehicle’s fuel is burning at the wrong time. It could be that the fuel-to-air ratio has more fuel than it should or there’s an issue with the spark plugs. While this is not an emergency, over time it could damage your exhaust system, so get it checked out.




If you hear clicking sounds as you turn the steering wheel, it could be from your CV (Constant Velocity) joint. The CV needs grease or it becomes dry. You may just need to replenish the grease, or you might have to replace the shaft boot if it’s torn and leaking grease. If the damage is extensive, you may have to replace the whole CV joint.



Growling or Grating

A low growl or grating sound when you step on the brakes could mean your brake pads have worn away. Brake pads push against metal rotors or drums. When they’re worn away, they can start to damage other parts and become a costly repair. You’ll want to take care of this as soon as possible.




A hissing sound could indicate a fluid leak such as radiator coolant leaking onto the engine. If hissing occurs when you speed up, it could be a vacuum leak from a small hose around the engine’s air intake. You’ll need to replace the hoses or other components that are leaking.




If you hear a low drone or humming sound that increases in volume when accelerating, check your tires. Their tread could be worn-out or wearing unevenly. The wheel bearing in your tires also may be damaged, which is a serious issue. Your tires also may need an alignment and some air. Have tires and bearings checked and, if needed, replaced as soon as possible.



Knocking or Pinging

A knocking or pinging sound under your hood that increases as you accelerate can occur when fuel in your engine detonates at incorrect times. Sometimes this is the result of using fuel with too low an octane level. Other times, it is more serious. There may be a worn crankshaft bearing or a piston that needs replacing. Address this sooner rather than later.




Rattling, vibrating, or squeaking sounds when you drive over a speed bump or pothole could indicate a problem with your suspension. There could be bad bushings, the cushions that help absorb road bumps. Try performing a bounce test. Step outside the car and press down firmly on the front corner. If you hear the sound, you will want to get it checked out. If your car is rattling when the car is idling, it could mean a damaged heat shield in your exhaust system. Check that out, too, to make sure everything stays cool when you’re operating your vehicle.




Your car’s muffler is designed to muffle the roaring sound made by your engine. However, if there’s a crack in the exhaust system, the gases that cause the roar can escape before they reach the muffler. Deadly carbon monoxide gas can even leak into the cabin. A missing catalytic converter also can cause this sound. Get this sound addressed right away.

Pro Tip: Catalytic converter theft is a growing problem and they are expensive to replace. Consider getting your VIN number stamped on the catalytic converter or installing an anti-theft device.




A low-pitched engine rumble with vibrations can indicate an exhaust leak in a gasket, flex pipe, resonator or muffler. A dirty fuel injector could cause a rumbling sound. (Try adding a fuel injector cleaner to your gas tank). A dirty air filter could be another cause, so try replacing that part. Your oxygen sensor could be creating the wrong mix of fuel and oxygen. Finally, the sound could be caused by worn spark plugs that fire inconsistently.




A rock or other debris stuck in your brake rotor could cause a scraping sound and cause damage over time. Get that removed before it becomes a problem.



Squeaking or Squealing

Squeaking or squealing could be caused by a number of things. If the sound happens when you brake, you may have worn brake pads, improperly cut brake rotors, or glazed brake pads that get too hot. You also may have broken anti-rattle clips or incorrectly installed insulation shims. If you hear loud squealing after you start your car, but then the sound gradually fades, it may be a serpentine belt that is failing. If you hear the squeal when you turn on the air conditioning, it may need a serpentine belt adjustment or replacement. Squeaking or whining when turning the steering wheel could be a power steering issue. There may be air in the fluid and adding more fluid could help. However, if you hear a high-pitch whine when you make a turn, the pump could be damaged. Get these sounds checked out for your safety.




When you brake and hear a thumping sound, that means potential damage. A thumping in the rear could be rear brake drums and thumping in the front could be rotor damage. Rotor damage can be caused by a car not being used, and just sitting outside and rusting.



Washing Machine Sound

If your car sounds like a washing machine on the high-spin cycle with loose change inside, pull over as soon as safely possible. This likely means a loose lug nut is inside your hubcap. When that happens, the tire could fall off or you could have a blowout. Pull over as soon as you safely can. Jack up the car and use a lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts. Fill the tire if the pressure is low or swap it out for the spare tire. Call roadside assistance if needed.




If your car whirs like a helicopter and gets louder as you travel faster, it’s most likely a worn-out wheel bearing. You can check this while driving. Turn the wheel to the left and then to the right and see if the noise disappears briefly. Wheel bearings should be replaced as soon as possible.



Figuring It Out

If you are able to do so safely, record the sound your car is making using your phone or other device. Then play it for your mechanic. This will help to pinpoint the exact sound you are hearing.

Finally, if your noise isn’t listed here, or you’re not sure about what sound you hear, it’s always a good idea to consult a trusted mechanic. This will help to find any problems and fix them before they become expensive issues.

Paying attention to your car’s dashboard lights and sounds will help you keep it well-maintained. Protect your vehicle with the right insurance and keep up with auto recalls for added peace of mind.



This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or

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