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Common Car Noises & What They Mean

BY: Larry Witherspoon Jr.
An African American female mechanic inspects the engine of a car.

When it comes to car noises, there are good ones and bad ones. For example, the purr of a V8 engine as you’re cruising down the road or the whirring of your car’s air conditioning on full blast on a scorching summer day are all signs that your car is working as it should. But, some sounds are warning signs that something is wrong with your car, and knowing what these noises mean goes a long way in keeping repair and maintenance expenses to a minimum. 

Common Car Noises & What They Mean

Car ownership goes beyond fill-ups and the occasional wash and wax. Be alert for a change in condition, like a car making noise, as a sign that something isn’t working correctly. 

Some potential car sounds to keep an ear out for can include:

Clunking When Turning: A clunking or creaking sound when turning is most likely coming from the steering or suspension system. Issues can be as minor as low power steering fluid or as significant as a failing power steering pump. Note that a power steering pump costs as much as $690 to replace. A bad constant velocity (CV) joint could also be the problem; it’s an essential component that transfers power from the driveshaft to the powered wheels. A worn universal joint (U-joint) connects the driveshaft to the transmission and exhibits similar characteristics. 

Thudding During Driving: Hearing thumping, thudding or even slapping when the car is in motion usually indicates a problem with one or more tires. Look to see if the tire treads are uneven or too worn. You may also encounter these sounds if a tire is underinflated and starts to separate from the wheel. At the same time, a loose object inside the tire (like a broken piece of steel or rubber) could be the culprit. Regardless of the cause, a bad tire can affect the safe operation of a car, so seek out a tire shop right away in this instance.

Roaring While Accelerating: There are some engines where a ‘roar’ is a good thing, like if you have a high-powered engine in a sports car. But if you don’t have that kind of engine and pressing on the gas pedal leads to a roaring noise, tell your mechanic you’ve likely got an exhaust leak. Some vehicles may also produce a check engine light signifying a bad oxygen sensor. The exhaust system runs from the engine through a maze of piping and at least one muffler and catalytic converter. A leak can occur anywhere along the way, so have the system thoroughly inspected to find the source of the issue.

Knocking from the Engine: A knocking sound often results from using low-octane gasoline. Check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended octane level and fill up elsewhere if you’ve been buying cheap, no-label gas. Engine knocking can also be caused by a faulty knock sensor, incorrect ignition timing, an improper air-fuel mixture, or the wrong spark plugs. 

Rattling from the Engine Compartment: A rattling noise from a car is never good, especially when it comes from under the hood. You’re most likely dealing with a damaged engine mount in this situation. It’s an essential part (most cars use three or four) that secures the engine to the vehicle and isolates the vibration from the rest of the car. A failed mount will cause the powerplant to shake oddly (and cause the rattling) and possibly knock against adjacent components (and add to the noise).

Whirring When Driving: A whirring sound occurring while driving (and one that picks up the pace with acceleration) can indicate that the transmission needs servicing. The problem may only require more transmission fluid or involve a gear issue. A defective torque converter could also be to blame, which can cost up to $1,250 to replace at a repair shop. 

Screeching While Braking: Hearing a screeching sound when pressing down on the brake pedal is a warning sign that requires immediate attention. There’s nothing more fundamental to your car’s safe operation than the brakes. Worn-out brake pads are one possible cause, as the insulating material wears away with use. Similarly, brake rotors require periodic replacement. The shim separating the brake caliper from the pad can need replacement, or the caliper itself is damaged. 

Squeaky or Squealing Windshield Wipers: A clean windshield is about as basic as it gets when it comes to good driving; it’s even more critical when the windshield wipers are required (because it’s raining or snowing). But wipers are nothing more than rubber squeegees, and rubber wears down over time. A squeaking sound here means you’ll need a new pair of wipers. Endurance Advantage customers get a one-time wiper blade (from or rear) allowance to help keep maintenance expenses in check.

Shuddering During Gear Change: Hearing (and feeling) a shuddering when changing gears is unsettling. It’s a red flag about a potentially expensive repair bill. But before worrying about a complete transmission tear-down, start with two simpler (and cheaper) possible causes. Contaminated transmission fluid comes from debris like rust or metal shavings, and following recommended maintenance can prevent this from happening in the first place. Or, a worn U-joint can generate a thudding sound as the gears change during acceleration. RepairPal says a new U-joint runs from $240-$288.  

Can An Extended Warranty Help?

A factory warranty can provide peace of mind when encountering a strange noise in your car, but what is a car owner to do when manufacturer protection doesn’t apply? Perhaps the warranty has expired. And, most new car coverage doesn’t provide maintenance. This is when a vehicle service contract (sometimes called an auto protection plan or extended warranty when coming from your automaker) takes over.

For example, when you have an Endurance auto protection plan, you can be certain you’ll find coverage for older, high-mileage cars or for newer, late-model vehicles that are just coming to the end of their factory coverage. Supreme for Highline Vehicles safeguards select luxury models from automakers like BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes, Porsche, and other premium brands. And the Advantage plan fills the gap with breakdown protection and maintenance by giving you up to $3,500 in yearly maintenance services, including essentials like tire rotations, oil and filter changes, wheel alignments, engine diagnostic exams and more.

Drive Easy with Endurance

When it comes to unexpected noises coming from your vehicle, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when you have an older vehicle out of its factory coverage. But, when you have an Endurance auto protection plan, you can rest easy knowing that you’re covered from unexpected repair costs for your vehicle’s most vital components. Plus, when you’re an Endurance customer, you’ll have the freedom to choose from any ASE Certified mechanic to take your vehicle to for repairs, along with around-the-clock roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement, trip interruption services, and a 30-day money-back guarantee, and flexible payment options. And no matter what Endurance plan you pick, you can enjoy an entire year of Elite Benefits, including tire replacements, collision discounts and more

Getting started with Endurance is as easy as requesting a free, no-obligation quote. Or, reach out to an award-winning Endurance customer care representative at (800) 253-8203 to learn more about how Endurance can help you. And check out the Endurance blog to find even more expert-written articles on car care and DIY maintenance how-tos, make and model comparisons, extended warranty comparisons, and more.

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