5 Car Noises You Shouldn’t Ignore

What is that squeal, hiss or pop trying to tell you?

When your car talks to you in squeaks and rattles, it’s telling you that something is wrong. But what is it really saying?

These five common car noises can help you better understand what your car is trying to communicate—so you can take action to avoid a potential breakdown.

It’s normal if your brakes squeak a little when they’re wet. But a shrill squealing during braking usually means the pads are getting worn (there’s a wear indicator that makes this noise). A harsh grinding sound could mean there’s debris in the brakes, but it can also signal that the brake pads have worn out completely and metal is now hitting metal—a serious problem that impacts braking effectiveness. If you hear this sound, get your brakes inspected as soon as possible.

This is among the most common car noises, one that could be either a simple fix or a more involved repair. Often, it’s a sign that a part is loose, such as an exhaust pipe or a heat shield (which protects both the underside of the car and surfaces beneath the car from the heat emanating from the exhaust system). A rattling sound inside the car could be as simple as a cup vibrating in a drink holder or loose change in a door pocket. When you hear a rattling sound, listen closely to pinpoint where it’s coming from—and seek help from a pro if needed.

This sound is often caused by issues with the constant-velocity (CV) joints, which are components of a car’s drivetrain. They are instrumental in transferring power to the wheels, as well as in the car’s steering. When the CV joints are worn, they become loose and produce a clicking sound when you’re turning.

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Car noises like this are never a good sign. Engine knocking often means that the engine isn’t getting enough oil. Check the oil dipstick to make sure the level is OK, and check the oil pressure gauge. If you have enough oil but the engine is still knocking, it could mean serious trouble. The best way to fix the problem: Head to a trusted mechanic.

The culprit could be the belts in the engine. The sound may be noticeable when you start your car—especially when it’s cold—or you may hear it (or hear it intensify) when you accelerate. A belt may have worn out or simply be loose and slipping on its pulleys. Belts need the correct tension, and a maintenance inspection can also reveal whether a belt should be replaced.

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