Car Rattling Noises Explained

  • August 7, 2023
Man checking engine for noise Man checking engine for noise

Strange car rattling noises can send shivers down any driver's spine. The first step is determining where the sound comes from and in which conditions. Learn how to identify where the noise is coming from, which components may be at risk, and how to get to the root of the issue in this guide. 

My Car Makes a Rattling Noise When I Accelerate

As you press the pedal and feel the thrill of acceleration, an unexpected rattling noise can put a wrench in your experience. If your car rattles when accelerating, identifying the source of the issue is essential but not always easy. This problem can be caused by several factors, including low engine oil levels, failing alternator or water pump bearings, loose engine or suspension components, and more. 

My Car is Making a Rattling Noise When at Idle

If you hear rattling noises when the car is idle, this issue could result from several factors, ranging from big to small fixes. From problems with your belt tensioner, A/C compressor clutch, or engine to corroded or loose exhaust parts like the metal heat shield or exhaust pipes. 

But are these sounds coming from within your vehicle, under it, or in the engine bay? Keep reading to learn how to pinpoint the failing component.

Locating the Source of the Rattling Noise

Interior Rattling

Whether your car makes rattling noises when driving or idling, you should first rule out any loose interior elements. Check the glove compartment box, cup holders, dash elements, cargo area, windows, doors, and other parts that may start to shuffle things around once the engine gets going. The issue can sometimes be as simple as a loose screw.

Another common cause of interior rattling noises is worn window seals. As the rubber seal ages, it may deteriorate, allowing some wiggle room for the windows to rattle. It's also a good idea to check your cargo-carrying system, if your car has any. Cargo covers can cause interior rattle if they have worn or improperly attached mechanisms.

Rattling Under The Car

Rattling noises coming from underneath the car are most commonly caused by corroded or loose exhaust components and heat shields. Heat shields along the exhaust pipe and manifold can become loose and vibrate against surrounding metal. Here are the most common causes of rattling beneath your vehicle: 

Damaged Brackets

Loose or broken brackets can also be the culprit. Brackets are often used to hold and secure heavy components by attaching them to your vehicle or other systems. Many brackets can withstand years of use. But as they begin to wear, you may hear components clunking around as they become loose. Fortunately, broken brackets are often less complex and fairly easy to repair. 

Exhaust System Damage

Rattling noise from the exhaust system may indicate serious issues. Leaks, for example, can prevent proper  exhaust fume expulsion and may even lead to hazardous fumes leaking into your car! If you are in doubt about the condition of your exhaust system, get your vehicle to your local Firestone Complete Auto Care ASAP, and our experts will investigate the issue for you.

Failing Catalytic Converter

A failing catalytic converter can also cause sounds that resemble rattling. Your catalytic converter reduces the emission of gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from the exhaust fumes. So, if it's damaged, you may fail your next emissions test. 

The catalytic converter's core is similar to a honeycomb, and as it breaks down, small parts can break off and start clattering around inside it. You should replace a faulty catalytic converter as soon as possible since it can clog up and cause engine performance issues. 

Worn Suspension and Steering Components

Have you been noticing a new annoying rattling or clunking noise coming from your vehicle as you go over bumps or during cornering? These noises could be coming from your suspension and steering system. Over time components like control arm bushings, tie rods, ball joints, sway bar link ends, springs, struts, strut tops, or shocks can wear and can cause pesky noises. These issues should be addressed ASAP as they can cause steering and handling issues.

Engine Rattling Noises

If you checked the interior and underside of your car and couldn't locate the sound origin, the next step is to inspect your engine. You'll want to act immediately if you hear any concerning noises from this component. Here are a few common culprits: 

Failing Hydraulic Valve Lifter

Hydraulic lifters open and close the engine intake and exhaust valves. If a bad lifter isn't repaired, it can lead to rocker arm, valve tip, and push rod damage, usually creating a tapping noise from the top of the engine. Replacing all valve lifters if one is faulty is recommended since others are likely to fail shortly after. 

Piston Slap

Another engine issue that can cause a rattling noise is a piston slap, and it could require a complete engine rebuild to fix. Pistons have a tight fit with the cylinder wall, but through wear and tear, the gap can expand. As a result, pistons won't move correctly within a cylinder, which produces a clacking rattle noise. A piston slap can occur with one or more cylinders, but more often than not, multiple pistons are affected.

Other Possible Causes

While the above are major engine problems, there are also less challenging engine issues that can produce these noises. Worn or damaged drive belts, pulleys and water pumps can also make clicking, ticking, roaring, screeching, and rattling noises. Thankfully, these are often easier and less costly to repair. 

To know for certain, contact your local Firestone Complete Auto Care. Our skilled technicians can take a look at your engine, pinpoint the issue, and offer you a complete explanation of what your vehicle needs and why.

Trust Firestone To Help Keep Your Car Running Smoothly

In the end, car rattling noises can be caused by various issues. To ensure you get to the root of the problem, leave the diagnosis and repairs to a professional. At Firestone Complete Auto Care, we cover just about all of your vehicle's needs, including engine repair service. Schedule your appointment today and get peace of mind whenever you're on the road.

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