8 Car Noises: What They Mean & If You Should Worry

  • Aug 17,2023
Woman with her ear tilted towards her car's engine, listening for what the car noise might be Woman with her ear tilted towards her car's engine, listening for what the car noise might be

Are you hearing a squeal, clunk, or clank? Don't put your headphones on, and tune out! Learn which car noises should have you headed to your technician as soon as possible and which noises are less than urgent.

Sound #1: Screeching Sound When Braking

  • What you hear: A high-pitched squealing coming from your tires when you step on the brake pedal.
  • What’s happening: The brake pad wear indicator might be rubbing up against the rotor.
  • Cause for concern? This isn't an emergency. The brake pad indicator is there to let you know when your brake pads have worn down and need to be replaced.

If this is indeed the problem, you're not in any immediate danger but you'll want to plan to have your brake pads replaced in the near future. However, most brake noises are signs of trouble, and some can be serious, so it is best to get it checked by a professional technician.

Sound #2: Squealing Noise When Driving

  • What you hear: A loud squealing noise coming from under the hood.
  • What’s happening: This is a classic sign of a loose or worn serpentine belt.
  • Cause for concern? Yes, because the serpentine belt powers many of your car’s major systems. A squealing serpentine belt is one that could be about to break or isn’t powering the engine’s accessories properly. When an old serpentine belt snaps, drive torque to all of the engine's accessories is lost, and you're left, well…" up the creek" with a car that won't go or it could even overheat.

Unless you want to throw down some money for a tow truck, scheduling an appointment for a vehicle inspection may be in your best interest. Your technician can help you understand how much life, or how little life, may be left in this essential engine component.

Sound #3: Loud Noise When Starting

  • What you hear: Sounds like a grumpy cat, "rur rur rur," when you start the engine.
  • What’s happening: Your battery is likely losing juice and is struggling to power the engine.
  • Cause for concern? This is less of a safety concern and more of a convenience concern, as your car could end up failing to start tomorrow, next week, or next month—it's tough to make an exact prediction. A slow engine crank paired with this unfortunate noise means your battery is on the fritz. It may be past its prime and in need of replacement.

Head over to your local Firestone Complete Auto Care for a free battery test and our car whisperers will let you know how much "life" is left in your battery. Or, give your car a virtual battery test online!

Sound #4: Roaring Noise When Driving

  • What you hear: A loud roaring sound coming from somewhere underneath the driver’s seat.
  • What’s happening: You probably have a leak or crack in your exhaust system. The roaring you hear is excess engine noise that would normally get silenced by the muffler. When your exhaust system fails, all of your engine's sound waves and vibrations get channelled into the car.
  • Cause for concern? The driver's seat is vibrating like a massage chair, which is kind of nice. And the noise isn’t too noticeable when the radio is cranked up. Maybe you can let this one slide? Nope. A malfunctioning exhaust system means that you could have poisonous carbon monoxide venting into the cabin.

Don’t delay—this is a sound you want to get checked out right away!

Sound #5: Flapping, Like a Fish Out of Water

  • What you hear: A flapping or slapping sound when you run the air conditioner or blowers.
  • What’s happening: A loose, misaligned or worn out ventilation flap is, well...flapping.
  • Cause for concern? No biggie. This might impact your airflow and the sound will likely drive you a little nuts, but it’s not a serious safety issue. Turn up the tunes, roll down your window, and feel free to get to it when you have time. Or, nip this annoying little problem in the bud by scheduling an A/C performance check.

Sound #6: A Giant, Groaning Yawn

  • What you hear: When you turn the steering wheel, the car groans and whines like it just woke up from a deep and pleasant slumber. The steering wheel may also feel stiff and unresponsive.
  • What’s happening: Something in your power steering system is causing friction. According to the folks at CarTalk, your power-steering pump could be about to say, "Farewell!"
  • Cause for concern? Yes. Have your power-steering system checked out. As the problem worsens, you’ll slowly lose control over the car’s steering. You could also cause further damage to the rest of the power-steering system. 

This is a significant safety issue. Schedule a checkup at your nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care location as soon as you can. In the meantime, try not to make any fast or sudden turns.

Sound #7: Squeaking Noise When Turning The Steering Wheel

  • What you hear: The steering column squeaks when you turn the wheel.
  • What’s happening: Like a groaning steering wheel, this is an indicator of an issue with the power-steering system, but a light squeak is less concerning than a major groan. It's likely a symptom of low power-steering fluid.
  • Cause for concern? Not as big of a safety concern as Sound #6. If topping off your power-steering fluid fixes the problem, then there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. This fluid is the cheapest part of your power-steering system and changing it/keeping it topped off can help extend the life of the much pricier power-steering pump and rack, says CarTalk. If replacing the fluid doesn't squelch the squeak, you may have a leak in your power-steering lines. Keep an eye on it.

Sound #8: Are We At A Metal Show? Or Is That My Brakes?

  • What you hear: Loud, metal on metal grinding sound coming from your brakes.
  • What’s happening: You’ve worn right through your brake pads and now the calipers are grinding against the rotor.
  • Cause for concern? When it comes to your car, metal on metal grinding is almost always a cause for concern. In this case, your brakes won’t work properly until you get the pads replaced. What’s more, driving without brake pads is dangerous. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25% of vehicle crashes can be attributed to brakes that were degraded or failing. 

Accidents like these can be avoided with a little forethought and maintenance. When you hit the road, don’t let it hit you back. Schedule a brake repair service today and stay ahead of brake problems.

When your car works, everything works. If your car is trying to tell you something is out of whack, listen. Then turn to your local Firestone Complete Auto Care location for all of your noise-related questions or repair needs. Schedule your appointment online or give your local technician a call today!

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