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What’s that sound – and could it be serious?

For many drivers, a sound from your car can cause a panic. Here are the 11 most common sounds your car is likely to make, what they mean and what you need to do about them.

By Shell on May 17, 2022

Sometimes a car can make a lovely sound. Think the vault-like clunk of a door being closed. The cultured roar of a thoroughbred engine. The snick-snick of a perfectly executed manual gear change. Here, though, we're delving into sounds you don't want to hear; those that are a harbinger of some kind of problem. If your car makes any of these sounds, it's time to visit your mechanic.

The squeal

If it's coming from under the bonnet, this is likely to be a slipping serpentine or accessory-drive belt – a relatively simple issue that's inexpensive to fix. But don't sit on it because a broken belt could cause more serious damage in time. Squealing from your wheels, either when braking or all the time, is a pointer to a brake-system issue. The solution might be as inexpensive as worn brake pads but a braking specialist needs to assess the issue pronto.

The hiss

If it's coming from under the bonnet and your car feels like it has also lost power, this is probably something as simple as a leaking gasket or hose in the engine's intake system. If it's more constant or continues after shutting the engine down, it could point to a leak in the cooling system and potential overheating problems if not swiftly addressed.

The rattle

If it's coming from underneath your car, this could be something as cheap and easy to repair as a loose exhaust mounting, but if it's coming from the wheels, the suspension – which contains various rubber and other bits that perish over time – probably needs rejuvenation. If it's coming from the engine on start-up, the timing chains could require replacement – if these fail, they'll ruin your engine, so get them checked ASAP.

The clunk

Under-car clunks over bumps are another pointer to a worn-out suspension. If the clunking only happens when you turn the wheel, it could be a damaged wheel bearing or some steering-component issue. If it's coming from an auto transmission during gear changes, a transmission check should be a high priority.

The whoomp-whoomp

If you sense this sound as your car rolls along, you might just have a single underinflated tyre, but it could also point to a more serious tyre issue. If your tyres pass inspection, you could be looking at a damaged wheel bearing.

The crunch

A crunch while changing gears with a manual transmission is a sign of worn transmission or clutch components and an invitation to seek out a transmission or driveline specialist.

The grind

Hearing this when you apply the brakes is a pointer to a seriously worn-out braking system, so get to a brake shop fast. Grinding sounds from underneath a car could point to a failed wheel bearing, constant-velocity (CV) joint or something wrong with the transmission or differential – all issues that shouldn't be sat on.

The click-click

Hearing this as you turn and manoeuvre at low speeds is another sign your car's CV joints are on their way out.

The groan

If your car sounds like an old man getting out of bed whenever you turn the steering wheel, your next turn should be towards a steering specialist for a look at your power-steering pump.

The tappity-tap

Hearing a tapping sound when you start your engine from cold suggests either a lack of oil getting to its delicate moving bits or the wrong kind of oil. Either can result in serious engine damage if ignored, so check your levels ASAP. If the levels are good but the sound remains, get your mechanic onto the issue fast.

The knock

This sound from your wheels over bumps is yet another sign of worn-out suspension. If it's coming from under the bonnet, it's typically a sign of a significant engine problem. The deeper and louder the knock, the bigger (i.e. more expensive) the problem is likely to be.

In each of these scenarios, continuing to drive your car is likely to do more harm than good – so book in with your preffered car mechanic for a professional diagnosis.

Viva Energy Australia Pty Ltd (“Viva Energy”) has compiled the above article for your general information and to use as a general reference. Whilst all reasonable care has been taken by Viva Energy in compiling this article, Viva Energy does not warrant or represent that the information in the article is free from errors or omissions or is suitable for your intended use.