Clunk, screech, thump: Here are 12 common car sounds and what they mean

Altus Venables / Virseker
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 KNOW YOUR SOUNDS: If you know what the weird sounds your vehicle is making mean, you could save yourself a lot of heartache. ~ iStock

Cape Town - Somewhere while you were driving today, you heard a strange sound coming from your car. A sound that you know means something is wrong with your vehicle, a sound that leaves you wondering what on earth it could be...

Elmarie Twilley, spokesperson of Afrikaans insurance company, Virseker, says: “It doesn’t always take a mechanic to know when there’s something awry with your car. If you felt or heard something that seems out of the ordinary while driving, it’s worth investigating.

“You should also check that, if all else fails, your insurance company has a roadside assist service in the event of a break down."

Sounds and meanings

Here are a few common sounds that you could be hearing from your car, and what they could mean: 

1 A loud squeal, like metal on metal, when you hit the brakes: The brake pads or discs are worn and likely need to be replaced.

2 The steering wheel vibrates gently, even on flat roads: The wheels could be unbalanced. You should have them balanced and aligned.

3 Your windshield wipers stutter and ‘chatter’ when you turn them on: The rubber on the wipers has worn unevenly and is no longer wiping the windshield properly. Replace them as soon as you are able.

4 There is a persistent ‘whirring’ sound from the engine: Your fuel pump could be starting to fail and may need to be replaced. The car would typically also struggle to start, lose power and/or stutter when driving.

READ: Vehicle maintenance in SA - 7 essential checks

You can prevent this from happening by trying not to let your fuel tank go beneath a quarter full.

5 You hear a distinct ‘clunk’ after passing over a speed bump: This is likely an issue with the car's shock absorbers or bushings and joints connected to the suspension.

6 You hear a clicking or popping sound coming from near the wheels when turning: This could be CV joints that are worn and in need of replacement. 

Image: iStock

7 The steering wheel groans when you turn it: There might be a leak in the power steering system or the power steering pump may need replacement. 

8 There is a loud screeching sound coming from the engine when the car is revved: This could mean that the fan belt is slipping and needs replacing.

9 Your car’s tyres are definitely not flat, but you can hear a light ‘thumping’ as you drive: This may be due to ‘flat spots’ on the tyres, especially if the car has been stationary for an extended period of time - typically a couple of weeks or more.

READ: Vehicle checks - Don't take shortcuts before a long road trip

Most flat spots will disappear once you’ve driven the car a couple of kilometres, but some are more permanent. If the noise persists, rather have the tyres checked by a professional.

10 The sound of compressed air escaping from the engine - typically a high pitched ‘squeal’: An exhaust manifold gasket could have failed, venting hot exhaust gases - including carbon monoxide - into the car.

11 You can hear a slight ‘hissing’ from the engine when the car is idling: A rubber or plastic vacuum line or fitting is leaking or has severed and needs to be reconnected or replaced.

12 The car makes a rattling or rumbling sound when idling: Check to see if there is any water coolant beneath the water pump, when the engine is cool. If there is, it is possible that the bearings are worn and the pump should be replaced.