5 sounds that signal your car needs auto repairs

If you ignore needed repairs for your car, you may end up needing a tow truck. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lisa G.)

If you ignore needed repairs for your car, you may end up needing a tow truck. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lisa G.)

While modern cars are more reliable than ever, they still need regular maintenance and many motorists don’t notice a needed repair until something changes, particularly how the car sounds.

You’re the most familiar with how your car is supposed to sound, so any new, unusual sound should be a call to action to contact a trusted auto repair pro. “Any unusual sounds need to be checked out,” says Christoph Erdel, service manager at highly rated Euro Motorworks in Indianapolis. “The louder and more frequent the noise, the more urgent it is to get it looked at.”

Check out the possible explanation to these five sometimes mysterious sounds that indicate your car needs professional service:

1. Squealing or screeching when you brake

What repair your vehicle may need:  New brake pads, rotor resurfacing or replacement

“This is usually a sign that brake hardware is worn, resulting in a pad not releasing properly thereby causing excessive heat and noise,” says Ben Stallings, president of highly rated Beck Service Center in Indianapolis. Some vehicle manufacturers also build in a brake wear indication system that emits a squealing noise to indicate brake pads need to be replaced.

Installing new brake pads, and resurfacing or replacing the brake rotors if necessary, will help ensure you’ll be able to stop safely and quietly without causing further damage to your vehicle.

How much it will cost: Costs can vary widely depending on your vehicle make and model, the mechanic you hire, and the repairs needed, but you can reasonably expect to pay at least $150 to $400 per axle. Expect to pay significantly more if your rotors are worn, warped or damaged and need to be resurfaced or replaced.

2. Grinding when braking

What repair your vehicle may need: New brake pads, calipers and rotors

If you hear grinding sounds when you apply pressure to your brake pedal, it means the pads weren’t replaced in time or something is rubbing against the brake rotors the wrong way. The brake pads may be beyond their wear limit, they may be coming into rough, uneven contact with the rotors, or it can be something more sinister like brake calipers or pistons grinding against the rotor (they’re not supposed to).

“That grinding noise when braking usually indicates that there are no pads left and the rotors need to be replaced,” says Carol Nofsinger of highly rated Nofsinger's Auto Repair in Lombard, Ill. If you hear grinding and delay repairs, you’re creating more potential damage and danger. “If you wait too long and ignore the grinding, the brakes could damage the caliper or brake hydraulics, or grind through the rotor and cause brake failure,” Nofsinger says.

"[That sound] indicates the brake material has worn completely away - which could result in brake failure," says Guy Lender of highly rated Alexander's Import Auto Repair in Minneapolis.

How much it will cost: Again, costs can vary widely depending on your car and the work needed, but $300 to $1,000 per axle can be expected - a small price to pay to ensure safe stopping.

3. Sputtering, rumbling or rattling exhaust noises from under the car

What repair your vehicle may need: Exhaust system repairs, exhaust component replacement

 “If your car just sounds louder than it did before from underneath the vehicle, chances are you have a hole somewhere in your exhaust system,” Stallings says. Exhaust system repairs can be as simple as reattaching a loose pipe, replacing a corroded pipe section or attaching a new muffler.

If your catalytic converter (which reduces polluting vehicle emissions) needs work, repairs can be more involved. “If you hear a rattle when sitting at a stop sign or stop light that sounds a lot like a box of rocks shaking around, then there is a good possibility that your catalytic convertor is bad,” Stallings says.

How much it will cost: If it’s a simple fix, you may pay as little as $100, but the range of repair costs depends on the problem. Replacing a catalytic converter can cost $150 to $600, or as much as $1,500 for some import vehicles and trucks, according to Stallings.

4. Chirping or squealing noise from under the hood

What repair your vehicle may need: Drive belt replacement

Also known as the serpentine belt, your car’s drive belt is a single belt that transfers power produced by the engine’s revolutions to multiple accessories like the air conditioning, power steering and alternator. Over time, the belt can wear down and slip, causing a squealing sound.

“A lot of times it will make more noise when you first start the car or when you rev it up, it squeals even louder,” Nofsinger says. Turning on the A/C may also make the squealing or chirping more intense. A new drive belt is an easy, inexpensive repair, so get it checked out at the first indication of a problem.

Avoiding a drive belt repair can cause much bigger problems.  "If ignored, the belt will break and the car will lose power steering or the charging system or the engine cooling system, or all," Lender says. The loss of engine cooling is the biggest reason you'll want to replace the drive belt sooner than later. “Do not attempt to drive the car for any distance if the belt breaks, as this may cause the car to overheat and cause extensive engine damage,” Stallings says.

How much it will cost: Replacing a serpentine belt before it causes other damage can cost as little as $75 but costs can be as high as $200.

5. Humming, growling or roaring noise when driving down the road

What repair your vehicle may need: New tires or new wheel bearings

Tires that are beyond their service life can produce a growling or roaring noise when driving, but it can also indicate a more serious issue like a bad wheel bearing.

“The easiest way for a consumer to distinguish between the two is by moving the wheel slightly back and forth as if in changing lanes while driving at a constant speed down the road,” Stallings says. “If you notice a change in pitch to the noise while the car is changing lanes, and then the noise returns when the car is going straight again, then chances are high that you have a bad bearing.”

Get this issue checked out immediately, as a bearing that seizes or comes apart completely can easily leave you and your vehicle stranded on the side of the road with a wheel that won’t move.

How much it will cost: New tire prices vary widely by application, style and vehicle, so shop around for the best price. Stallings says bearings can also vary widely in price, so this is one repair that could cost as little as $150 to as much as $750 per wheel.


My car drives very smooth, but after a short 30 mile trip when i park it and shut it off it makes a very loud metal clanking sound underneath it for quite some time. It varies in loudness between each clank. I took it to the dealer where it was purchased and they say that it's normal and may be due to the computer systems or a hot exhaust just cooling down. I wouldn't think this to be true. I've only owned the cast for 8 days and think i may have been duped. I have owned numerous vehicles and none of then have clanked metal sounds for 20 minutes after being driven and parked. Otherwise, the car is great. What do you think this could really be? Is it something dangerous or costly? I have a minimal warranty and want to take advantage of it while i have it, but they assure me nothing is wrong.

2011 dodge durango doesn't start when I crank the key, I have to put the gear on neutral to start car.then it will start right up.2.the battery dies over night then I need to give car a jump.Bought a new battery and replaced alternator.3. Now I hear a noise under the gas tank like release of air.Tires are brand new.Help.

My 2001 Kia is making a roaring noise when I'm accelerating then I can hear it while I'm idling, the three motor mounts were replaced, my two new tires were rotated from the back to the front and just started to make the roar noise plus new front struts, it's never done this before. I've had the car to the dealer and another auto repair place, both told me it's not a wheel bearing.

Everytime i turn my steering wheel to the right it makes a heck of a noice. I have 2 little kids and not alot of money. I want to bable to take it somewhere and not get hussled. I just had this done recently. Please help the noise is scary

did you check your power steering fluid?

Hello, I need your help determining what may be wrong with my car. I encounter this problem whenever I start my car in the early morning or whenever I start the car after 8 or more hours of parking. I hear clear whistling sound that sounds like a bird from or around the engine area and this sound disappears after driving for a while. I dont hear this sound when starting my engine after a short parking period of 4-6 hours. what is the problem??

My car makes a "rattling" or "sound like metal banging" only when it hits a bump, or goes on rough roads. You can still slightly hear some funny noises when on regular roads, but worse on bumps. We checked the breaks, they are fine. My husband said he can't hear it...but I can, and so can a dozzen other people.

I am wondering if you found out what was causing this....because I just had a lot of work done to my car including tires......and out of blue while on road trip it began making loud rattling sound from rear

My car just started making this tremendous loud noise out of no where it started with just a scratching sound now its so loud A few weeks ago we got the right tire rod fix now its sounding worse what should I do?

Did you find out what was causing the loud noise out of nowhere? My car is doing that and no mechanic can find the cause as there is no pattern of conditions for it to start and stop.

I am searching to purchase a used car. I had to get rid of my 1978 regal buick because it need a new transmission etc. I want to purchase a used car, same size as the buick regal for approximately six thousand dollars. Thanks for your help..

Can you please tell me what the problem could be with the front end of my car.. Every shop i take it to they all say there's nothing wrong with your front end, everything seems to be good, but when I drive my car it makes a few different noises from not so loud to very loud when going over the smallest bumps, the smallest pot holes, the smoothest railroad tracks, all brick roads, all dirt roads, everything! And they all continue to say the same thing " your front end is fine sir". But when i get in my girlfriends car who's front end is also fine when we ride over all of the above her car don't make any noises, our trip is just as smooth and quiet as ever. I don't get it because if both of our front ends are fine then i figure they both should react the same to road surfaces..

Best used car to purchase for under six thousand dollars. mY former car was a buick regal 1978. Looking to purchase a later model or a 2002 infiniti G20 . Please give me info. Thanks.

Disc brake rotors, calipers, (even the remaining thickness of your brake pads) can be viewed through the spokes of many modern wheels; the saving grace of putting the current technology out there for view. So, look at your brakes from time to time. Go to the local self-serve car wash and wash/rinse everything down-under then gingerly drive to your local expressway and 'blow-dry' everything with a five-minute run at speed. Anticipate stops as you drive and gently apply brakes with an even pressure; this serves, too, to teach one how to 'season' or break-in new rotors/pads when buying new brake hardware becomes necessary; also the hardware will be sound in the event of a "panic stop" All of this I've learned over the course of 41 years of driving. I hope it can help someone.

My 1998 chevy blazer makes a clunking noise only when I start to drive the car. The engine is quite. Changed the tie rods and idler arms.

when making u-turn or right turn on 2004 Cadilac Deville while turning the wheel gets stuck like something not working. When backing up sometimes I hear a noise. What could it be?

Hello and to whom it may concern; After I start my car, its a 93' Buick Regal so its a little old but when I start in drive it makes like I can best describe like a clunking sound?

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