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.)
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.